Recently, in the USA, statues of figures whom Black Lives Matter activists associate with racism began to leave their pedestals . The Confederate commanders are most affected, but other famous personalities, including Christopher Columbus, who is accused of genocide of the native population of America, also receive their share of indignation. From across the ocean, the Monument Falls reached Western Europe. This has already happened in history. Let’s try to figure out who, to whom and for what merit, erected monuments before, what role they played in politics, how the statues reflected the fate of those people whom they depicted, and why what is happening to the monuments today is far from the worst case scenario.
Images of people and gods
The statues were not only a work of art, but also an image of a specific person. Before the portrait statues appeared, the character could be recognized by status symbols, emblems and signs. For example, the god Zeus could be depicted in a variety of ways: sitting on a throne or standing at full height, dressed in luxurious clothes or in heroic nudity – however, the presence of lightning, a symbol of his power, was an indispensable condition. The sign of Poseidon was a trident, Hermes could be recognized by winged sandals and a caduceus rod, Hercules was depicted with a lion’s skin, a club and a bow, etc.
Earthly rulers also presented themselves with symbols of their power – for example, with a diadem on their heads or wands in their hands. The iconography of the rulers of the Hellenistic era often provided for their image in the form of naked youths with an athletic figure. This does not mean that they really looked like that or appeared in such a public appearance, but for a number of reasons, it was decided to portray them that way.
The prim Romans usually clothed the statues of their emperors and commanders in armor or on the model of sculptures depicting the Olympic gods, draped in luxurious clothes. The emperors, on foot or horseback, proudly looked at their subjects from the height of the column or extended their hand from the marble pedestal, as if preparing to address them with a speech. During the Golden Age, the statue of the emperor was an indispensable part of public space, even in provincial cities. Then came the era of crisis, and the frequent change of figures on the throne created a considerable problem for citizens. Making the statue was expensive, time-consuming, and no one could guarantee that the person represented would still occupy the throne when the work was completed. The craftsmen found a way out: they thought of making statues with interchangeable heads.
Statues in the public space of ancient culture
The Greeks and Romans did not see anything shameful in putting statues to living people, especially the current rulers. The installation of a portrait statue was considered an extraordinary honor, and the corresponding decision was made by voting in the city council. If the majority spoke in favor, a commission was appointed from among the members of the council, which supervised the implementation of the project and equipped the solemn delegation to notify the honored person of the decree of honors. The rules of good form suggested that, in gratitude, the patron would partly take upon itself the financing of the work and would provide sponsorship to the city. But it seems that these hopes did not always come true. The documents indicate that sometimes a considerable period of time passed between the decision of the council and its implementation, and it is not known how many such decisions remained on paper.
The statue was a symbolic replacement for the currently absent person. Placed in a public space – in a theater, in a city square, in a curia building, etc. – she made the person whom she depicted a constant participant in urban life. During ceremonies and rituals, the statue was decorated with garlands of flowers and wreaths. Images of rulers were crowned with tiaras. Solemn speeches and oaths were addressed to them. A convict or slave could receive protection if, with a plea for salvation, he fell at the foot of the statue of the emperor. A person who threw stones at a statue, intentionally damaged or melted it, responded according to the law on insulting greatness. There are cases when people were convicted, cursing in front of the image of the emperor, beating in front of a statue of a slave or dressing in her presence. On that
The condemnation to which the person was subjected also extended to his images: by the verdict of the court, they were seized and destroyed. In some cases, statues were deliberately mocked at, dragging along the streets of the city, stamping their feet or throwing them with sewage. The story is well known how the Athenians sentenced in absentia to the death of the tyrant Demetrius Falersky, who ruled their city for a whole decade in 317-307 BC. Although Demetrius himself managed to escape and escape the trial, the Athenians poured out their anger on 360 statues placed in his honor. Some of them were equestrian or represented him riding a pair of chariots drawn by a couple. According to tyrant biographer Diogenes Laertius, they were all cast in less than 300 days. After the flight of Demetrius, his statues in one day were cast down from the pedestals, some were broken, drowned or sold at the price of scrap, and many were poured into night pots, which were in great demand among the Athenians. Fortunately, our contemporaries did not think of such a thing. Only one statue survived on the acropolis in memory of the scientific merits of Demetrius.
