Roman Empire (27 BCE – 476 CE)

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Ara Pacis Augustae, Altar
House of the Vettii
Augustus of Prima Porta
Trajan’s Column
Apollo Belvedere
Centaurs Fighting Cats of Prey
Bust of Cicero
Fonseca Bust
Equestrian statue, Marcus Aurelius
Column of Marcus Aurelius
Dionysiac Procession, mosaic

Arch of Septimus Severus, relief Chariot procession
Marble portrait emperor Caracalla
Asiatic Sarcophagus from Sidamara
Sarcophagus, myth of Endymion
The Four Tetrarchs
Relief from the Arch of Constantine
Mummy portrait of a young woman
Rotunda St. George, Sofia
Missorium of Theodosius
Ivory diptych of Stilicho…

The Roman Empire had a number of formats. The first began with the accession of Caesar Augustus as its first emperor in 27 BCE, it had an emperor with Rome was its sole capital, but this ended in military anarchy in 286 CE. The next phase was when there were multiple emperors and two separate empires, the West centred on Rome, the east on Constantinople; the east was also known as the Byzantine Empire.

In 476 CE the capital became Constantinople and a very changed Eastern Empire survived until 1453 CE. The Western Empire was to some extent revived from 800-1806 CE as the Holy Roman Empire, a multi-ethnic multi-territory, centred on an emerging Germany.

Caesar Augustus heralded the Pax Romana for several centuries. The emperor Commodus (reigned 180-192) is considered by most as the beginning of the fall of the Roman empire.

Caracalla granted citizenship to all freeborn inhabitants of the Empire, to try to settle unrest, yet the crisis of the third century ensued. Some historians see this as the transition from Classical Antiquity to Late Antiquity.

Emperors Aurelian and Diocletian stabilised the empire, but Diocletian presided over a persecution of Christians. Diocletian saw the way forward could be by establishing a ruling Tetrarchy, but this did not ‘take’.

It was Constantine the Great, who created some order and established Constantinople as the new capital of the eastern empire. He became the first emperor to convert to Christianity, buy only on his deathbed. While German migrations and invasions progressively led to the disintegration of the Western Empire.

Roman artworks were many. Statues in marble, bronze and terracotta, reliefs in marble and stone, abounded throughout the Roman Empire and a great deal of these have survived, albeit often damaged.

There are many carved marble and limestone sarcophagi from the 2nd-4th centuries, more than 10,000 examples are extant. Mosaics have been found on floors, walls, vaulted ceilings, and columns.

The Roman paintings that have survived are largely based on interior decoration of private homes, particularly as preserved at Pompeii and Herculaneum by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE.

The elite luxury consumers of the empire engendered much in the way of fine pottery, of silver and bronze vessels and glassware.


Ara Pacis Augustae, Altar of Augustan Peace was decreed by the Roman Senate in 13 BCE to recognise Emperor Augustus for his successful campaigns in Spain and Gaul.
Completed in 9 BCE, it was considered one of the finest examples of Roman art of its time, and marked significant progress in Roman portraiture. Most all the the walls (in and out) have sculptures and decorative friezes.
The north and south depicts imperial house members, the east and west (each with a door) has the theme of peace and shows rituals.

Image source:
Wikimedia commons

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Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Vettii was a notable family in Roman terms. Their House of the Vettii just outside Pompeii was luxurious and the interior frescoes and mosaics were preserved by the house being buried by the 79 CE eruption of Vesuvius.

The top image is of the Ixion Room that has a number of artworks with the theme of Greek mythology.

The lower image is a detail from perhaps the most significant, the one depicting the suffering of Ixion.
Augustus of Prima Porta, is a full-length portrait statue of Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of the Roman Empire. The 1st c CE marble statue is 208 cms tall and was found at the Villa of Livia owned by Augustus’ third wife, Livia Drusilla in Prima Porta.

It is said to have copied the features from a Greek athletic statue from 5th century BCE the Doryphoros of Polykleitos. This sort of statue was intended for propaganda, to build the image and office of the emperor.

It is on show at the Vatican Museums.

