The Last Statues of Antiquity

Project Directors: Professor R.R.R. Smith and Dr Bryan Ward-Perkins

Ancient towns were filled with life-size bronze and marble figures – by the third century important cities of the empire could have over a thousand such statues. The habit of erecting statues in public to rulers, and to other dignitaries and benefactors, was a defining characteristic of the ancient world.  The dedication of statues expressed the relationship between rulers and ruled and articulated the benefaction-and-honour system of city politics. Statues also played a significant role in defining civic identity, and in forming and perpetuating a city’s collective memory.

In the fourth to sixth centuries AD, statues continued to be erected in many parts of the empire – but already the uniform practices of earlier imperial times had broken down and become attenuated. By the mid-seventh century, the statue-habit, once ubiquitous, had completely disappeared from the Roman world.  Not even in Constantinople were new statues set up.

The ‘Last Statues of Antiquity’ will investigate all evidence for new statuary of the period circa 280–650, as well as the slow decline (and eventual death) of the ancient statue-habit

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