Gregor Kalas, University of Tennessee

Mediterranean cities adorned public spaces with monuments honoring the proud individuals who shaped civic identity during late antiquity.  Open-air exhibitions of portrait statues recorded the civic virtues of benefactors who dedicated monuments, often to imperial authorities, as attested in surviving inscribed statue bases.[1] In Rome, late antique urban squares such as the Roman Forum housed rituals, many of which celebrated emperors; local senators oversaw the details of the imperial commemorations and sponsored the imperial monuments.[2] The religious transformation that commenced during the fourth century, when most emperors accepted Christianity, did not curtail the city’s most important civic rites practiced at Rome, since the non-resident emperors continued to stage processions there.[3]

This website addresses the material evidence concerning the statues displayed during the fourth and fifth centuries CE in the open areas of the Roman Forum as documented by inscriptions.  The navigable reconstruction of the Forum represents statues within their urban context so as to indicate the space in which civic rituals occurred.  The visualization relies upon archeological evidence that precisely attests to the original display spots of many statues; carefully considered hypotheses point toward plausible locations of the other artworks.[4] In the digital reconstruction, those statues represented with photographic imagery indicate that archeological testimony securely identifies the original display spots.  Each statue that the literary or epigraphic record permits an association with the Roman Forum but not a precise original location is represented with a greenish silhouette.[5] The recreated architecture of the Roman Forum provides an opportunity for interactive engagement:  buildings, statues, streets, and monumental epigraphy all can be navigated in an experiential environment.  Material evidence and archeological testimony provide the basis for the reconstruction of the Forum; missing are the inhabitants and the transient features that can only be envisioned in textual sources.  Chief among the written documents that inform this reconstruction is the poetic panegyric that Claudian composed to be read before the emperor Honorius and a gathering of senators in Rome to mark the ruler’s sixth consulship in 404.[6] The “Ritual Experience” section of the website features a series of views explaining how the Forum appeared during Honorius’ procession.

The imperial ceremony in Rome opens up a spatial context for considering the late antique Roman Forum:  Honorius conducted the last securely documented procession that adhered to the traditional format of a triumph in Rome.[7] Preparations underway prior to January 404 developed strategies for preserving positive memories of Honorius’ political legacy, who was only nineteen at the time.  Correlations between panegyrics written in support of Honorius’ court and the messages of monuments in Rome featuring inscriptions indicate that Claudian, the author of numerous poems praising the emperor, played a key role in disseminating imperial ideology.  The unified political messages orchestrated by the imperial bureaucracy dictated the content of both the poetry by the court poet Claudian and the epigraphy celebrating both the emperor and Stilicho.  Even though Claudian probably did not write the inscriptions in the Roman Forum, his attention to statues accompanied by epigraphic texts has been documented.[8] In addition, the chief military officer, Stilicho, masked the ruthlessness of his desire for power by commissioning, it is assumed, the carefully written verses by Claudian.[9] Preparations to set up statues were undertaken by the highest ranking senatorial officials in Rome and occurred in tandem with Honorius’ ritual arrival so that the Forum’s decorations coalesced with the ceremonial goals developed at the imperial court.[10] Claudian’s panegyric on Honorius’ sixth consulship further burnished the emperor’s image together with the reputation of Stilicho with rhetoric that underscored the propagandistic themes of the statues and the accompanying inscriptions.[11]

Imperial commemoration in late antique Rome continued the long-standing traditions of political representation while advancing the status of each local aristocratic benefactor who paid homage to an emperor.  The expressive potential of monumental installations to mirror imperial rhetoric was pioneered by Augustus, who coordinated architecture, inscriptions, literature, public art, and ritual activities that launched the newly formulated empire, as Paul Zanker argues.[12] More recent scholarship has considered the embodied experiences of inhabitants in Augustan Rome by tracing how audiences moved through ancient urban space.[13] The urban transformations that occurred in late antique Rome mirrored the changing economic and political patterns of the empire.  Increasingly, later Roman emperors exerted control over urban public buildings and civic monuments even when locals supported the imperial initiatives, as was the case for most of the fourth century in Rome.[14] The urban economy of late antiquity transitioned toward greater imperial control over tax revenues accompanying the gold-based monetary expansion, effectively minimizing senatorial power; concurrently, a growing number of senators became Christian benefactors rather than supporters of civic monuments.[15] To be sure, late antique Rome appeared to feature relatively fewer publicly displayed inscriptions than had been installed at the height of the empire and this decline worsened after the second half of the fifth century.  Yet epigraphic culture continued to function vigorously during the fourth century CE and was of particular importance to Honorius who placed renewed emphasis on the city of Rome.[16] The reconstruction provided in this website illustrates how late antique statues and their accompanying inscriptions promoted spatial experiences and exploited the urban context for each artwork in ways that can best be understood by considering the processions that occurred in the Roman Forum.

The vitality of the late antique Roman Forum is evident in the statues and their inscribed bases.  Publicly displayed statues in the late antique Forum preserved memories of the political and military roles played by emperors.  During the fourth century, most emperors came to Rome only to conduct an imperial arrival (adventus) or similar events such as jubilees, consular celebrations, and military triumphs.  One highlight of the rare imperial visits was the public address made by an emperor from the rostra in the Forum.  Images depicting the trio of co-reigning emperors, Gratian, Valentinian II, and Theodosius I, installed on top of the eastern rostra preceded by at most a decade the triumphal procession celebrated by Theodosius I alone in 389 CE.[17] Positioned above the rear entrance to the speaker’s platform, the three statues reminded all orators addressing the populace to convey honor to the distant emperors.  The statues, therefore, made the absent rulers appear less remote, subtly reminding audiences of the rare ritual activities that emperors actually performed in the Roman Forum.   