Image source: artsy.net

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Image source: artsy.net

Trajan’s Column is a Roman triumphal column completed in 113 CE in Rome, Italy, that commemorates Roman emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian Wars.
The column itself is 30m high, and was fabricated from twenty colossal Carrara marble drums.
The architect is assumed to have been Apollodorus of Damascus, a Nabatean engineer famous for his work with domes. He would later offend Hadrian when he ridiculed the emperor;s forrays into architecture and was banished and subsequently died [Cassius Dio].
The images describe a spiral around the column with 155 different scenes and featuring 2,662 figures. These depict famous marches by the legions, huge battles (particularly from the Dacian Wars), of negotiations and sacrifices, of Trajan’s speeches, and other political events.
The images provide a detailed insight into the administration, coordination and operations of the Roman army.
Apollo Belvedere is a marble statue 224 cms tall. It is thought to be a Hardianic work (120-140 CE). This conclusion is in part because the Apollo is wearing Roman footwear.

Apollo is depicted contrapposto as a classic archer who has just loosed an arrow. Some suggest he may just have slain the Python that guarded Delphi, others that he has just slain the giant Tityos who threatened his mother.

The lower part of the right arm and the left hand were missing and are restorations here, performed by a pupil of Michelangelo.

For many centuries it was said to epitomise the ideals of aesthetic perfection for Europeans.

Today it is on show at the Pio-Clementine Museum of the Vatican Museums.

Image source: www.museivaticani.va

Image source: khanacademy.org

Despite the spat with Apollodorus (quoted above), Hadrian was a great patron of the arts. He built his villa at Tibur and filled it with hundreds of statues, reliefs and other decorations. Many have been lost or found their way into museums and private collections worldwide.

This mosaic of a Pair of Centaurs Fighting Cats of Prey is from his villa dated to c130 CE. It is today on show at theAltes Museum, Berlin.
This mid-1st c CE Bust of Cicero. is on show at the Capitoline Museums, Rome.

Cicero is considered the master of Latin prose, his writings from 80-43 BCE were prolific and spanned genres and subjects, often divided into four groups: letters, rhetorical treatises, philosophical works and orations.

His letters provide detailed information about this important period in Rome’s history, illustrating public and private life among the Roman elite. They provide insight into education, rhetoric and moral philosophy.

Image source:courses.lumenlearning.com

Image source: artsy.net

This 63 cm Portrait Bust of a Flavian Woman is known as the Fonseca Bust.
‘Flavian’ references the reigns of the Flavian emperors (Vespasian 69–79 CE; Titus 79–81 CE and Domitian, 81–96 CE), During this perid the hairstyles of aristocratic Roman women became very flamboyant. These would have been created by an ornatrix, a slave specially versed in the art.

Ovid admonished women not to neglect their hairstyle, choosing the one which best suited them, when every day brought a new fashion. He added that any deficiency could be remedied by dyeing their hair or buying the tresses of another.

It is at the Capotiline Museum..
The 424 cm high equestrian statue of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius is on show at the Capotiline Museum. It is dated to 163-173 CE and was erected 175 CE.

He is over life-size and though he is astride a horse there are similarities to standing statues of Augustus. The horse may have been Sarmatian, and this could be celebrating his victory over the Sarmatians, he certainly added Sarmaticus to his name.

It is suggested that a small figure of a bound barbarian chieftain once cowered underneath the horse’s front right leg

The statue if thought to have survived because it was mis-identified as Constantine. An equestrian statue of Constantine had stood beside the Arch of Septimus Severus.

A modern replica is in the Piazza del Campidoglio, Rome. original ca. 163-173

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Wikimedia commons

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The Column of Marcus Aurelius was modelled on Trajan’s Column, to honour emperor Marcus Aurelius. It is not known if it was built during his lifetime.

It is a 30m high Roman victory Doric column in Piazza Colonna, Rome, Italy. It was fabricated from 27/28 Carrara marble blocks, hollowed out to create an internal stair well of 190-200 steps. The spiral picture relief tells the story of Marcus Aurelius’ Danubian wars, waged by him from 166 until his death in 180 CE.
This mosaic fragment depicts a Dionysiac Procession, its tesserae are of limestone and glass.

It is 68 x 67 cms and dated to late 2nd/early 3rd c CE. It is on show at the Yale University Art Gallery.

