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Material Musings


After being a province of the Roman Empire for hundreds of years since the emperor Claudius’ invasion in AD 43, a naval commander Marcus Aurelius Mausaeus Carausius led a rebellion in AD 286. Britain and northern Gaul became a separate state for a decade under his rule and that of his finance minister Allectus. The Arras Medallion (Fig. 1), dating from AD 297 is a rare visual depiction of the Roman successful counteroffensive by the emperor Constantius in AD 296. Together with the Panegyric of Constantius it is a key source for this successful military action.

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Fig. 1: Constantius I, Trier, Arras Medallion, AD 297-305; RIC VI, p. 167, no. 34; BM. 11477.

Obv.: FL VAL CONSTANTIVS NOBIL CAES: legend surrounds bearded bust of Constantius I, r., laureate and draped, wearing a cuirass.

Rev.: REDDITOR LVCIS AETERNA /LON/PTR: legend surrounds scene of Constantius I on horseback riding r. beseeched by Londinium kneeling l. before fortified London; beneath personified Londinium ‘LON’; Beneath Constantius, sailors in ship on sea sailing l.; beneath sailors, ‘PTR’. AU 42mm 36g.

After distinguishing himself in Caesar Maximian’s campaign against the Bagaudae tribe in Gaul in early AD 286, Maximian appointed Carausius, a river pilot from the Menapii tribe in Belgae, north-eastern Gaul, as a military prefect in charge of the Roman naval fleet, the classis Britannica, based in Roman Boulogne, north-western Gaul. Maximian tasked Carausius with patrolling the Oceanus Britannicus or English Channel to suppress Frankish piracy. However, Carausius was accused of allowing the pirates to raid ships and then taking their spoils to enrich himself. Once he learnt that Maximian had ordered his execution, Carausius fled to Britain, revolted and occupied the province later that year. Britannia and Northern Gaul where Carausius soldiers were mainly based seceded from the Roman Empire for the next ten years.

Although historians know little about Carausius’ reign, Carausius minted coins in Londinium with legends and imagery suggesting that he was a legitimate emperor in Britain. For example, an Antoninianus coin (Fig. 2) depicts a bust of Carausius wearing a radiate crown and cuirass with a cloak. This depiction is strikingly similar to the coin depictions of the legitimate Roman emperor Diocletian who is frequently radiate, cuirassed and draped, see for example the aureus in Fig. 3. This presents Carausius as a militarily powerful imperial ruler who is the equal of Diocletian. Similarly, Carausius received and adapted the Diocletian legend ‘IMP C C VAL DIOCLETIANVS P F AVG’ to ‘IMP CARAUSIUS P F AVG’. Carausius appears as the rightful emperor of Britain who claimed the same imperial virtues of loyalty to the Roman state and piety as Diocletian, even though he was an illegitimate usurper of imperial authority. Carausius reigned until he was assassinated by Allectus, his finance minister, in AD 293. Around this time, Constantius, Maximian’s son and successor as Caesar, besieged Boulogne and began rebuilding the Roman fleet.

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Fig. 2: Carausius, Londinium, Antoninianus, AD 286 – 293; RIC V, p. , no. 25; BM 1925,0316.157.

Obv.: IMP CARAVSIVS P F AVG: legend surrounds bust of Carausius, radiate, draped, cuirassed, r.

Rev.: CONCORD MILIT / ML: legend surrounds clasped hands; beneath hands, mint mark ML.

AR 4.18g

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Fig. 3: Maximian, Lugdunum, aureus, AD 284-294; RIC V, p. , no. 3; BNF AF.1582 / IMP-10520.

Obv.: IMP C C VAL DIOCLETIANVS P F AVG: legend surrounds bust of Diocletian, laureate, draped, r.

Rev.: VICTORIA AVG: Victory, winged, draped, standing l., holding wreath in r. hand and palm in l.

AU 4.99g

Constantius’ invasion of Britain, depicted in brief on the medallion, took place in AD 296, for which the Panegyric of Constantius is the only historical literary source. The armies of Constantius under his praetorian prefect Asclepiodotus and other military leaders defeated Allectus and his army of mercenaries in bloody combat (Panegyric 8.16.3). After Allectus’ death in battle, his mercenaries knew they were no longer going to be paid. They began to loot London to make good their losses. Although lost in fog, Constantius’ men slaughtered the looters, saving the provincials. The massacre of the mercenaries, the Panegyric reports, gave the provincials a ‘pleasure of the spectacle’ (Panegyric 8.17). This suggests that the massacre itself was a pleasure for them to behold and that the mercenaries were taken prisoner and used as part of spectacles in the arena. Whatever their exact fate, Constantius’ armies defeated Allectus and brought the province of Britain back under legitimate Roman control.

The medallion’s imagery and legends emphasize the military power and achievements of Constantius. The reverse depicts Constantius on horseback riding to the defence of the personified Londinium. Dressed in a tunic and cuirass and holding a spear, Constantius appears heroic and gallant in his reclamation of Britain and defence of Londinium. The personified city kneels with arms aloft, begging Constantius for assistance lest she be destroyed by the looters. This underscores the desperation of Londinium and Britain in its time of need, and Constantius’ heroism for coming to her rescue. Although he almost certainly was not present in Britain for the invasion and main attack, entrusting leadership instead to his generals including Asclepiodotus, this image creates the impression that Constantius was present, personally led his armies and heroically defeated Allectus’ mercenaries. The reverse legend ‘REDDITOR LVCIS AETERNA’ or ‘the restorer of eternal light’ of Roman civilization to Britain verbalizes Constantius’ great achievement. Even though his soldiers and generals defeated Allectus and his mercenaries, this suggests that Constantius personally has restored Britain from the darkness of separatism to the light of Roman laws, religion and customs. As a restorer of a province, this places Constantius in an imperial tradition of provincial restoration which stretches back to the emperor Hadrian. Constantius appears as a virtuous emperor who has similar qualities to his great deceased predecessors. Indeed, the obverse legend ‘Nobilis Caes’ or ‘Noble Caesar’ reflects Constantius’ exemplary qualities. The obverse image further highlights Constantius’ accomplishment. He wears a laurel wreath, worn by triumphing Roman generals, emperors and their soldiers during a triumphal procession, awarded after a victorious military campaign. Together with a cuirass and cloak, this presents Constantius as a great military leader who achieved a substantial feat by reuniting Britain and northern Gallia with the Roman World and deserves victory spoils. Therefore, even though Constantius was not present at the invasion of Britain, the medallion suggests that he led his army heroically to re-unify Britain with the rest of the Roman Empire.

