The Column of Marcus Aurelius
The Genesis and Meaning of a Roman Imperial Monument
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: The University of North Carolina Press
The idea for this book grew slowly, as over the course of a number of years spent investigating particular details of the monument it gradually became clear to me how little was known about how the Column of Marcus Aurelius was created. I have the great pleasure of thanking Katherine Dunbabin for encouraging my early research on this subject. Many of the questions ...
If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.”1 This is the well- known verdict of Edward Gibbon on the condition ...
1. The Date & Purpose of the Column
At the end of the second century A.D., in the early years of the reign of the emperor Septimius Severus, a Roman official named Adrastus—a former slave but now a freedman of the emperor— moved into a new house. Adrastus was not just any official, and his was not just any house. He was the procurator or caretaker ...
2. The Dust of Northern Warfare: Choice of Location
The Column of Marcus Aurelius stood in the northern part of the Campus Martius, the flat expanse of land bounded by the Capitol to the south, the wide bend of the Tiber to the west, and the Via Flaminia to the east. To be more precise, its ancient location was on the west side of the Via Flaminia ...
3. Form & Function
One of the most common expressions used by the Romans to describe the Column of Marcus Aurelius was columna cochlis: “snail column.” This appears not just in one obscure author, but in many sources over centuries. Its meaning was obviously clear to the Romans but is, at first ...
4. Planning & Construction
The Column of Marcus Aurelius was a complex monument, combining architecture, relief carving, statuary, and an inscription into a single, unified whole. The planning of these different elements would have been a complicated, multistage process, an understanding of which could provide an ...
5. The Frieze: Concept & Draft
The designers of the frieze of the Column of Marcus Aurelius (its regularity suggests that a single designer was responsible for the general form and layout—the generation of its content is a different matter) did not face the same challenge as did the designer of the frieze of Trajan’s Column. They did not have to create an entirely ...
6. Carving the Frieze
For the frieze of the Column of Marcus Aurelius, carving was the final step in the long genetic path from conception to execution. This massive and complicated task is naturally of great interest in and of itself, but the study of its process can also provide many clues about how its iconographic content was created. Carving involved the translation ...
7. The Frieze as History
Lactantius, a Christian writer of the early fourth century A.D., tells a revealing story about the sufferings of the Roman emperor Valerian, captured through treachery by the Persian king Sapor in 260. “When King Sapor, who had captured him, wanted to mount a vehicle or a horse, he would order Valerian ...
8. The Frieze as Art
Compared with the noble Column of Trajan, that of Aurelius is in all ways inferior.”1 This was the opinion of Percy Gardner, professor of classical archaeology at Oxford University in the late nineteenth century. His views on the value of the art of the Column of Marcus Aurelius were shared by many of his contemporaries. Eugen Petersen, even after ...
9. Viewing the Column
Up to this point, I have concentrated on questions related to how the Column of Marcus Aurelius was created. This last chapter has a different focus and asks a more problematic question: what did the column mean? For the modern viewer, the main message of the column at first seems to be contained in the frieze: a vast expanse of detailed ...
EPILOGUE: The Columns of Trajan, Marcus Aurelius, & Arcadius
The Romans saw things differently than we do today. When looking at the Column of Marcus Aurelius, the modern observer usually thinks first about the remarkable helical frieze, wonders what events it might record, and then wishes that he could see them better. The Roman first thought of a snail. ...
Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 10 drawings, 59 illus., 1 map
Publication Year: 2011
Series Title: Studies in the History of Greece and Rome
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