Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2012.11.65 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.11.65

Ulrich Gehn, Ehrenstatuen in der Spätantike: Chlamydati und Togati. Spätantike - frühes Christentum - Byzanz. Reihe B, Studien und Perspektiven, Bd 34.   Wiesbaden:  Reichert Verlag, 2012.  Pp. 590.  ISBN 9783895008610.  €98.00.  

Reviewed by Benjamin Anderson, Cornell University (

Table of Contents

As the first monograph devoted to late Roman honorific statues, this study fills a significant gap in the literature on late antique art and archaeology. The volume, a “leicht überarbeitete Version” (9) of the author’s dissertation, is hefty: over three hundred pages of discursive text, a catalog of over two hundred pages comprising 68 entries, and 47 plates, one in color. There is no index.

This is not a user-friendly book. There are numerous typographical errors, many minor, but some presenting obstacles to understanding.1 The absence of an index makes it difficult to track discussion of individual monuments through the multiple chapters in which they figure. In theory one would have to read the entire book to locate all discussions of a single monument, but the main text has not been edited for readability. Chapters four, five, and six deal directly with the honorific statues in question, while the framing chapters treat topics from the essential to the ancillary in equal depth with extensive quotations from the secondary literature and minute weighing of questions whose import to the broader investigation can become obscure.

These are questions of style, however, and this is a book of substance. The first chapter contains the most thorough discussion of the clothes worn by late antique elites since Delbrueck’s Consulardiptychen, and incorporates more recent finds (the “Trierer Prunkschild,” the wall paintings of Silistra). These and other visual sources (especially the statues and diptychs) are compared with the written record (especially Lydus), and two basic “costumes,” based around the chlamys and toga respectively, are defined according to their constituent parts. Preserved realia (textiles, fibulae) are not discussed, although a correspondence between depiction and reality is often assumed. Thus the “stiffness” of the togas on ivory diptychs, not noticeable on statues, is interpreted as an attribute of the “consular” toga (58); the possibility of a medium-specific representational convention is not considered. The discussion of the significance of (lost) polychromy on marble statues is important (e.g., at 25; cf. 221, and the hypothetical reconstructions depicted on the Farbtafel).

The second and third chapters trace the earlier history of the elements of costume that appear on the fifth-century statues. The second chapter focuses on the introduction of military elements, especially the chlamys and fibula, into tetrarchic costume. The third chapter follows fourth- and early fifth-century developments, both on state monuments (Arch of Constantine, Arch of Galerius, the obelisk base in Istanbul, the Column of Arcadius) and on the “senatorial sarcophagi.” In the early fourth there is a sartorial gulf between emperor and elites, as on the Arch of Constantine, where Constantine’s chlamys contrasts to the senatorial togas. This gulf gradually narrows, beginning with the appearance of the chlamys on sarcophagi of later fourth-century elites. In this development Gehn sees a new senatorial consciousness of station (“senatorisches Standesbewusstsein,” 129) that overrode the distinction between “clarissimi of birth” and “clarissimi of function.”

Chapter four addresses the honorific statues preserved from the eastern half of the empire. Gehn orders the material into four chronological groups (early Theodosian, middle Theodosian, late Theodosian, and post-Theodosian). All preserved statues are assigned to the period between ca. 390 and 500, a shorter span than was assumed by some earlier scholars. Thus, for example, the Justinianic dating of three statues from Corinth is rejected as resting on an insupportable association between poor quality and late date (157).2

In the fifth chapter, Gehn turns to the more limited corpus of honorific statues from the west. In Rome one finds “partial independence of senatorial representation from the imperial model” (186), reflected in the fourth-century perseverance of the older toga type. Nevertheless the chlamys and new toga are adopted in Rome by the early fifth century, a development that is understood to reflect the influence of the “court art of Constantinople” (188).

Chapter six, on the “iconology” of late antique statues, begins with the question of correspondence between costume and rank or office. Gehn follows Ševčenko, Foss, and others in associating the chlamys at Aphrodisias with the praeses Cariae, the toga at Aphrodisias with the consularis Cariae, and the toga at Ephesus with the proconsul Asiae. The togate statue of Pytheas in Aphrodisias presents a problem, as the honoree was apparently a private citizen. Gehn attributes his costume to a position in the “ausdifferenziertem Illustrat” or to a sinecure, thus avoiding an interpretation as “Statususurpation” (205). The discussions of preserved statues from other cities are briefer. Roman togate statues may represent consuls or urban prefects, and those depicted wearing the chlamys in Corinth may be proconsuls of Achaea. Gehn hesitates to posit a strict correspondence between costume and rank, concluding that both chlamys and toga were “adäquate Ausdrucksformen der spätantiken Reichsaristokratie” (221). A slightly different formulation appears in the book’s conclusion: the costumes were “in einem groben Sinne rangbezeichnend” (318).

The second part of chapter six is dedicated to attributes. Rotuli go with the chlamys, mappa and scipio with the toga. The question is whether mappa and scipio must refer to consular duties, or whether they became conventional at some point. Here again Pytheas is important, as he carries both, but appears to have been a privatus. Gehn concludes that the attributes are not to be considered insignia of office “im strengen Sinne” (231).