Rome, Eastern Rostra in the Roman Forum with the statue Monument of Gratian, Valentinian II and Theodosius I © Regents of the University of California

The buildings and publicly displayed statues of the Roman Forum provided a backdrop for Honorius’ ritual of 404 CE celebrating the end of Gildo’s usurpation in Africa and the defense of Italy from a threatened attack by Alaric.  The monuments installed in honor of Honorius and his military leader, the half-Vandal Stilicho, clarify how statues preserved the topographically embedded memories that first were on display during the politicized imperial procession. Ritual Experience

  1. [1] For a discussion of the late antique inscriptions in Rome, see Heike Niquet, Monumenta virtutum tituliqueSenatorische Selbstdarstellung im spätantiken Rom im Spiegel der epigraphischen Denkmäler (Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2000).
  2. [2] For late antique rituals, see Michael McCormick, Eternal Victory:  Triumphal Rulership in Late Antiquity, Byzantium, and the Early Medieval West  (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1986).  A mandate of 364 CE required that new public buildings be presented in the name of the emperor and other honors such as inscribed monuments presumably followed.
  3. [3] The most comprehensive analysis of the topic is Sabine MacCormack, Art and Ceremony in Late Antiquity (Berkeley:  University of California Press, 1981).
  4. [4] See the “Representational Approach” section of the Reconstruction Notes []. Inferences have been drawn from the fortunate survival of evidence for publicly displayed statues in the fora of Cuicul (Djemila) and Thamugad (Timgad), which have been carefully analyzed in Gerhard Zimmer, Locus datus decreto decurionumZur Statuenaufstellung zweier Forumsanlagen im römischen Afrika, Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse, Abhandlungen n.s. 102 (Munich:  Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1989), 13-51.
  5. [5] Consult the “Inscription Database” [ ]for a catalogue of inscriptions; the positively identified display spots as well as the hypothetically reconstructed ones are indicated in the “Mapping Statues” []section.
  6. [6] Claudian, VI Cons. 587-602; see also, Claudian, Panegyricus de sexto consulatu Honorii Augusti, Michael Dewar ed. and trans. (Oxford:  Clarendon Pres, 1996), xliv-xlv.
  7. [7] Hans Lejdegard, Honorius and the City of Rome:  Authority and Legitimacy in Late Antiquity (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Uppsala, 2002), 122-127, argues that the celebration of Honorius’ triumph over Attalus of 416 took place in Ravenna.
  8. [8] Claudian had himself been honored with a statue in the Forum of Trajan in Rome; the inscribed statue base indicates that imperial authorities approved of the honor, CIL.VI.1710.  The honorific statue of Claudian also is mentioned in Claudian, De bello Gothico, 7-8.
  9. [9] Marie-France Gineste, “Poésie, pouvoir, et rhétorique à la fin du 4e siècle A.D.:  les poèmes nuptiaux composés par Claudien à l’occasion du marriage de l’empereur Honorius et de Marie,” Rhetorica:  A Journal of the History of Rhetoric 22 (2004): 279-283.
  10. [10] Cod. Theod. 15.4.1, sent to Aëtius serving as the praetorian prefect of Italy in 425 CE, mentions that statues of the emperors should be properly displayed prior to urban celebrations to record memories of imperial officials.  Although this mandate was sent prior to Honorius’ consular celebrations of 404, the imperial control over publicly displayed images in the Forum is assumed due to the near exclusivity of inscriptions identifying emperors in the surviving late antique inscriptions from the precinct.
  11. [11] Claudian, Panegyricus de sexto consulatu Honorii Augusti.
  12. [12] Paul Zanker, The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus, A. Shapiro trans. (Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press, 1988).
  13. [13] Diane Favro, The Urban Image of Augustan Rome (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1996).
  14. [14] For the imperial control of monuments from afar during late antiquity, see: Mark Humphries, “Roman Senators and Absent Emperors in Late Antiquity,” Acta ad archaeologiam et artium historiam pertinentia 17 (2003): 27-46.  The imperial building initiatives are discussed in Hélène Jouffroy, La construction publique en Italie et dans l’Afrique romaine (Strasbourg:  AECR, 1986).
  15. [15] Jairus Benaji, Agrarian Change in Late Antiquity:  Gold, Labour, and Aristocratic Dominance (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2007); for a discussion of developments in Christian euergetism during late antiquity, see:  Ann Marie Yasin, Saints and Church Spaces in the Late Antique Mediterranean:  Architecture, Cult, and Community (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2009), 101-139.
  16. [16] Claude Lepelley, “The Survival and Fall of the Classical City in Late Roman North Africa,” in The City in Late Antiquity, John Rich ed. (London:  Routledge, 1992), 50-76; J.H.W.G. Liebenschuetz, The Decline and Fall of the Roman City (Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2001), 14-15.
  17. [17] CIL.VI.1184a; see Franz Alto Bauer, “Das Denkmal der Kaiser Gratian, Valentinian II. und Theodosius am Forum Romanum, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Römische Abteilung 106 (1999): 213-234.