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Image source: ancienthistorylists.com

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The Arch of Septimius Severus is at the NW end of the Roman Forum. The white marble triumphal arch is 23m high and 25m wide and rised upon a travertine base. Winged Victories are carved in relief in the spandrels (the triangular area betwen an arch and its rectangular frame). A staircase in the south pier leads to the top of the monument, where statues were sited of the emperor and his two sons in a quadriga (a four-horse chariot), and accompanied by soldiers.

The lower image shows a relief from the arch that depicts a chariot procession of Septimius Severus.
Marble portrait of the emperor Caracalla, marble, h. 362 mm, Roman, c. 212–217 AD

Marble portrait of the emperor Caracalla, A.D. 212–217 Roman, Severan Marble; H. 14 1/4 in. ( 36.2 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Samuel D. Lee Fund, 1940 (40.11.1a) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/253592

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Image source: pbase.com

This Asiatic Sarcophagus from Sidamara, in the Isparta valley (Turkish for Sparta) It is dated to c250 CE and can be seen at the Istanbul Archaelogical Museum.
A marble sarcophagus displaying the myth of Selene and Endymion, is dated to early 3rd c CE. It is on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY USA.

An inscription on the lid makes clear that this sarcophagus was for a woman named Arria, who had lived for fifty years and ten months; it was commissioned by her daughter.

The image shows an undercut relief of a bucolic scene. At the centre Selene, the moon goddess, is descending from her chariot to visit her beloved, the shepherd Endymion. He reclined to the right, because he has been granted eternal youth and eternal sleep.

Image source: metmuseum.org

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Four Tetrarchs is a group of four Roman emperors, dating to around 300 CE. Fabricated in porphyry marble, it was probably a decoration for the Philadelphion in Constantinople and was removed to Venice in c1204 and there fixed to a corner of St Mark’s Basilica.

There is a suggestion these were two separate groups of two. One pair was sliced vertically during the process and removed part of the right side and right hand of n tetrarch. Another tetrarch is missing a foot that was found in Istanbul.

It is assumed these are the first Tetrarchy established by Emperor Diocletian Diocletian and Maximian were co-augustes, Galerius and Constantius I as co-caesares.
The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch in Rome dedicated to the emperor Constantine the Great. The arch was commissioned by the Roman Senate to commemorate Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 CE.

It was built between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, the arch spans the Via triumphalis, the route taken by victorious military leaders when they entered the city in a triumphal procession. It is 21m high and 25m wide. At the other end of the route was the Arch of Septimius Severus.

The lower image is a relief from horizontal frieze of the arch showing the obsidio (siege) of Verona.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: teggelaar.com

Image source: metmuseum.org

Fayum mummy portraits are painted on wooden boards attached to upper class mummies from Roman Egypt. The portraits covered the faces of bodies that were mummified for burial. This sort of panel painting is one of the most highly regarded forms of art in the Classical world.

Mummy portraits have been found across Egypt, but are most common from Hawara in the Fayum Basin and the Hadrianic Roman city Antinoopolis.

The Fayum portraits are the only large body of panel painting to have survived. They were formerly, and incorrectly, called Coptic portraits.

The Church of Saint George is a Late Antique red brick rotunda in Sofia, Bulgaria. Built in the early 4th CE as Roman baths.

It became a church inside the capital of ancient Dacia Mediterranea during the Roman Empire and Byzantine Empire. The frescoes are medieval.

Image source: sofia.guide.com

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Missorium of Theodosiusis a large ceremonial silver dish preserved in the Real Academia de la Historia, in Madrid, Spain.

It was probably made in Constantinople for the tenth anniversary (decennalia) in 388 of the reign of the Emperor Theodosius I, the last Emperor to rule both the Eastern and Western Empires.

It is considered to be one of the best surviving examples and one of the finest examples of late Roman goldsmith work.
Ivory diptych of Stilicho with his wife Serena and son Eucherius, ca. 395. Flavius Stilicho (359-408) was a military commander in the Roman army. He was half Vandal and married the niece of emperor Theodosius I. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule both the eastern and western empires, and the emperor who declared Nicene Christianity the official religion of the empire. Edward Gibbon described Stilicho as the last Roman general. He led peace talks with Shapur III of the Persians, he fought the Goths in the Balkans.
Image source: Wikimedia commons

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