Chapters seven, eight, and nine are dedicated to those elements that accompanied honorific statues: inscriptions and portraits. In chapter seven, Gehn considers inscriptions from the east of the empire, which place particular emphasis on fairness, alongside ancillary themes such as bilingualism, acquaintance with the muses, and geographic origin. Just as interesting is what is left out: ἀνδρεία, understood as skill in battle, is an imperial monopoly (272). Western inscriptions form the subject of chapter eight, and display a greater emphasis on nobility of birth.

Chapter nine, on portraits, follows the scholarly consensus of the last few decades in positing an “eine unüberbrückbare Kluft zwischen dem Herrscher und allen Untertanen” (293), supposedly reflected in the separate development of the portrait types appropriate to each. Once such a chasm has been assumed, the similarities between portraits of emperors and officials are explained via appeal to a magistratical portrait type “der gleichermaßen die Teilhabe an der kaiserlichen Macht und die Unterscheidung von der kaiserlichen Person ins Bild zu setzen geeignet war” (309) or to the concept of a “Zeitgesicht” (314).

The catalog of monuments is an invaluable resource. Entries are divided into three major groups (porphyry monuments, post-Constantinian monuments from the east of the empire, monuments from Rome and Italy). The second category, by far the largest, is subdivided according to find-spot; Ephesus and Aphrodisias predominate. There is also an introduction to the study of the two Roman “consuls” in the Palazzo dei Conservatori preceding the individual entries (523-525) and mention of the existence of unpublished statues that could not be included (e.g., 389, 437).

The entries begin with basic information on current location, find-spot, material, dimensions and bibliography, followed by the “Datierung” and a substantial discussion. It is not always clear if the dating represents the author’s current opinion. Cat. no. O 45, a chlamydatus (or chlamydata) from Corinth, is set in the “1. Hälfte des 6. Jahrhunderts?,” an opinion that is qualified but not rejected in the following discussion (482-484). In the main text, however, this statue is included among the three Corinthian statues (cat. nos. O 43, O 44, and O 45) that are firmly reassigned to the last third of the fifth century (“... die zeitliche Einordnung ins letzte Drittel des 5. Jahrhunderts und damit die Aufgabe der traditionellen Datierung gefordert ist,” 157).

Gehn’s study presents an accurate formulation of the state of the question regarding these statues, and it is very useful to be able to peruse the entire corpus in a single volume. The general picture is of a substantial body of evidence straining against interpretive strategies that it may have outgrown. The theory of correspondence between rank and costume is one example. Gehn refrains from rejecting it, and surely there were loose codes of etiquette on this point, but his distinction between “Chlamyskostüm” and “Togakostüm” is more descriptive than Delbrueck’s “Stadtkostüm,” “Dienstkostüm” and “Togakostüm.” The theory of the “unbridgeable chasm” between emperor and subject may be wearing thin. Here too Gehn takes a moderate position, and surely no non-emperor was ever portrayed with the diadem. But the overarching narrative is clearly one of the costumes of fifth-century elites “catching up” with innovations first seen in imperial costume in the late third and fourth centuries.

Both theories derive from the image, beloved of late antique orators, of society as an elegant hierarchy anchored in the quasi-divine remove of the emperor. This image existed alongside a reality marked by vicious power struggles among those elites who were the recipients of honorific statues, in which the line between permissible ambition and status usurpation was set more by immediate circumstance than by firmly established codes of etiquette. “Here shines the semblance of a iudex, there of a togatus, / and here again of an armatus,” writes Claudian of the statues of the praepositus sacri cubiculi Eutropius (Eutr. II.72-73). The omnipresence of Eutropius’s image, in all possible guises (chlamys, toga, and full military garb), has become the object of the rhetor’s reproach, but who begrudged him the same while he was in favor? Claudian’s invective was written to flatter another presumptuous non-emperor, Stilicho, who was honored with two statues in the otherwise exclusively imperial Forum Romanum, before he too fell from favor a few years later.3 The challenge is to accommodate the more arbitrary and seemingly chaotic aspects of late antique power structures, within which codes were regularly broken and etiquette regularly breached, within an account that also acknowledges the potency of the ideal of hierarchy and order. Gehn’s considerable labors have set us in a better position to tackle these questions.


1.   Particularly distracting examples, listed by page or plate number, follow. 29: For “Kat. Nr. O 21 Abb. 94 a. b.” read “Kat. Nr. O 35, Taf. 23”; for “Kat Nr. O 29, Taf. 23 Abb. 1” read “Kat Nr. O 29, Taf. 19.” 45: The Tunisian site known as Sidi Ghrib is first referred to as “Sidi Ghraib,” then on 46 as “Abu Ghraib” (!). 69: The triptych purportedly at “Taf. 41, Abb. 5” is not illustrated in this volume. 100: The city of Satala is referred to as “die Stadt Salata.” 149: “Die Chlamysbüste aus Stratonikeia” is not “Kat. Nr. O 22,” but rather “Kat. No. O 34, Taf. 22.” 152: “Der Statue des Oecumenius ... legt den Oecumenius ... fest” (?). 304: For “Kat. No. W 3, Taf. 21” read “Taf. 37.” Tafel 1: Cat. no. O 2 is alabaster, not porphyry.
2.   Following Amelia R. Brown, “Last men standing: chlamydatus portraits and public life in late antique Corinth,” Hesperia 81 (2012), 158-161.
3.   For these and other examples of presumptuous fifth-century monuments (“Aufwendige Denkmalformen”), see Franz Alto Bauer, “Statuen hoher Würdenträger im Stadtbild Konstantinopels,” Byzantinische Zeitschrift 96 (2003), 504-507.

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