Roman Imperial Statue Bases: From Augustus to Commodus

Roman Imperial Statue Bases: From Augustus to Commodus

Roman Imperial Statue Bases: From Augustus to Commodus

Roman Imperial Statue Bases: From Augustus to Commodus

Excerpt

When the senate voted him [Didius Julianus] a statue of gold, he declined to
accept it, saying: “Give me a bronze one, so that it may last; for I observe that
the gold and silver statues of the emperors that ruled before me have been
destroyed, whereas the bronze ones remain.” In this he was mistaken, for it is
virtue that preserves the memory of rulers; and in fact the bronze statue that
was granted him was destroyed after his own overthrow.

DIO CASS. 74.14.2a

In a short perspective the reflections of Didius Julianus and Dio Cassius on the preservation of one’s memory for posterity were to some extent correct. Until AD 193, the year Didius Julianus for a brief period succeeded in bribing his way to the purple by offering a large sum of money to the praetorians, the Roman Empire had witnessed a long period of stability. Since the murder of Domitian in AD 96 the emperors, even if they were not equally liked, at least had the privileges of choosing their own heir, dying of natural causes and being elevated to divinity. The murder of Commodus some months previously had ended this era and once again brought the Empire to the verge of civil war. It is not entirely clear whether Didius Julianus, in Dio’s rendering of the speech, is supposed to be referring to the statues of his two immediate predecessors, the unfortunate emperors Commodus and Pertinax, or to those of former emperors in general; but being a virtuous ruler was apparently no guarantee against having one’s statues made of precious metals ending up in the melting pot, and such images generally seem to have had a rather short existence. Dio

1. Pekáry 1985, 66–67 and below p. 47.

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