Problematic Personifications

This gold and glass representation was found during the building of the line C subway in Rome and now widely reported in the news.

It is being reported as representing Roma, but it could just as easily represent Virtus. This issue comes up again and again (old blog posts: a Lararium in Stabiae, RRC 403/1, Roma as Amazon, Literary treatments). There is some stuff on this in my coin book too.

In art history the debate over Virtus or Roma usually plays out in the interpretation of imperial monuments

Who holds the emperor’s arm here?

Cancelleria Relief Copyright: 2008 Sergey Sosnovskiy (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Who leads the chariot here?

From the Arch of Titus (image in public domain)

There are some parallels in coin images but none exact, no triple crested helmet, no spear in front of the bust, no emphasis on bands crossing between breasts (an amazonian element). It looks like on the glass what is typically a shield in such bust representations is just extra drapery.

RIC V Victorinus 27

More than anything the style of the gold and glass reminds me of the artistic style of Contorniates, but I don’t yet own the standard reference catalogue for those. I think it is the long face. I’m not sure if there are any Roma/Virtus contorniates… Must check… (cf. Alföldi Contorniates 77 and p. 26, 10, no spear, Cf. Alföldi, Kontorniat, 70/493; )

CNG listing

The closest parallel seems to be with personifications of Constantinople but no triple crested helmet and it is a scepter instead of a spear.

RIC 8 Constans 383
RIC VII Rome 297

For the triple crest cf. RRC 329/1

Gallica link

Also earlier post on the helmet type

I also have a strong memory that Miles MacDonald, in his book on Roman Manliness (virtus) talks about this helmet. …

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