The deposition site and material of the medallion suggest that it formed part of imperial image creation for the Caesar and later emperor Constantius. The medallion was minted in Trier, northern Germany, but excavated in a coin horde in Beaurains, north-eastern France. Its presence in a horde hundreds of miles from its mint and its substantial weight suggest that medallion had a significant role in transmitting the message of Constantius’ victory in Britain across the Roman World. This emphasizes that the emperor Maximian wished the Roman people to consider Constantius to be a great Roman hero and conqueror who had unified the Roman world. Indeed, the medallion is made from gold, the equivalent in weight of 10 aurei. That the campaign warranted commemoration with a heavy gold medallion, requiring much expensive gold to mint and skill to create, portrays Constantius’ victory as a brilliant feat of arms. Therefore, the gold medallion deposited far from its place of striking shows that it was designed to transmit a significant message about imperial power to Roman citizens.

In conclusion, the naval commander Carausius revolted and occupied Britannia and northern Gaul. Despite being a usurper, he presented himself on locally produced coin legends and imagery as a legitimate imperial ruler, rivalling the emperor Diocletian and his subordinate Caesar Maximian. Allectus, Carausius’ finance minister assassinated him in AD 293. The Panegyric of Constantius is a key source along with the Arras Medallion for Constantius’ invasion. Constantius rebuilt the Roman fleet and invaded Britain in AD 297. The Arras Medallion’s imagery and legend emphasize Constantius’ heroism and gallant actions as the re-unifier of the Roman World and a principled ruler.

Abbreviations and Bibliography

Abbreviations

BM = British Museum.

BNF = Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Monnaies, médailles et antiques.

l. = left.

r. = right.

RIC V = Webb, P. H. (1933). The Roman Imperial Coinage Vol. V Part II (Vol. V ). (H. Mattingly, & E. Sydenham, Eds.) London: Spink and Son Ltd.

RIC VI = Sutherland, C. H. (1967). The Roman Imperial Coinage Vol. VI: Diocletian to Maximinus. London : Spink & Son.

Bibliography

Primary Sources

Ireland, S. (2008). Roman Britain: A Sourcebook. London: Routledge.

Sutherland, C. H. (1967). The Roman Imperial Coinage Vol. VI: Diocletian to Maximinus. London : Spink & Son.

The Trustees of the British Museum. (2022). 'Arras Medallion'. Retrieved September 16, 2022, from The British Museum: https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/C_B-11477

The Roman Imperial Coinage Vol. V Part II (Vol. V ). (H. Mattingly, & E. Sydenham, Eds.) London: Spink and Son Ltd.

Secondary Sources

Beard, M. (2007). The Roman Triumph . Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.

Casey, P. J. (1994). Carausius and Allectus: The British Usurpers . London: B. T. Batsford Ltd.

Lyne, M. (2003). Some New Coin Types of Carausius and Allectus and the History of the British Provinces AD 286-296. The Numismatic Chronicle, 163, 147-168.

Nixon, C. E., & Saylor-Rodgers, B. (1994). VIII: Panegyricus of Constantius. In C. E. Nixon, & B. Saylor-Rodgers, In Praise of Later Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini: Introduction, Translation, and Historical Commentary with the Latin Text of R. A. B. Mynors (pp. 104-144). Berkeley: University of California Press.

Southern, P. (2004). The Army in Late Roman Britain. In M. Todd (Ed.), A Companion to Roman Britain (pp. 393-408). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Williams, H. (2004). Carausius: a consideration of the historical, archaeological and numismatic aspects of his reign (BAR British Series). Oxford: British Archaeological Reports Publishing.

Giles

This post was written by Giles Penman, who is a final year MPhil student in the Department of Classics and Ancient History, jointly supervised by the Department of History. His thesis concerns the reception of Greco-Roman imagery on British civic cultural artefacts of the Great War 1914-1918 and the Inter-War Period 1919-1938 to mobilise British people for the war effort and post-war commemoration.

The Fayum portraits from Roman Egypt which are dated to the first to third centuries AD, are amongst the most captivating and poignant artefacts to survive from the ancient world, providing us with visual representations of how the people beneath the mummy wrappings might have looked in life. The portraits are evocative memorials and can be quite moving, with the deceased often depicted looking directly out at the viewer, inviting engagement with their image. They are all the more valuable given the lack of painted portraiture which survives from antiquity, as although marble portraiture survives in quantity, allowing us a similar look at the features of the dead, these painted images are more realistic, more evocative, and more engaging.

The portraits appear on a variety of media and incorporate different techniques; some show whole figures whilst others depict only the head and face. Some are likely to have been painted in life and kept until the death of the subject, whilst others would have been painted posthumously. Many are very sophisticated and high-quality works of art, portraying their subjects in a naturalistic manner, likely reflecting a degree of Greek influence in this regard, whilst others are stylised in different ways or are much more simplistic. They are of course a product of the society which created them; rather than an amalgamation of Greek, Roman and other cultural influences, Egypt maintained much of its own cultural identity and customs alongside these. Mummification to preserve the physical form, which was considered essential for life after death was, of course, an Egyptian ritual religious practise, and the portraits can be understood to reflect a development in Egyptian funerary art. This unique addition of portraits to the mummies, which began during the reign of Tiberius (AD 14-37) often incorporated elements of Roman dress and adornment, reflecting this aspect of contemporaneous society in Egypt.

1 Fig. 1. “Mummy portrait of Aline”, Ägyptisches Museum, Staatliche Museen du Berlin, ID. No. AM 11411. Height: 42 cm; Width: 33cm; Depth: 2 cm. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.

I was drawn to this particular image of a woman, “Aline” (Fig. 1.), due to a discernible element of sadness within the portrait, which the painter has managed to convey in a very realistic, perhaps even veristic, image. Aline’s mummy was found in a burial pit alongside other members of her family and she can most likely be identified, from an inscribed limestone stele (Fig. 2.) found beside her.

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Fig. 2. “Stele with Greek inscription”, Ägyptisches Museum, Staatliche Museen du Berlin, ID. No. AM 11415. Height: 23 cm; Width: 16 cm. Now lost.

Inscription translated by J. Moje as “ Aline|aka Tenos| (daughter) of Herod, the good| Greetings!| 10th year of reign. 35 years of life| 7 Mesore”. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.


