Roman Republic (509 BCE -26 CE)

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Capoitiline Wolf
Ludovici Sarcophagus
Capotiline Brutus
Dying Gaul
Capotiline Venus
Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus
Venus de Milo
Arrotino, the Knife Grinder
The Wrestlers

Fresco Esquiline Necropolis
Head of a Roman Patrician
Bust of Pompey the Great
Villa of Mysteries murals
Bust of Emperor Claudius
Tusculum portrait of Julius Caesar
Cubiculum from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor
Painted Garden fresco
Laocoön and his Sons

Following the foundation of Rome, it was initilly ruled by monarchs, elected for life by the patricians who constituted the Roman Senate. The last Roman king was Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (aka Tarquin the Proud), he was expelled in 509 BCE after his son Sextus Tarquinius had raped the noblewoman Lucretia, who then took her own life. Lucretia’s father, her husband Lucius Tarquinius Collatinus, and Tarquin’s nephew Lucius Junius Brutus with the support of the Senate, and an army, forced Tarquin into exile in Etruria. Tarquin tried, several times, to mount a counter-revolution but was unsuccessful.

The Senate agreed to abolish kingship and the patrician aristocrats became the dominant force in politics and society. Fifty large families, gentes, monopolised Rome’s appointments of magistrates, priests and senior military posts. The most prominent of these families were the Cornelii, Aemilii, Claudii, Fabii, and Valerii. Plebeians would never be granted high religious or civil office, and were subject to laws of which they had little knowledge.

Most of the king’s former roles were transferred to two consuls, elected to office for one year. each consul acting as a check on the other. Brutus and Collatinus became Republican Rome’s first consuls. However Collatinus belonged to the same family as the former king, and was forced to abdicate his office and leave Rome. He was replaced as co-consul by Publius Valerius Publicola.

Roman soldiers seem to have been modelled after those of the Etruscans, who had copied their style of warfare from the Greeks.

By the beginning of the 4th c BCE Rome had constrained their Etruscan and Latin neighbours, but then came under regular invasion by Celtic tribes. In 340-338 BCE they defeated a coalition of Latin states. During this century, plebeians achieved political equality with patricians with the first plebeian consular tribunes elected in 400.

The 3rd c BCE saw Rome at war with Carthage, the Punic Wars. In the 2nd c BCE they conquered Greece. Towards the end of the Republic their were regular civil wars as powerful patricians sought to gain dominance.

Pompey the Great emerged as a powerful military commander, but was not accorded a role in Rome. In 61 BCE a triumverate was formed by Pompey, a recently returned Caesar, and Crassus. This enabled the ratification of promises made to Pompey of a consulship. Caesar was promised to become consul in 59, and would then serve as governor of Gaul for five years, while Crassus was promised a future consulship.

These complex arrangement did not run smoothly resulting in Pompey declaring his dictatorship. Caesar waged a civil war (49-44 BCE) totake power for himself. He was assassinated in 44 BCE and a second triumverate was formed by his heir, Gaius Octavianus (Octavian), Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony) and Marcus Lepidus; they soon fell out.

Octavian defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE, and the Senate awarded him extraordinary powers as Augustus in 27 BCE, ending the Republic and making him the first Roman emperor.


The Capitoline Wolf is a bronze sclupture depicting the myth of the foundation of Rome. The she-wolf saved the city’s founders Romulus and Remus from the Tiber and is here shown suckling them.
The 75 x 114 cm statue is argued by some sources to be 5th c BCE Etruscan and by others as being cast 1021-1153 CE – both agree the twins were added in 15th c CE by Antonio Pollaiolo.
Whatever, the image has been a symbol of Rome since ancient times. It is on show at the Capitoline Museum.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: collections.artsmia.org

