Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius

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The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius is one of the most important Ancient Roman statues. The original is on display in the Capitoline Museums, with the one now standing in the open air of the Piazza del Campidoglio being a replica made in 1981 when the original was taken down for restoration.

The overall theme is one of power and divine grandeur — the emperor is over life-size and is holding out his hand in a gesture much like that in some statues of Augustus. In this case the gesture may also signify clemency as some historians assert that a fallen enemy may have been sculpted begging for mercy under the horse’s raised hoof (based on accounts from mediaeval times which suggest that a small figure of a bound barbarian chieftain once crouched underneath the horse’s front right leg). Such an image was meant to portray the Emperor as victorious and all-conquering. However, shown without weapons or armour, Marcus Aurelius seems to be a bringer of peace rather than a military hero, for this is how he saw himself and his reign.

He is riding without the use of stirrups, which had not yet been introduced to the West. While the horse has been meticulously studied in order to be recreated for other artists’ works, the saddle cloth was copied with the thought that it was part of the standard Roman uniform. The saddle cloth is actually Sarmatian in origin, suggesting that the horse is a Sarmatian horse and that the statue was created to honour the victory over the Sarmatians by Marcus Aurelius, after which he adopted “Sarmaticus” to his name. The statue was erected ca. 175 CE. Its original location is debated: the Roman Forum and Piazza Colonna (where the Column of Marcus Aurelius stands) have been proposed.

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