The Roman era burial pit in which Aline’s mummy was found, was discovered at the end of March 1892, by Professor Richard von Kaufmann, a German art collector, who undertook a small excavation at Hawara in the Fayum. The pit dates to the first to second centuries CE, and contained eight mummies, two of which had gilded cartonnage masks, three with painted portraits and three others with no ornamentation. The burial pit has a shaft leading to it, about 1 metre deep, and the pit is 3.5 metres long and 2.8 metres wide. The mummies themselves were found stacked on top of each other: the mummy of Aline was at the bottom, lying on its side, with the mummies of two small children alongside her, and the inscribed stele at her head. Lying on top and across these, was the mummy of a man and a further child, both with the gilded masks, and on top of these, again laid cross-wise, were the three further undecorated mummies.

The mummy of both Aline and the man were unwrapped at the time of excavation in Hawara, with the gilded cartonnage mask of the man and portrait painting of Aline being transferred to Germany, together with the mummies of the three children. Somewhat gruesomely, the head of Aline’s mummy was removed (and is now lost) in order for a facial reconstruction to be created, to prove the similarity between the facial features of the mummy and the portrait. However, the facial features of her mummified head were not well preserved, and a reconstruction therefore proved difficult, although some similarity can be seen in a drawing taken from the head and superimposed onto another of the portrait.

Therefore, whether the mummy portrait of Aline was intended as a true likeness or whether it was an idealised portrait cannot be definitively verified. More likely it is a combination of the two, and a closer look at elements of Aline’s portrait, as well as the portraits of the two children may demonstrate this. All three of these portraits were painted directly onto the shrouds bound around the bodies and are lit from the right-hand side, which adds depth to the images. They share similarities in facial features, specifically in the shape of face and their lips, signifying their familial connection. It has been suggested that they were painted by the same artist, although Aline’s eyes are much more realistically depicted than those of the children. The jewellery Aline wears is highlighted by being painted in gold leaf on top of applied stucco, whilst the children’s mummies are decorated with similar button shapes (Figs. 3 and 4).

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Fig. 3. “Mummy of a girl with mummy portrait (“Aline’s daughter”), Ägyptisches Museum, Staatliche Museen du Berlin, ID. No. AM 11412. Length: 83 cm; Width: 27 cm; Depth: 20 cm. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.

4 Fig. 4. “Mummy of a Male Child with Mummy Portrait (“Son of Aline”), Ägyptisches Museum, Staatliche Museen du Berlin, ID. No. AM 11413. Length: 78 cm; Width: 23 cm; Depth: 22 cm. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0.

The dating of Aline’s portrait and those of her children are broadly given as within the first to second century CE timeframe, although some scholarship has suggested 69-117 CE. However, her hairstyle may suggest a slightly earlier dating of the middle of the first century CE. Indeed, Aline’s hairstyle shares some similarity with the so-called wife of Terentius Neo, who appears in one of the few paintings from Pompeii which can be identified as a portrait (Fig. 5.). This hairstyle is understood to have been popular around ca. 50 CE, but the Terentius Neo painting may not have been painted until towards the time of the Vesuvian eruption, and certain styles had some longevity, or came back into fashion at different times. It is also similarly represented on various statuary representations of Agrippina the Younger (14-59 CE) (for an example, please visit: https://www.uffizi.it/en/artworks/portrait-agrippina-younger%20). Therefore, Aline’s hairstyle, which does not have the same curls around the neck, may be an adaptation of the style which was popular from at least 50 CE onwards.

5 Fig. 5. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli Inv. No. 9058, Author’s own photograph.

The jewellery Aline wears consists of a gold collar type of necklace made up of a plain, “strap”-type of chain, with pendant drops suspended from it, whilst the earrings she wears may be either pearls or other semi-precious gemstones, set in gold. Opulent jewellery is a striking feature of the Fayum portraits, and its inclusion here contrasts with the realism in the facial features of the portrait, and I would suggest that this may indicate some element of identity projection, to indicate wealth and status. It is worth noting that there is literary evidence for what seems to have been an Egyptian practice of keeping mummies in the home (Diodorus Siculus 1.92.6; Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, 1.45; Lucian, On Funerals, 21.) and this may even point to the existence of a specifically Egyptian domestic ancestral cult. Therefore, instead of being confined to a single funerary occasion, the mummies may have had much more visibility, with dress and jewellery being significant inclusions in the portraits as a means of identity projection.

The portrait of the young girl “Aline’s daughter” (Fig. 3) is portrayed with a gilded wreath in her hair, wearing a gold necklace (which probably had an apotropaic pendant) and with disc and ball earrings which were a popular shape in the first century AD and are seen on numerous Fayum portraits. The younger child, “Son of Aline” (Fig. 4) is also shown with a gilded wreath and a rope-type of necklace with three gold pendant shapes which are difficult to interpret. Scholarship has suggested that the two outer pendants are lunulae which are crescent shaped, and these are usually worn for protection by girls and women, and again many of these can be seen in other Fayum portraits. For this to appear on a boy’s portrait is highly unusual, and this together with the bare shoulders of the child and the use of the colour lilac for clothing, has led to the child previously being assumed to be female. However, the CT scans carried out in January 2016 showed that the child was in fact a boy, aged 2-3 years, whilst “Aline’s daughter” was no older than age 4, with the cause of death unknown in both cases.

The portrayal of the children wearing lavish jewellery is not unusual since other Fayum portraits of children show similar adornment. However, it struck me that the earrings worn by “Aline’s daughter” are rather large and are more often seen on adult women. Therefore, the portraits are not likely to reflect the reality of the children’s everyday attire, but rather how they would have been dressed for important life events, had they lived. The young girl’s earrings could also be understood as an expression of this in terms of the jewellery she would have worn had she lived to be older.

In conclusion, I think that the portraits of Aline and her two young children combine the realism of their facial features with some elements of idealisation. Whilst there may have been some concern to promote ideas of wealth and status to the contemporaneous world via the lavish adornment in the portraits, the true likeness of the person would have had equal importance given the potential of display in the domestic setting. It would also have been important that the deceased were as well prepared for the afterlife as they could be, as the portraits formed part of the immortal substitute for the deceased. The portraits certainly provide a poignant snapshot, and I wonder if the sadness in Aline’s face is because the two cherub-cheeked young children died shortly before her, or in the case that she died first, the painter either captured or imagined her sadness at leaving her children behind. We can only surmise.

Bibliography:

Bierbrier, M. (1997) Portraits and Masks, Burial Customs in Roman Egypt (London, British Museum Press).