The Doryphoros or Spear Bearer, was a Greek contrapposto bronze from around 440 BCE, the sculptor was probably Polykleitos.
But this was lost and the Roman period versions became an influential image of ancient art.
The image shows a 211 cm marble copy from Pompeii, dated as 120-50 BCE.
He would have held a spear in the left hand. Inelegantly the Roman copies place a tree stump behind one leg to support the weight, something that would not have been required in the bronze original.
The Ludovisi Battle Sarcophagus is dated to 250-260 CE. It was fabricated in Proconnesian marble. which became the most used marble in the imperial period. It was discovered in a tomb near the Porta Tiburtina.
The 153cm high scene depicts a densely populated set of highly emotive Romans and Goths. The central figure is a young Roman military commander on horseback, presumed to be the deceased
This is an example of the battle scenes favoured in Roman art during the Crisis of the Third Century. The ‘Ludovisi’ references its first modern owner.

Image source; Wikimedia commons

Image source: jeffbondono.com

The 69cm bronze Capotiline Brutus. The head, thought to be, Lucius Junius Brutus was probably created in 250 BCE, though may have been late 4th/early 3rd c BCE. The toga was added to the Roman head during the Renaissance (16th c), when the idea that this was brutus was aslo promulgated.

It is on the show in the Hall of the Triumphs within the Capitoline Museums, Rome.
The Dying Gaul, aka The Dying Galatian or the The Dying Gladiator is thought to have been sculpted by Epigonus, a court sculptor at Pergamon.
One of its ‘titles’ is based on the assumption that it depicted a wounded gladiator in a Roman amphitheatre, But the curly hair leads to speculation of Gaul or Galatian.

It is on the show in at the Capitoline Museums, Rome.

Image source: museum.classics.cam.ac.uk

Image source: Wikimedia commons

The Capotiline Venus is a style of Venus termed a Venus Pudica (or modest Venus) the Venus de’ Medici [below] is too.

It is slightly large than life-size, and considered to be a copy of Praxiteles earlier work, the Aphrodite of Knidos.

It was found on the Viminal Hill in gardens belonging to the Stazi near San Vitale. Pope Benedict XIV purchased it from the Stazi family in 1752 and gave it to the Capitoline Museums, where it is today in a niche of its own, ‘the cabinet of Venus’.
The 2nd c BCE Altar of Domitius Ahenobarbus is a series of four sculpted marble plaques which probably decorated a base which supported cult statues in the cella of a Temple of Neptune located in Rome on the Field of Mars. It is the second oldest Roman bas-relief currently known.
Domitius Ahenobarbus, a general, pledged to build a temple to the god of the sea after a naval victory, this was probably one off Samos in 129-128 BCE.
One portion of the alter is on display at the Louvre and another at the Glyptothek in Munich. A copy of this second piece can be seen at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: uffizi.it

The 153 cm Venus de Medici formed in Parian marble was sculpted in late 2nd/early 1st BCE. The podium bears the signature of the sculptor, Cleomenes, son of Apollodorus. He worked in Athens during the 1st century BCE. It has traces of its original paint and gilding. The gild is on the top of the hair, the base was Egyptian blue and the lips cinnabar (red).

The statue was found near the Trajan Baths in Rome and became the property of Bishop of Viterbo, Sebastiano Gualtieri. Changing hands several times Ferdinand de Medici acquired it and placed it at the Villa Medici Rome for a century. It moved to Florence and from 1802-1816 Napoleon moved it to Paris. It was repatriated and the Venus has been used as the symbolic representation of the Florentine Uffizi museum, where it resides.
The Arrotino or Blade-Sharpener, formerly known as the Scythian, is a Hellenistic-Roman sculpture (Pergamon school) of a man crouching to sharpen a knife on a whetstone. Another marble statue that found its way to the Villa Medici.
The Arrotino was for a long time thought to be an original Greek sculpture, and one of the finest such sculptures to have survived. But today the Arrotino is recognised as a 1st c BCE copy of a Hellenistic original.