In imperial Rome, the practice of destroying statues was legalized in the form of a “curse of memory” (damnatio memoriae) of a person convicted under the law on insulting greatness. Not only images of this man were seized and destroyed, but even his name was crossed out from inscriptions and documents, coins were exchanged, laws and orders were repealed, etc. One of the first convicts under this law was Lucius Eliy Seeian, the once omnipotent favorite of the emperor Tiberius. His fall was described in Satire by the poet Juvenal, who was an eyewitness to the event:
The emperors who ruled as tyrants: Caligula, Nero, Domitian, Commodus and others suffered the same fate . On some preserved public monuments, traces of Caesura produced by order of the Senate are still visible. For example, on a marble relief from the Palace of the Conservatives in Rome, the image of Domitian was replaced by his successor Nerva, on one of the reliefs of the Column of Marcus Aurelius, the image of Commodus was deleted, etc.
Knockin ‘on Heaven
The memory of those accused of a crime against greatness was cursed by a court verdict and on behalf of the legitimate authority. However, over time, especially in the era of late antiquity, spontaneous vandalism during urban uprisings began to increasingly occur. In an effort to attract the attention of the authorities to their problems, the townspeople sent discontent to the imperial statues, which they dropped from pedestals, broke or intentionally spoiled. The authorities qualified these acts as a grave crime. The explanation is given by the theologian Philoxen of Mabbug: a Christian can sin, but only an apostate denies baptism; the city may rebel, but when the statues of the emperor are overthrown in it, treason begins.
One of the most famous cases occurred in February 387 in the capital of Syria, Antioch, after the promulgation of a tax increase decree. Angry citizens began to desecrate portraits of Emperor Theodosius I on wooden boards, topple his statues, as well as images of his family members, including the father of the emperor commander Theodosius the Elder and his first wife Placilla. The ruler, learning about the riots, brought down on the townspeople all the strength of his anger. Members of the city council were arrested, city theaters, circus, amphitheaters and baths closed, and the distribution of bread to the poor stopped indefinitely. Antioch lost the status of the metropolis of Syria and became subordinate to the rival Laodicea. John Chrysostom, who was at that time a priest in Antioch, delivered 21 sermons, comforting the citizens who had fallen into despondency. Gradually, the anger of the authorities began to subside.
Works of art or idols?
In the transition from ancient culture to the early Middle Ages, the Greeks and Romans changed their attitude to the works of classical art that they inherited from their ancestors. They were increasingly looked upon with distrust and apprehension, seeing in the statues of pagan idols or a haven of evil spirit. Many images were desecrated or destroyed under a plausible pretext. On others, the followers of Christianity put the sign of the cross in order to protect themselves from the machinations of the devil. The visiting card of the preserved antique marble statues are noses beaten by vandals: according to the superstition widespread in the east of the empire, it was believed that this would prevent the evil spirit from invading them. In the west, the eyes of sculptures and images were more often damaged, which also aimed to “blind” the spirit.
The icon cult that was widely spread in the 6th – 7th centuries on the territory of the East Roman Empire caused displeasure of a certain part of believers who considered the images of saints to be “idols”, and veneration of icons as “idolatry”. The iconoclastic sentiments were especially strong in the eastern border provinces adjacent to the lands of the Arab caliphate. An even more stringent and strictly enforced ban on images of animated creatures among Muslims was often seen as a prerequisite of God’s disposition towards them, and, accordingly, an important component of their military successes. It is not surprising that heresies of Pavlikians, Marcionites and Montanists flourished here for a long time, for the teachings of which ideas from the East were very characteristic.
In 725, the emperor and military leader Leo III Isaur introduced a ban on the veneration of icons. The symbol of the new policy was the removal of the icon of Christ from the Halki gate of the Grand Palace, which provoked a clash between citizens and soldiers. Icons began to be removed from prominent places, in the churches they were raised higher to limit the access of overly zealous admirers. These events were continued by the son of Leo III and his successor Konstantin V Kopronim. In 754, the iconoclastic doctrine was approved by the church cathedral. The result of this policy was the destruction of thousands of icons, as well as mosaics, frescoes, statues of saints and painted altars in many churches. Instead, the walls of the temples were decorated with images of the cross, arabesques and vignettes from birds and plants.