A Study of the History of the Roman Empire Through the Sculptures

The Roman Empire chooses to make their sculptures, especially portraitures (portraits showing mostly their head to shoulder or sometimes the full body) heavy with detail and depicting the way of life, rank, and importance of the individual. This instills knowledge, fear, and competition to those who want to challenge those that are sculpted or the Roman Empire. The amount of details and style vary throughout the Roman Empire, however not losing their message being conveyed to the general public that viewed them wherever they are placed.

Ancestry is important to the Romans as it shows how much they elevate in society and with rank and power. The sculptures depict not only separation from the plebeians (middle class), lower class and slaves but wealth and power within the patricians (wealthy landowners and leaders). The sculptures also show the likeness (familiar face structure and features of the family). A full body sculpture of a patrician in a toga holds his father and grandfather’s portraits.

The portraits all show likeness in features to the male.

In the Roman Republic the subjects of the portraits, mostly of older, senior men are patricians or leaders in the senate (literally called the council of seniors). It is extremely important the sculptor depicts every detail and feature of the face. A portrait of a patrician shows verism (super realism) as every wrinkle and fold of his facial structure is captured in the sculpture. This depicts wisdom and achievement instead of seeing a youthful face of new inexperienced knowledge.

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The Greeks did not view only the head and shoulders as a portrait but the whole body as equally together important. The Romans admired the Greek sculptures and bodies. While doing this they attach heads of portraits onto bodies that do not belong to them3 The sculpture having a realistic face with a smooth, youthful body depicts not only the admiration of the Greek influence but also a heroic power and important of generals and leaders of the Roman Republic.

In the early 1st century the Roman desire to advertise distinguished ancestry leads to the placement of portraits of illustrious forebears on Republican coins. This replaces the original idea of putting divinities on the coins established by the Greeks. In 44 BCE, Julius Caesar put his likeness on a coin (shortly before his assassination on the Ides of March) that had his new title “dictator perptuo” or dictator for life. However, putting a living emperor’s portrait on the coin tainted the idea of the Romans. From then on the coins go around the territories of Rome molding public opinions of the ruler of his achievements being fictional or real. Displaying portraits in homes of slaves are forbidden as the Roman law states that the parents and grandparents of their families were not people but property.

Once free and able to afford the portraits, freedmen (freed slaves) got reliefs of their ancestors put into they’re homes. One example of such is the relief of a female and two males all named Gessius; the Roman law required that slaves take on their master’s name. The master located in middle with the couple on either side of him display the bond between master and slave and their respect for him. On the relief it displays in text that the master mentions leaving the funds for building the sculpture after his death. The relief depicts death and life side by side signifying death does not break the bonds formed in life

Forum to honor his older brother, Titus named a god after his death; Titus served as emperor for only two years” This freestanding arch is a triumphal arch, a monumental structure the shape of an archway with one or more passages; in this case the Arch of Titus has one. The arch contains historical relief panels of the emperor’s achievements and conquest, however one of the panels do not truly honor the living Titus, only the title he claimed after death. The interaction of combining mortals and immortals become common on monumental arches, even for living emperors.

Displaying in the Forum of Trajan, the Column of Trajan created in the High Empire, stands 128 feet tall with a nude heroic statue of the emperor Trajan (in present time it is a statue of Saint Peter). The tall freestanding monument depicts recordings of the Dacian wars, however not in chronological order. The monument is decorated with Dacian armor and arms also serving as Trajan’s tomb.

The tower shows how the Romans use their organization and powerful army to show their superiority to the enemies who challenge them. Under the rule of Antonines, the Romans began to favor burial over cremation changing Roman art and society. This causes the demand of wanting sarcophagi (being larger and more modern coffins than any other type of burial container) to go up usually displaying portraits of the deceased on the bodies of Greek mythology heroes and heroines. This keeps the tradition of portraiture role-play, important to the Roman emperors and their families to show power and rank while giving an illusion of a strong youthful appearance; easy to do when the live emperor isn’t seen much in the public.

The creation of mummy portraits changes from the original Egyptian culture to a style called encaustic painting. The technique was mixing colors with hot wax and applying them to wood.  Change in Roman sculpture is evident depicting the Romans in how they viewed themselves.

The Roman Empire growing with power and importance begins to die down as years continued. The viewing of sculptures, being portraits, monuments, or historical reliefs even coffins shows the many trials and challenges the Roman Empire faces and conquers rarely showing failure. The depictions of strong, youthful intimidating portraits compared to wise, deep detailed emotional portraits shows the pride of the Romans and power they want everyone else to see, instilling fear and respect for the higher rank and wealthy.

Even so, the plebeians and freed slaves partake in these portraits also showing respect for their ancestors and families as the higher ranks do, accepting their past and showing pride of being free from it. Roman sculpture in whole illustrates the power and admiration of the empire. Their power is superior and cannot be taken down without a fight.

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A Study of the History of the Roman Empire Through the Sculptures. (2023, Mar 15). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-study-of-the-history-of-the-roman-empire-through-the-sculptures/

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