Clarke, J. R. (2003) Art in the Lives of Ordinary Romans, Visual Representation and Non-Elite Viewers in Italy 100 BC-AD 315 (London, University of California Press.

Corcoran, L. H. (1995) Portrait Mummies from Roman Egypt (I-IV Centuries A.D.) with a Catalog of Potrait Mummies in Egyptian Museums, Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, No. 56 (Chicago, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago).

Doxiadis, E. (1995) The Mysterious Fayum Portraits, Faces from Ancient Egypt (London, Thames and Hudson).

Harlow, M. and Laurence, R. (2002) Growing up and Growing Old in Ancient Rome (London and New York, Routledge).

Helmbold-Doyé, J. (2017) Aline und ihre Kinder: Mumien aus dem römerzeitlichen Ägypten (Wiesbaden, Reichert).

Helmbold-Doyé, J. (2022) “Mummy portrait of Aline” online at: https://recherche.smb.museum/detail/607538

Germer, R. Kischkewitz, H. and Lüning, M. (1993) “Das Grab der Aline und die Untersuchung der darin gefundenen Kindermumien”, Antike Welt, 1993, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp. 186-196.

Moje, J. (2022) “Stele with Greek inscription” online at: https://recherche.smb.museum/detail/761702

Newby, Z. (2019) ‘The Grottarossa doll and her mistress: hope and consolation in Roman tomb’, in The Materiality of Mourning: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives, eds. Z. Newby and R. E. Toulson. (London and New York, Taylor and Francis) pp. 77-102.

Walker, S. and Bierbrier, M. (1997) Ancient Faces, Mummy Portraits from Roman Egypt (London, British Museum Press).

Afterword:

In 2018, staff and students in the Department of Classics and Ancient History had the opportunity to participate in a “Mummy Portrait Painting Workshop”, organised by Dr. Helen Ackers. We were able to learn about the production of the paintings and the different techniques used, as well as having the fantastic hands-on experience of trying to create our own portraits. You can read about the workshop here.


jacqui_pic2.jpg This post was written by Jacqui Butler, part-time PhD candidate in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick. Jacqui’s research interests are in the representation of both mythical and real women in the Roman world, and more specifically their depiction in art.

Culture is often linked by iconic objects and images of real objects which become symbols, and the sharing of these symbols are a hint at interactions between different cultures. In this article, I consider the depiction of a box represented on a northern Apulian red-figure vase, dating to the last quarter of the third century BCE, which testifies to cultural interaction between Daunia, in the north of Apulia, and Macedonia.

Before looking closely at the box depiction on the vase, it is important to consider the historical background of the Apulian region between 334 BCE and the end of the third century BCE. Between 334 and 330 BCE the king of Epirus, Alexander the Molossus, (the uncle of Alexander III of Macedonia, also called ‘the Great’), reached Southern Italy, following a request for military help from the Italiote city of Taras. Indeed, the threat to the indigenous people had brought the Tarentines to ask the political authorities on the Balkan peninsula for a military leader and military forces. Alexander the Molossus undertook operations in central Apulia and then moved to northern Apulia, taking the port of Sipontum, and this resulted in the dissemination of Greek and Macedonian culture in this area. A material consequence was the start of production of red-figure vases in the settlement of Arpi and in northern Apulia.

Scholars usually recognize the propaganda spread by Alexander the Molossus from a small number of Apulian red-figure vases which show the very well-known subject often defined as ‘the Macedonian king charging the Persian king on the battlefield’ (Fig. 1). Vases and fragments showing this image have mainly been found in central Apulia, in the Peucetia region. The image depicted on the vases is an echo of the victories of Alexander III of Macedonia against Darius III Codomanus. Most likely, Alexander the Molossus implied that his deeds in the west would be similar to the victories of his nephew in the east.

carlo1 Fig. 1 Detail of the subject ‘The Macedonian king charging the Persian king on the battlefield’ on the upper register of an Apulian red-figure amphora, attributed to the Painter of Darius (330 BCE), from the ‘Tomb of Amazonomachy’ of Ruvo di Puglia now displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples Inv. 81951 (Image from Giacobello (2020) 336 Tav. X, 2).

However, the connection between Macedonian culture and members of the aristocracies in northern Apulia can also be discerned by other details, such as the rectangular box depicted on the Apulian red-figure amphora,(Fig. 2) which has been attributed to the Painter of Arpi (315-300 BCE). The vessel was part of the grave goods of the so-called ‘Tomb of the vase of the Niobides’ found in July 1972 near Arpi. Despite the funerary chamber of the tomb having been partially looted by grave-robbers, the vast majority of the funerary assemblage was recovered by the archaeologists of the Archaeological Superintendence of Foggia. The tomb was named after the subject depicted on one of the red-figure Apulian vessels found in the chamber tomb, which have been attributed to the Painter of Darius and the Painter of Baltimore (both 340-320 BCE) as well as the Painter of Arpi.

As with the vast majority of the Apulian red-figure vases, the vessel has rich figural decoration: the neck is decorated on one side with an Amazonomachy, and on the other with a single female head, depicted in profile and framed by vegetal elements. The upper register of the body is decorated on one side by a mythological episode showing the release of Juno from the cursed throne made by Hephaistos, and on the other by a mythical scene including Persephone. The lower register is decorated with a sequence of figures represented with objects related to athletics, such as a palm branch, metal vessels linked with the consumption of wine, objects related to love spells and mythical figures such as Eros and Dionysus.

However, what is most interesting here is the rectangular box held by the draped female figure, who is depicted facing right seated on a kalathos (a basket), and also holds a sphere in her right hand (Fig. 2). The lid of the box is decorated with a star with nine rays, five larger rays and four smaller rays. The box is depicted open, hence the star pattern is represented on the internal side of the lid.

carlo2 Fig. 2 Detail of the lower register of a red-figure Apulian amphora attributed to the Painter of Arpi (315-300 BCE), from the tomb of ‘The vase of the Niobides’ from Arpi, now displayed in the Civic Museum of Foggia, Inv. 132723. (Image from Todisco (2009) Tav. XLVII b).

