All 2 entries tagged Roman Empire
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August 03, 2016
|Token of Palmyra (TM Pl.LXXIII no. 48)|
The Roman author Fronto, writing to his former student, the emperor Marcus Aurelius, commented:
You know how in all money-changer's bureaus, booths, bookstalls, eaves, porches, windows, anywhere and everywhere there are likenesses of you exposed to view, badly enough painted most of them to be sure, and modelled or carved in a plain, not to say sorry, style of art, yet at the same time your likeness, however much a caricature, never when I go out meets my eyes without making me part my lips for a smile and dream of you.
(Loeb vol. 112 p. 206-7)
Fronto's comment on the 'badly painted' images of Marcus Aurelius has always reminded me of the 2012 restoration of a Spanish fresco by an older amateur, or the painting presented to Queen Elizabeth II in Germany that prompted her to ask "Is that supposed to be my father?" These 'rustic' images of Roman emperors are rarely studied, but they must have formed a large part of the everyday experience of people outside the city of Rome. Many of these images (e.g. weights in the form of an emperor's bust) may have originally been intended to show a specific emperor (e.g. Nero), but they bear only a superficial (if any) resemblance to the official portraiture of the emperor concerned. The same can be seen on many provincial coins, particularly in the transition from the Republic to the principate, where it is often hard to know whether the male bust on the obverse of coins is Augustus, or a deity or some other figure.
One token from Palmyra, shown right, supports Fronto's statement, with Side A (shown on the upper side) showing a laureate portrait of a Roman emperor hanging on a wall over a banquet scene. This type of representation suggests the ubiquitous nature of the Roman imperial portrait, though the finer details of the portraiture are harder to see, suggesting to the viewer, 'Roman emperor', with the particular name of the emperor supplied by the mind of the viewer. If this token was in use for a longer period of time (unlikely) the identity of the emperor 'seen' on the wall would likely change. To what extent, then, might we speak of a 'generic' Roman emperor, whose precise identity was supplied by the viewer? A portrait of Caracalla in Rusicade, Numidia, that was later converted into a monument honoring Constantine, suggests that Caracalla's quite recogniseable visage was, in late antiquity, re-interpreted (at by some viewers).
A similar 'generic' image can be seen on a token from Rome, perhaps issued for use in the celebration of games by a curator. One side of the token shows a laureate portrait of a Roman emperor (perhaps Tiberius?), while the other side names the person responsible for the token and organising the celebration. Again the viewer would supply need to the identity of the emperor themselves, an identification that might change according to context. As well as expensive marble busts and other portraits, there existed the 'everyday' portrait of the emperor, and these types of images are something worth more detailed investigation.
Token showing a laureate imperial portrait on one side, with the legend Q. CAECILIVS Q.F. OINOGENVS CVR on the other. (Numismatica Classica 12, 1983, 39, Rostowzew 514b).
This blog entry was written by Clare Rowan as part of the ERC-funded Token Communities project.
Dahmen, K. (2001). Untersuchungen zu Form und Funktion kleinformatiger Porträts der römischen Kaiserzeit. Münster, Scriptorium.
Du Mesnil du Buisson comte, R. (1944). Tessères et monnaies de Palmyre. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale (France). Département des médailles et antiques.
Franke, P. R. (1984). Q. Caecilius Q.F. Oinogenus F. Curator. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 54: 125-126.
Rostowzew, M. (1903). Tesserarum urbis romae et suburbi. St. Petersburg.
October 24, 2014
A picture is less like a statement or speech act, then, than like a speaker capable of an infinite number of utterances. An image is not a text to be read but a ventriloquist's dummy into which we project our own voice.
W.J.T. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? p. 140
|'Zeus / Warrior' Coin from Sicily (Bahrfeldt 2)|
This sentence encompasses the problems of ambiguity and meaning that have been the focus of several previous blogs. Since I posted about the ambiguity of images used by the Romans in Macedonia, I have come across several more examples that show a similar tendency. One is shown to the right, part of the 'Zeus / warrior' coin series struck by the Romans in Sicily. These coins are entangled objects: released by the Romans and carrying references to Roman quaestors in Latin (in this case via the Q for quaestor and a monogram spelling MAL on the far right), the design was likely created by a Greek die engraver, and the coins were intended for circulation within the Roman province of Sicily. Bahrfeldt, acknowledging their mixed nature, termed them 'Roman-Sicilian', a phrase also used by Frey-Kupper in her study of coin circulation in Sicily, which concluded these issues dated to the period 190/170-130/120 BC.
|Coin of Panormos with head of Zeus and Warrior|
Ever since Bahrfeldt's publication, people have wondered 'who' exactly the warrior is. Is it a Roman soldier, a local Greek soldier, or is it the god of war (Mars/Ares)? The Romans might easily have made the picture more 'understandeable' by providing the coin a legend, but here, as with the case of Macedonia, they chose not to. This may have been intentional, allowing, in the words of Mitchell, for each person to 'project their own voice' through seeing their own meaning in the image. In this way, each member of the community that was Roman Republican Sicily might have identified with the image, allowing the image and the coin that bore it to actively generate a shared sense of community. When Panormos began to strike its own coinage bearing its name under Roman dominion from 130/120 BC, they adopt the Zeus / Warrior type. The money created by the conquerors (Rome) has been claimed and adopted by the conquered: 'their' money had become 'our' money. It is in a moment like this that Anderson's 'imagined community' is created. Again, the warrior shown on the coins carrying the ethnic of Panormos may have been Roman, Greek, divine, or as representative of the warriors of Panormos itself. Or it may not even have been seen as a warrior at all.
|Coin of Italica with head of Augustus and Roma|
While we often think of Roma as a seated goddess, some representations of her show her standing with a spear and shield in a very similar manner to the 'warrior' of Sicilian coinage. One example from Spain is shown on the right, which (although it is not visible on this particular specimen) identifies the figure next to the shield as ROMA on the reverse legend (RPC 61). Given this and other examples, could this be another possible reading of the 'warrior' type seen on Roman-Sicilian coinage, the issues of Panormos, and other towns? Just as the image can evoke various soldiers, and perhaps Ares, it may also have been seen as the personification of Roman power itself. But the ambiguity, which still provokes scholarly debate today, was likely the key behind this and other images.
Coin images reproduced courtesy of ArtCoins Roma (Auction 6 lot 257), Classical Numismatic Group (Electronic Auction 327, lot 521) (www.cngcoins.com) and Jesus Vico S.A. (Auction 132, lot 611)