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The High Empire. TRAJAN’S COLUMN Celebration of Victory against the Dacians Rome, 113 BC HIGH EMPIRE ROMAN. The High Empire. Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius Rome, Italy 175 A.D.

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The High Empire


Celebration of Victory against the Dacians

Rome, 113 BC



The High Empire

Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius

Rome, Italy 175 A.D.

This larger-than-life guilded bronze equestrian statue was selected by Pope Paul III as the center piece for Michelangelo’s new design.

Most ancient bronze statues were melted down for their metal value during the Middle Ages, but this one happened to have survived.

Marcus possesses a superhuman grandeur and is much larger than any normal human would be in relation to his horse. He stretches out his right arm in a gesture that is both a greeting and an offer of clemency (an act that bestows or shows mercy toward another person over whom somebody has ultimate power)

Some speculate that an enemy once cowered beneath the horse’s raised right foreleg begging Marcus for mercy.

The statue conveys the awesome power of the godlike Roman emperor as ruler of the whole world.


The Late Empire

The emperor Commodus (the son of Marcus Aurelius) was probably insane. He claimed at various times to be the reincarnation of Hercules and Jupiter. He order the months of the Roman year to be named after him and changed the name of Rome to Colonia Commodiana. He was eventually strangled in his bath.

The reign of Commodus marked the beginning of a period of economic and political decline.

Commodus as Hercules, ca. 191-192 AD, LATE EMPIRE ROMAN


The Late Empire

Painted portrait of Septimius Severus and his family


When civil conflict following Commodus’s death ended, an African general named Septimius Severus was master of the Roman world. The new emperor proclaimed himself as Marcus Aurelius’s son. For this reason, he is depicted with long hair and the “trademark” beard.

The Severan family portrait is special for two reasons beyond its mere survival. The emperor’s hair is tinged with gray, suggesting that his marble portraits also may have revealed his advancing age in this way.

Also noticed in the portrait, the face of the emperor’s youngest son, Geta, was erased. When Caracalla succeeded his father as emperor, he had his brother murdered and his memory damned.

The painted tondo, circular format, portrait is an eloquent testimony to that damnatio memoriae and to the long arm of Roman authority.

The concept of damnatio memoriae is also evident in Ancient Egypt, when Thutmose III had all rememberances of Hatshepsut destroyed after her death.


The Late Empire

Typical sculpture of the ruthless emperor Caracalla

The sculptor suggested the texture of his short hair and cropped close beard.

Caracalla’s brow is knotted, and he abruptly turns his head over his left shoulder, as if he suspects danger from behind.

He was killed by an assassin’s dagger in the sixth year of his ruling.

Portrait of Caracalla,ca. A.D. 211-217.LATE EMPIRE ROMAN


Portrait Bust of Marcus Aureliusca. 161-169

“…This portrait exemplifies Marcus Aurelius’ image as the perfect ruler, the ‘philosopher king.’ His face projects maturity, serenity and wisdom, underlined by his long beard in the tradition of Greek philosophers… but he also wears a military tunic and cloak, which reflect his active role as commander-in-chief.”


The Late Empire

Portraits of the Four tetrarchs

Saint Mark’s, Venice, A.D. 305LATE EMPIRE ROMAN

In 293 Diocletian established a tetrarchy with himself as the Eastern ruler (Augustus of the East) and Maximian as ruler of the West. Each had a caesar, a vice-ruler, who was his heir. This political solution and attempt to retain order in the Roman Empire failed after Diocletian retired in 305. Carved in porphyry, a hard purple stone used primarily for imperial objects, these four emperors symbolize the equality of their rule. No individualized features are represented; they are dressed identically, even to their swords, and they are of equal height. Their embraces also indicate their unity. The staring eyes, squatty forms, and absract quality are characteristic of much late Roman sculpture, where symbolism is more important than realism and individuality.


The Late Empire

Arch of Constantine

Rome, Italy A.D. 312-315LATE EMPIRE ROMAN

Constantine’s decisive victory over Maximentius at the Milvian Bridge resulted with a great triple-passageway arch in the shadow of the Colosseum to commemorate his defeat of Maxentius.

The arch was the largest erected in Rome

since the end of the Severan dynasty nearly a

century before. There is great sculptural

decoration, which was taken from earlier

monuments of Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus


Sculptors re-cut the heads of the earlier

emperors with the features of the new ruler in

honor of Constantine. They also added labels

to the old reliefs that were references to the

downfall of Maxentius and the end of civl war.

The reuse of statues and reliefs by

Constantinian artists has been seen as a

decline in creativity and technical skill in the

waning years of the pagan Roman Empire.


The Late Empire

Arch of Constantine (Side View)

Rome, Italy, 312-315 A.D.LATE EMPIRE ROMAN

Reuse of statues and reliefs by Constantinian artists shows evidence of decline in creativity and technical skill of the waning years of the pagan Roman Empire.

Reused sculptures, however, were carefully selected to associate Constantine with the good emperors of the 2nd century, underscored by reliefs above the lateral passageways, one of which depicting Constantine on the speaker’s platform in the Roman Forum flanked by statues of Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius.


The Late Empire

Arch of Constantine

Rome, Italy A.D. 312-315LATE EMPIRE ROMAN


The Late Empire

Portrait of Constantine, from the Basilica Nova

Rome, Italy, 315-330 A.D.LATE EMPIRE ROMAN

Built after Constantine’s victory over Maxentius, broke with tetrarchic tradition and the style of soldier emperors and resuscitated the Augustan image of the eternally youthful head of state.

8 1/2 foot tall head that was part of a 30 foot tall statue of the emperor, made of a brick core, a wooden torso laced with bronze, and head and limbs of marble.

Emperor once held an orb in his left hand that symbolized global power

Nervous glance of 3rd century portraits is gone, now with frontal mask and enormous eyes

The size, likening to Jupiter, and eyes directed to no one combine to produce a formula of overwhelming power appropriate to Constantine’s position as absolute ruler

Sat in the western apse of the Basilica Nova in Rome, dominating the interior and similarly looming over awestruck mortals who entered the cellas of pagan temples.