This box can be compared with the golden coffers which were found in the Macedonian royal tombs in 1970 by the Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronicos, near the modern settlement of Vergina. Scholars usually identify these objects by using a Greek term meaning coffers: larnakes. More specifically, I refer to the gold larnakes found in the antechamber and in the funerary chamber of the large Macedonian tomb also known by the name of the tomb 'of Philip II’ (Figs. 3-6).

carlo3 Fig. 3 The smaller gold larnax from the antechamber of the large Macedonian tomb 'of Philip II', Museum of the Royal Tombs at Aigai, Vergina, Greece. (Image from Vokotopoulou (1996) p.219 258).
carlo4 Fig. 4 Detail of the front side of the smaller gold larnax from the antechamber of the large Macedonian tomb 'of Philip II', Museum of the Royal Tombs at Aigai, Vergina, Greece. (Image from Vokotopoulou (1996) p.219 258).
carlo5 Fig. 5 The larger gold larnax from the funerary chamber of the large Macedonian tomb 'of Philip II', Museum of the Royal Tombs at Aigai, Vergina, Greece. (Image from Vokotopoulou (1996) p.218 257).
carlo6 Fig. 6 Detail of the front side of the larger gold larnax from the funerary chamber of the large Macedonian tomb 'of Philip II', Museum of the Royal Tombs at Aigai, Vergina, Greece (Image from Vokotopoulou (1996) p.218 257).

The identity and the name of the two deceased persons buried in this tomb are still intensely debated by modern scholars, due to the lack of inscriptions which would have easily identified them. Names such as Philip II of Macedonia, his wife Eurydice II of Macedonia, Meda of Odessos, another wife of Philip II, Kleopatra, the last wife of Philip II, Philip III of Macedonia, step-brother of Alexander III (also called ‘the Great’) of Macedonia and other members of the Royal Macedonian family, have all being suggested. However, here, I want to try to provide a new observation about an object which was part of the grave goods found in the large Macedonian tomb also known as ‘Philip II’s tomb’, which can be dated between 340 BCE and 310 BCE.

‘Philip II’s tomb’ consists of a façade with the well-known painting of ‘the Royal Macedonian hunt’ and two square rooms, the antechamber and the main chamber, which are both covered by a barrel vault. Goods have been found in the antechamber and the main chamber of ‘Philip II’s tomb’ and it is extremely difficult for us to distinguish between the objects which were part of the personal possession of the deceased, and the items which were placed in the tomb as funerary offerings. This observation brought me to the topic of this analysis. In the antechamber and in the funerary chamber two rectangular golden boxes were found, and these larnakes are richly decorated showing various patterns. The lid of the two larnakes is decorated by an iconic detail: a star with drop-shaped rays of two sizes. Scholars disagree about the original function of the larnakes; with debate as to whether the boxes should be interpreted as luxury coffins, funerary offerings, or luxury boxes used to securely keep jewels or other precious personal possessions of the Macedonian royal family.

By observing the pattern on the gold larnakes and the pattern on the lid depicted on the Apulian red-figure vase it is possible to notice some similarities. Additionally, the surprising parallel between the star-rayed pattern depicted on the internal side of the lid of the box represented on the Apulian vase and the similar decoration of the internal side of the gold larnax found in the funerary chamber of "Philip II's tomb’ must be stressed (Fig.7). This could be a hint that the box depicted on the Apulian red-figure vases is an image representing a real metal object that was known by the Daunian patrons and by the craftsmen operating in Daunia region.

carlo7 Fig. 7 Comparison between the internal side of the lid of the great gold larnax from Vergina and the rectangular box depicted on the Apulian red-figure amphora attributed to the Painter of Arpi found in the tomb ‘of the vase of the Niobids’ near Arpi. (From the left image from Andronicos (1994) 169 fig. 136, detail from Todisco (2009) Tav. XLVII b).

Moreover, the image on the Apulian red-figure amphora suggests that rectangular boxes similar to the gold larnakes found in funerary contexts, could have been used in ceremonies and social rites performed by the wealthiest members of the upper social classes, sharing similar ideologies and religious beliefs. It may be possible to suggest that such luxury larnakes were part of the personal possession of the indigenous characters identified by modern scholars by the expression ‘Daunian principes’.

Hence, the larnax depicted on the Apulian red-figure amphora may be connected with the so-called ‘Daunian principes’ who were at the top of the Daunian society between the fourth and the third century BCE. It is plausible, then, that Alexander the Molossian fought and also formed diplomatic agreements and cultural exchanges with the ‘Daunian principes’. The Macedonian culture brought into northern Apulia by Alexander the Molossian may include some ceremonies which required the use of specific objects, such as luxury larnakes, similar to the object depicted on the Apulian red-figure amphora. Therefore, it could be possible that some supporters of Alexander the Molossian, probably the members of the families related to the ‘Daunian principes’, aimed to demonstrate materially their political and cultural ideology by depicting some objects echoing some specific realia. Additionally, since the vessel is dated to the last quarter of the fourth century BC, more than fifteen years after the end of the military campaigns of Alexander the Molossus, it could be argued that the box depicted on the Apulian red-figure vessel is an echo of the earlier cultural interactions which enriched the cultural background of the indigenous people settled in northern Apulia. Therefore, it could also be argued that some details of the imagery of Apulian red-figure vases could provide us with more information about the political and the cultural links between the Daunians and the Macedonian culture.

In conclusion the red-figure box on the Apulian red-figure amphora can echo the luxury boxes used by the Macedonians and testified by the gold larnakes found in the tombs of the Royal Macedonian family, another hint proving the strong links between the new rising power in the east and the complex context of Apulia during the end of the fourth century BCE.

Bibliography

Andronicos, M. (1994) Vergina – The Royal Tombs and the Ancient City (Athens: Ekdotike Athenon S.A.)

Carpenter, T.H., Lynch, K. M. and Robinson, E. (2014) The Italic people of ancient Apulia : new evidence from pottery for workshops, markets, and customs (New York : Cambridge University press).

De Juliis, E.M. (1992) La Tomba del Vaso dei Niobidi di Arpi (Bari: Edupuglia)

Drouguou S. and Saatsoglou Paladieli, C. (2005) Vergina – The Land and its History (Athens: Militos Editions)

Giacobello F. (2020) Mito e Società. Vasi Apuli a figure rosse da Ruvo di Puglia al Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (Sesto Fiorentino: All'insegna del giglio).