Image source: royalacademy.org.uk

Image source: royalacademy.org.uk

The Wrestlers is a Roman marble sculpture replicating a lost Greek original of the 3rd c BCE.
The two young men are engaged in something similar to today’s mixed martial arts hand-to-hand combat with very few rules, a pankration. The musculature is exaggerated to suggest the effort being applied.

It is on show at the Uffizi in Florence Italy.
This fresco of a historical scene from the prehistoric Esquiline Necropolis is one of the first examples of Roman fresco painting.

The Necropolis was begun in the 8th c BCE when the Forum Necropolis fell into disuse, it remained in use until the end of the 1st c CE. Its burials had richer grave goods and many weapons, for a populace thet had become an aristocratic warrior-class.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

Image source: artsy.net

This Head of a Roman Patrician shows the wrinkled face of this unknown upper-class Roman citizen. It represents the ideals of the Roman Republic, public service and military strength above all else.
By the 1st c BCE the Roman Republic was no longer content to copy Greek statues using idealised images of their leaders as young, athletic gods. Instead they sought to showcase their values in human form.
This 25 x 20 x 10 marble Bust of Pompey the Great (Gnaius Pompeius Magnus) is on show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY USA.
It is dated to 50 BCE

Image source: metmuseum.org

Image source: dailymail.co.uk

Image source: iitaly.org

To the north-west of Pompeii, the Villa of the Mysteries, or Villa dei Misteri, is a suburban Roman villa. Its walls, ceilings, and frescoes survived.
The villa is named after the murals found in its triclinium (dining room). These frescoes are said to depict the initiation of a woman into the cult of Dionysus, a mystery cult. The rituals were never published so we have to take hints from paintings like this.
A bronze seal found in the villa it is assumed its owner was L Istacidius Zosimus, of the Istacidii family. Yet, a statue of Livia, the wife of Augustus, was found here, and some claim her to be the owner.
As it was 200 years old at the time of the Vesuvius event, the villas must have had a number of owners, but it appears to have been heavily restored after a 62 CE earthquake.
Bodies were found in the villa, and plaster-casts of these were made. The images show the murals after restoration.
The middle image is of a drunken Dionysus and his companion Silenus. The bottom image shows the bridal rituals.
This is the marble bust of Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (10 BCE-54CE) he was the Roman emperor Claudius from 41-54 CE. He was a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, a sickly child with a limp and some deafness he was late to take up a consulship, and his frailties probably helped him avoid the purges. He was the first emperor to have been born outside of Italy, with Sabine origins. No military general he was more focused on bureaucracy and the law.
Image source: ancientrome.ru

Image source: ancientrome.ru

The 33cm Tusculum marble portrait (or bust) of Julius Caesar is the only extant portrait of Caesar made during his lifetime.This is one of the copies of the bronze original which is dated to 50–40 BCE.
It is on show at the Museo d’Antichità in Turin, Italy. [Ed’s note: who else is thinking Putin?]
This wall painting (187 x 187cm)is from the cubiculum (or private room) from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale, an area of Naples. The fresco is late Republican, 50-40 BCE).
Image source: oxfordartonline.com

Image source: ancienthistorylists.com

This 30-20 BCE Painted Garden fresco was removed from the triclinium (dining room) at the Villa of Livia Drusilla in Prima Porta. The house has some of the most impressive wall frescoes and floor mosaics of its time.
A powerful and influential woman in her time that the Senate awarded her the title Mater Patriae or Mother of the Fatherland.
Laocoön and his Sons (Antiphantes and Thymbraeus) was discovered in 1506. The 2m high marble group shows the Trojan priest and his sons being attacked by sea serpents.
It had been praised by Pliny the Elder and a modern comment was that it epitomised human agony. Though Charles Darwin opined that Laocoön’s bulging eyebrows are physiologically impossible.
It is on display in the Museo Pio-Clementino, a part of the Vatican Museums.

Image source: Wikimedia commons

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