Augustus of Prima Porta, early 1st century. Photo by Tyler Bell, via Flickr
The history of the Roman Empire, which spans hundreds of years and multiple continents, is chronicled in statues and monuments its citizens left behind. The ancient Romans combined previously unimaginable military might with a similarly vigilant commitment to public art, which served as both political propaganda and a means to commemorate military and diplomatic feats.
However, Roman art owes a significant debt to the Greeks. Although the Romans conquered the Greeks in the Battle of Corinth in 146 B.C.E., the military victory was not accompanied by cultural submission. Instead, elite Romans clamored for reproductions of famed marble sculptures by skilled Greek artists like Praxiteles. Most Roman sculptors, though, never achieved such fame. Their copies were often left unsigned due to the low-class status of the artisans and the general preference among Romans for works by Greek masters.Today, many of the most iconic Greek sculptures survive only as Roman reproductions.
The Romans left their own mark on sculpture by taking portraiture to an unprecedented level of verism and creating vast public works projects depicting complex mythologies and military victories. Starting with Augustus, the first emperor, Roman leaders started to use statues as propaganda; these works, usually made in marble or bronze, frequently idealized their bodies and emphasized (often fictional) connections to great military commanders of the past. Many artifacts and artworks survive from the Roman era. These are the seven sculptures essential to understanding the empire’s vast contributions to the history of art………………….