Kottaridi, A. (2011) Macedonian treasures: A tour through the Museum of the Royal Tombs of Aigai (Athens : Kapon Editions)

Kottaridi, A. (2013) The Royal Metropolis of the Macedonians (Athens: John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation)

Pouzadoux, C. (2005) ‘Guerre et paix en Peucétie à l’époque d’Alexandre le Molosse (notes sur quelques vases du Peintre de Darius)’, in Le canal d’Otrante et les échanges dans la Méditerranée antique et médiévale (colloque Nanterre, 20-21 novembre 2000), ed E. Deniaux (Bari: Edipuglia )

Todisco, L. (2008) Il pittore di Arpi: mito e società̀ nella Daunia del tardo IV secolo a.C. (Roma : "L'Erma" di Bretschneider)

Todisco, L. (ed.) (2012) a La ceramica a figure rosse della Magna Grecia e della Sicilia, Vol. II Inquadramento, (Roma: L'Erma di Bretschneider).

Todisco, L. (ed.) (2012) b La ceramica a figure rosse della Magna Grecia e della Sicilia, Vol. III Apparati, (Roma: L'Erma di Bretschneider).

Todisco, L. (ed.) (2012) La ceramica a figure rosse della Magna Grecia e della Sicilia, Vol. I Produzioni, (Roma: L’Erma di Bretschneider).

Vokotopoulou, I. (1996) Macedonians : the northern Greeks (Athens : Kapcon Editions)


clualdiphoto_002.jpg Carlo Lualdi is a PhD student at Warwick University. Usually, he states that his academic interests are mainly related to combat scenes linked with real military events dated “From Pyrrhus to Pydna”. Naturally ‘A person proposes and the archaeology disposes’, hence Carlo is now analyzing some combat scenes coming from Messapia region dating before the arrival of Pyrrhus in Italy. Carlo is also interested in studying the reception of Classical culture in contemporary media as movies, tv series and comics.

Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee was a great opportunity to celebrate her wonderful achievement, and allowed us to glimpse the royal family during events that, although highly choreographed, were often less formal. We saw, at times, a more casual side to the family, especially the children. As the celebrations drew to a close, I wondered how an empress of Rome would have appeared in celebration. Alas for me, none of the empresses I am researching ever came close to celebrating a jubilee, let alone a platinum one! However, there is one empress who can give us a glimpse of an imperial celebration: the little known Magnia Urbica.

Magnia Urbica was a ‘Soldier Empress’ - these are a relatively understudied group of empresses who ruled between 235 CE and 285 CE. Magnia Urbica was the last empress in this group, she reigned between August 283 CE and August 285 CE and was married to Carinus, a ‘Soldier Emperor or Barracks Emperor’. Together they represent the last of their kind, at the end of an era.

Fig. 1

Fig 1: RIC V (Carus) 337, Magnia Urbica. Antoninianus, Lugdunum (Lyon) mint, struck 283-285 CE; courtesy of the American Numismatic Society.

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Fig 2: RIC V (Carus) 214, Carinus, husband of Magnia Urbica. Antoninianus, Lugdunum (Lyon) mint, struck 283-285 CE; courtesy of the American Numismatic Society.

Compared to the famous emperors of imperial Rome, little is known of the Soldier Emperors, and even less about their wives. Like most Soldier Empresses, Magnia Urbica was not mentioned by any ancient historian, we only know her through inscriptions and coins. Her husband, Carinus, was the last of a trio of short reigning, unsuccessful emperors: Carinus, his younger brother Numerian and their father Carus. The emperor Carus died, if you believe the myth, by being struck by lightning in his tent. More probably he was struck by his brother-in-law Aper, who also murdered Numerian soon after. In a tale that borders on comical, Aper, hid the death of Numerian by having the emperor’s body carried around in a litter and claiming the emperor was too ill to see anybody, until inevitably, the smell alerted those nearby to what had happened. Aper was then killed by Valerius Diocles, who after being proclaimed emperor changed his name to Diocletian. A few months later Carinus was betrayed and killed by his own men, leaving Diocletian the undisputed ruler of the Roman world. With Diocletian came a new era for Rome: the rule of four emperors, the tetrarchy, would transform the empire and within a century would also become a Christian Roman Empire. Given the negative impression of Magnia Urbica’s family, especially compared to Diocletian, it is easy to see why she gets overlooked.

So, who was Magnia Urbica? Sadly, there are few clues as the ancient patriarchy was adept at filtering out or distorting the women of the ancient world. Coins provide the majority of the surviving evidence for her, and like previous Roman empresses, Magnia Urbica is mostly depicted in the traditional and often drab motifs used by her predecessors. Her portraits on coins are not an accurate representation of her appearance but are instead a feminised version of the emperor’s own image (compare Figs 1 and 2). The differences between the images follow the same standard changes adopted by her third century predecessors: her hair is in the fashionable Scheitelzopffrisur style, she wears a diadem, and she is dressed in the traditional palla. Beyond her portrait, the images and inscriptions on the reverse of her coins also represent Magnia Urbica with similar values to the other Soldier Empresses and even the powerful empresses of the second century. She was the last empress to be represented alongside Juno Regina, queen of the gods. Magnia Urbica was linked to the famous empresses of the second century, such as Faustina the Younger (the daughter of the emperor Antonninus Pius and wife of the emperor Marcus Aurelius), by having coins made with similar imagery, such as Venus Victrix (see Figs 3 and 4).

Fig 3 June 2022

Fig 3: RIC III (Marcus Aurelius) 1688, Faustina the Younger, Sestertius, Rome mint, struck 161-176 CE; courtesy of the British Museum.

Nonetheless, Magnia Urbica was not always represented in such a traditional manner, and was also depicted in new and more interesting forms. None is more striking than the coins struck in the northern Italian mint of Ticinum, modern Pavia, which depict her wearing an unusually elaborate, embroidered costume which has often been identified as a trabea. She is also wearing elaborate jewellery: a double rowed pearl necklace with joining jewels (Fig 4).

Fig 4 June 2022

Fig 4: RIC V (Carus) 347, Magnia Urbica. Antoninianus, Ticinum mint, struck 283 CE; courtesy of the Münzkabinett der Universität Göttingen.

The trabea, or trabea triumphalis is also known as the toga picta. It is a decorated garment, often made with purple cloth and gold thread, worn by emperors, consuls and generals during a triumph. The suggestion that Magnia Urbica is wearing a trabea is controversial as it is considered to only have been worn by men. Nonetheless, the costume of Magnia Urbica shows remarkable similarities to images portraying the trabea,e.g. the ivory diptych of the consul Anastasius, and coins of the emperor Diocletian wearing a trabea triumphalis (Figs 5 and 6). If Magnia Urbica is not wearing a trabea, then it is of a very similar design, perhaps deliberately so.

Fig 5 June 2022

Fig 5: Ivory diptych of the Consul Anastasius, object no.O93125; courtesy of the © Victoria and Albert Museum.

Fig 6 June 2022

Fig 6: RIC VI (Serdica) 14a, Diocletian, Nummus. Serdica mint, struck 284-305 CE; courtesy of the British Museum.

Why Magnia Urbica is illustrated wearing this outfit remains open to debate, but all the theories suggest she is celebrating an important event: possibly her wedding as she may have married Carinus in or around Ticinum in 283 CE, or she could be celebrating her coronation as empress, which once again may have happened in northern Italy. The third theory is that she is celebrating a major military victory. Either way her husband, Carinus, is not depicted wearing a trabea or special outfit which makes its representation on Magnia Urbica all the more curious.

Although the nature of this celebration and her choice of costume may never be known, Magnia Urbica’s innovation did not end with her short reign. Many later empresses like Galeria Valeria, Helena and Fausta are depicted wearing similarly elaborate costumes and jewellery (Fig 7) suggesting that Magnia Urbica began a new trend, one that appears more vibrant and celebratory.

Fig 7 June 2022

Fig 7: RIC VI (Siscia) 204, Galeria Valeria. Bronze AE2, Siscia mint, struck 309-310 CE; courtesy of the American Numismatic Society.

In fact, over the centuries that followed Magnia Urbica the appearance of empresses in elaborate costumes increases; the trabea triumphalis also evolved into the Byzantine loros,often depicted being worn by some Byzantine empresses, as well as emperors. These Byzantine empresses are often depicted in an elaborate loros and fine jewellery. Indeed, the bejewelled double pearl necklace worn by Magnia Urbica also bears a striking similarity to the necklace worn by the famous sixth century Byzantine empress Theodora, on the panel in the Basilica di San Vitale in Ravenna (Fig 8). The mosaic of Theodora helps us to take Magnia Urbica outside of the monochrome world of coins and into the vibrant world of colour. The added colour also allows us to get a little closer to the human side of Magnia Urbica and the world she inhabited and to get an idea of what she may have looked like during the imperial celebrations.

Fig 8 June 2022

Fig 8: Mosaic in situ in the Basilica di San Vitale, Ravenna. Theodora wearing a white chalmys, on top of a purple robe and ornate jewellery, including a pearl necklace, earrings and crown. Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Magnia Urbica was often represented as an archetypal empress of ancient Rome and it can be hard to see past her static, colourless images, with her stern face and traditional clothing. Yet, as with the Queen’s platinum jubilee, celebrations can become a window through which we can glimpse a different side of those whose public images are necessarily filtered. As Magnia Urbica demonstrates, an empress can be represented traditionally and innovatively. She was part of a long lineage of empresses emerging from the early days of empire. Through her triumphs and celebrations, she created both new traditions to be copied by later empresses, and an opportunity to glimpse a more human side to an empress of Rome.

Bibliography

Ando, C. (2012) Imperial Rome AD 193 to 284 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press)

Estiot, S. (2017) ‘L'Atelier de Ticinum sous le règne de Carus et ses fils', Revue Numismatique 174: 75-118

Gricourt, D. (1995) ‘L'adventus de Carin à Ticinum et son mariage avec Magnia Urbica', Revue Numismatique 150: 95-112

Harries, J. (2012) Imperial Rome AD 284-363: The New Empire (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press)

Kienast, D, Eck, W, Heil, M. (1996) Römische kaisertabelle: Grundzüge einer römischen Kaiserchronologie (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft)

Parani, M. (2018) ‘toga picta’, in The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity, ed O. Nicholson (Oxford: Oxford University press)

Potter, D. (2014) The Roman Empire at Bay AD 180-395 (New York: Routledge)

Ricciardi, R. (2008) Where did all the Women go: The Archaeology of the Soldier Empresses (Cincinnati: Cincinnati University Press)

Ševčenko, N, P. (2005) ‘loros’, in The Oxford Dictionary Byzantium, ed A, P, Kazdan (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Southern, P. (2015 2nd edn) The Roman Empire form Severus to Constantine (New York: Routledge)

Richard Allard-Meldrum



This post was written by Richard Allard-Meldrum, part-time MPhil/PhD candidate in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Warwick. Richard’s research interests are the third century CE, and the representation of the ‘Soldier Empresses’ in the period 235 to 285 CE.




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Portrait of so-called Marius, 1st century BCE, restored by Alexander Trippel, now in the Musei Vaticani (https://commons. wikimedia.org/wiki/File: Marius_Chiaramonti_Inv1488.jpg) with "A view of the trophies of Marius" Plate 25 in Sadeler, M. (1660) Vestigi delle Antichiat di Roma, Tivoli, Puzzuolo et altri luochi (Roma: G. Giacomo de Rossi).

Today, if you walk up the picturesque Cordonata Capitolina staircase towards the summit of Rome’s Capitoline Hill, you will be confronted by the imposing equestrian statue of the second-century CE emperor, Marcus Aurelius. An array of other ancient statues adorn the Piazza del Campidoglio, too. The top of the staircase is flanked by the Dioscuri, statue of the twin deities Castor and Pollux. Further along the balustrade are two other marble compositions. These depict “tropaea”, or “trophies”, which were displays of captured arms and armour that monumentalised Roman military victory.

Kieren2 An illustration of one of the tropaea from the balustrade of the Campidoglio, attributed to Pietro da Cortona ca. 1625-30. Image from Royal Collection Trust.

These arrangements are one of the most recognisable motifs in ancient iconography, featuring in an array of visual media, including marble reliefs, through to gems and coinage, across the centuries of the empire’s history. Representing spolia, the spoils of war captured from Rome’s defeated enemies, they symbolise Roman might. However, the examples on the Campidoglio have a curious history of display and movement in the city.

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RIC I2 Augustus 4B: Denarius minted at Emerita by P. Carisius in 25-23 BCE. Obverse portrait of Augustus, reverse depiction of a trophy erected on mound of shields. Image from: Department of Numismatics and Monetary History at the University of Vienna.


K4 RIC VII Rome 345: Bronze medallion minted at Rome in 333-335 CE. Obverse portrait of Constantius II, reverse depiction of Constantius II erecting trophy with seated female figure. Image from: Münzkabinett Berlin.

The Capitoline tropaea have been in situ on the Campidoglio since 1590, when they had been moved on the orders of Pope Sixtus V; they’re visible in Giovanni Paolo Panini’s View of the Campidoglio from 1750. When they were moved in the sixteenth century, an inscription on the underside of one of the ensembles indicated that the monument was made of marble quarried during the reign of Domitian in the late first century CE. Despite this, they were – and indeed still are by many – commonly referred to as the ‘Trophies of Marius’.

K5 The right-hand tropaea as it appears today on the Campidoglio in Rome.(https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trofei_di_mario_a_ campidoglio.JPG)

The Republican general had erected a number of monuments to commemorate his triumphs, first over Jugurtha and the Numidians (104 BCE) and then over the Cimbrians, defeated at the Battle of Vercellae (101 BCE). His political opponent, Sulla, had destroyed these monuments in the 80s BCE, but they were restored by Julius Caesar, during his aedileship, in 69 BCE, as recorded by Suetonius, Valerius Maximus, and by Plutarch: “he [Caesar] had images of Marius secretly made, together with trophy-bearing Victories, and these he ordered set up on the Capitol” (Caesar, 6.1).

These literary accounts have contributed to the modern misnomer. Although there were tropaea or monumenta Marii, the exact location of these monuments remains unknown. In reality, as noted above, these tropaea date to the late first century CE, and were therefore part of a now-lost triumphal monument, dedicated to either Domitian or Trajan. The dating is further indicated by the stylistic similarities between the shields on the Capitoline tropaea and those depicted on the base of Trajan’s Column.

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Sides 2 and 3 of the base of Trajan’s Column in Rome. The iconography of captured arms provides a useful point of comparison with the so-called Trophies of Marius on the Capitoline. Image from University of St Andrews.

Later, in the first half of the third century CE, the trophies were moved for the first time. They were taken from the Domitianic/Trajanic monument and repurposed as part of a monumental nymphaeum on the south-eastern slope of the Esquiline Hill. Built at the point where the via Labicana and via Praenestina merged (today’s Piazza Vittorio Emanuele), this colossal water fountain was a project of the last Severan emperor, Severus Alexander (r. 222-235 CE).

Built in opus latericium and covered in marble ornamentation, only remains of the brick structure survives today, although the monuments former prestige is clear from the size of the remains. In antiquity, the nymphaeum comprised of four levels; a ground level basin was fed by a total of seven fountain niches, five frontal and two on either side. A quadriga was situated on the very top of the structure. A good impression of the nymphaeum’s overall appearance is provided by an aureus of Alexander, minted in 226 CE.

K9 RIC IV Severus Alexander 58: Aureus minted at Rome in 226 CE. Obverse portrait of Severus Alexander, reverse depiction of the nymphaeum of Alexander, with details of statue decoration. Image from American Numismatic Society.

On the fourth level, a central niche featured a sculptural group of the imperial domus and the god Oceanus, who was depicted reclining. However, it remains conjectured as to whether this would have represented Alexander with his wife, Sallustia Orbiana, or with his grandmother, Julia Maesa. The role of Maesa and her daughter, Julia Mammaea (Alexander’s mother) in the emperor’s court remains the subject of ongoing debate, though notions of her overbearing influence increasingly appear to be historiographic tropes. In two lateral niches, either side of this central imperial statue group, were the tropaea.

The reuse of this overtly militaristic iconography in Alexander’s reign is striking. Although the emperor enjoys a largely positive reception in both ancient and modern assessments of his reign, his reputation as a military leader is wholly less positive. Indeed, this is frequently presented as the prime catalyst for his assassination in 235 CE: the legions in Germany effectively shifted their loyalty to the bellicose career soldier, Maximinus Thrax.

Despite this, it has been convincingly noted that the façade of the nymphaeum, with its three niches would have resembled a triumphal arch. The inclusion of the tropaea, repurposed from their original architectural contexts, would have contributed to this impression significantly.

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"A view of the trophies of Marius" Plate 25 in Sadeler, M. (1660) Vestigi delle Antichiat di Roma, Tivoli, Puzzuolo et altri luochi (Roma: G. Giacomo de Rossi).

This movement and re-use of architectural material means that the tropaea, an artistic representation of spolia, became – in themselves – spolia. This is the term used to characterise artistic and architectural material re-used in new contexts and is characteristic of Roman practices from the fourth century CE onwards, most notoriously in the Arch of Constantine’s use of a plethora of earlier imperial material).

Specifically, these tropaea illustrate the complexities in identifying types of spolia, specifically, whether they might be in re, or in se. This was a distinction first identified by Richard Brilliant, as part of his analysis of the pedestals in the Boboli Gardens in Florence; these monuments had been spoliated from the Arcus Novus in Rome to decorate the Renaissance gardens. Brilliant’s analysis distinguished between the use of spolia as merely a form of architectural reuse (i.e. spolia in se), and the communicative and ideological capacity of re-used architectural material (i.e. spolia in re).

The movement of the tropaea to this new architectural context provided Alexander with the means to augment his own status. The nymphaeum was a public benefaction of the emperor’s generosity and a billboard for the imperial domus, while the tropaea asserted that the emperor commanded the support of his soldiers. Because of this, one might wonder whether Alexander’s use of the tropaea served as an assurance of his authority over the praetorians. Cassius Dio describes how the guards had rebelled early in his reign, and the fires they started reputedly threatened the city.

More generally, if the tropaea were from a Trajanic monument, they may have allowed Alexander to generate welcome associations with the optimus princeps. If they were taken from a Domitianic monument, then these tropaea would fit into a pattern identifiable elsewhere in Alexander’s Rome. The emperor had already overseen the renovation of the thermae of Nero on the Campus Martius, and the baths quickly became known as the thermae Alexandrinae; architectural reuse had again allowed for the creation of a new narrative of imperial generosity.

Ultimately, the so-called Trophies of Marius – the spoliated spolia – present a wonderful insight into the complexities of ancient Rome’s topographical history. The modern misnomer, although a fascinating indication as to how sixteenth century Romans mined the ancient texts for information and inspiration, nevertheless belies a rich legacy of artistic and architectural interaction between Rome’s emperors and their architectural legacies.


Further reading:

Brilliant, R. (1982) ‘I piedistalli del giardino di boboli: spolia in se, spolia in re’, Prospettiva, 31:2-17.

Claridge, A. (2010) Rome. An Oxford Archaeological Guide (Oxford): 265.


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This post was written by Kieren Johns, who has recently submitted his PhD at the University of Warwick and is awaiting his viva. His research presents an investigation of the epigraphic representation of Roman emperors in the period 180 to 235 CE, or from the reign of Commodus to Alexander Severus, supervised by Professor Alison Cooley and Dr Clare Rowan. You can read more about his research interests, including papers presented, on his student profile.