AIA Montreal Day One: Sculpture and Slavery

I arrived early at the Palais des Congrés, but registration turned out to be a breeze. The morning was spent almost entirely in the (Re)Considering Roman Sculpture session, chaired by Elaine Gazda (Michigan). Due to a no-show and a cancellation, the session was unfortunately down to five papers. During the long break I had hoped to catch a couple of papers in another session, but their programme had changed as well and I only made it for part of the concluding discussion. Here’s an overview of the papers that I did see in their entirety today, along with a few comments:

Recarving the Past in Roman Athens
Celina L. Gray, McMaster University
This paper discussed the reuse of funerary monuments in Roman-period Athens. The author focused on the columnar grave stelai, that came into fashion in the Hellenistic period after the anti-luxury decree (see photo below). They have received little scholarly attention, so this was a refreshing paper. While Classical funerary stelai were reused for their iconography, the columnar grave markers were clearly chosen for their marble value. She presented some excellent examples of how the markers had been recarved for new owners. The big question is how this reuse worked in terms of practical details? It is difficult, but not impossible, to imagine that old graves were stripped of their sculptural furnishing for re-use.

Columnar grave markers in the Kerameikos, Athens. Photo: TMK, March 2003.

The Reworking and Reuse of Portrait Statuary in the Third Century C.E.
Julie A. Van Voorhis, Indiana University
This paper discussed the recarving of Roman private portraits, another topic that has received relatively little scholarly attention. The phenomenon became more and more common from the 3rd century CE, which is usually seen in the context of the political and economic turmoil of the period. However, Voorhis suggested that the phenomenon should be seen more in the light of changes in customer choice as well as supply (similar to what Robert Coates-Stephens has argued elsewhere). Reuse became a valid alternative to commissioning portraits from scratch. Voorhis suggested that there would have existed workshops that specialized in reworking sculpture. This implies that the new patrons were not involved in the reworking process and had therefore no affiliation with whoever the reused portrait originally had portrayed. The large number of reused portraits show that they were popular and socially acceptable (see photo below). The long-term effect of the phenomenon was that portraits lost their status as sacrosanct objects. A very interesting point, worth considering for my own thesis work.

Recarved Augustan private portrait, Paestum Museum. Photo: TMK, May 2005.

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”: Approaching the Many Contexts of the Valle-Medici Reliefs
Melanie Sobocinski, University of Michigan—Dearborn, read by Elise Friedland (Rollins College)
This paper discussed the Roman sculpture that have been reused in the Renaissance Valle-Medici palace. These include the enigmatic Ara Pietatis, part of an arch spanning the Via Lata that was torn down in the 16th century, and Arcus Novus. In only one case did destruction and reuse take place in the same year. The other ‘spolia’ seem to have been purchased by the Medici from marbleyards. They were often reworked to fit into their Renaissance context.

Reliefs from the Amphitheater at Capua: Evidence for Events in the Arena?
Steven L. Tuck, Miami University
Tuck presented his theory that the balustrade reliefs in the amphitheatre at Capua show events that took place in the arena. 34 of an original number of 80 survive. Presented in the reliefs are e.g. Capua’s Tyche and Mars shown in a parade similar to the parades described by Ovid, and myths (especially involving Hercules) that were reenacted in the games. His hypothesis is supported by the depiction of architectural details in the reliefs thought to represent the Capua amphitheatre.

Gladiatorial Reliefs from Aphrodisias
Anne C. Hrychuk, New York University
Stelai representing gladiators have usually been interpreted as belonging to gladiatorial games. However, the cases of these inscriptions are nominative, and Hrychuk suggested that they represented gladiators that were still alive at the time. The reliefs could have been part of larger-scale funerary monuments dedicated to the priests of the imperial cult, that were in charge of the gladiatorial games at Aphrodisias. Three such monuments are thought to have existed. Unfortunately, all the evidence for these monuments comes from secondary contexts as part of the late antique city walls.

During lunch I browsed the book fair. Unsurprisingly, there were several new interesting publications and lots of bargain goodies, especially at the Oxbow stand. I will try to keep book shopping at a minimum, as my luggage is already overweight, so for now I only got “From Caligula to Constantine: Tyranny and Transformation in Roman Portraiture”, edited by Eric Varner, a bargain at $ 8. I was pleased to see the interest around Jakob (Højte)’s book on Roman statue bases and other Aarhus UP publications.

In the afternoon, I attended the Recovering Roman Slavery: New Approaches colloquium, organised by Michele George (McMaster). It consisted of four papers, followed by commentary from Keith Bradley (Notre Dame).

Urban Slavery: The Economics of Exploitation
Willem Jongman, University of Groningen
This paper discussed some important economic approaches to the study of Roman slavery. While the scholarly focus has usually been on the use of slaves in agricultural production, the city represented an equally important locus for slavery. Jongman suggested that each house of Pompeian size must have at least 5-10 slaves. Mortality was rampant among the population of urban slaves, and replacements were always needed.

Identity and Identification: Slaves in Roman Art
Michele George, McMaster University
This was an interesting paper on the representation of slaves in art. Slaves can be difficult to identify, as society denied them a unified identity that could have resulted in uprisings. Scale is one of the most wellknown ways to represent differences in status, but is in fact relatively rare. More often, slaves can be recognized by their extreme emotional behaviour (as in depictions of funerary rites) and in work situations. Slaves depicted as prisoners of wars are also common, both in private and public art.

Mourning the Dead Together: Funerary Sociability and the Social Strategies of Slaves and Freed Persons in Imperial Rome
Carlos Galvao-Sobrinho, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Based on an epigraphical study under progress, Galvao-Sobrinho discussed the communal graves of Rome that were attached to households and used for the burial of slaves and dependants. He suggested that the use of these monuments came to an end in the Flavian period, and attributed this to a change in the way slaves understood their place in society as less attached to larger households and their masters.

The Archaeology of Slave Markets: Fact or Fiction?
Monika Truemper, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
This paper discussed the evidence for slave markets in the archaeological record. Truemper discussed in detail the Agora of the Italians on Delos and the Eumachia Building at Pompeii (see photo below). She came to the conclusion that these buildings can only be interpreted as slave markets, if the evidence is used selectively. Thus, no monument can at this point be exclusively connected with the slave trade. The paper was followed by a lively debate. I personally don’t see why slave markets should have been purpose-built, and therefore tend to agree with Truemper. The discussion of slavery from an archaeological perspective would greatly benefit from more focus on the use of space instead of the tiresome labelling of monuments. Jane Webster argues something similar in the most recent JRA.

Pompeii Forum
A view into the Pompeii Forum porticus and the entrance to the Eumachia Building. Photo: TMK, May 2005.

Well, I’m tired. It was an interesting first day, and it was good to see some old friends among the attendants.

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  1. Please email me some of your sculpture design, im researching sculpture designs for the purpose of kids knowledge at school, thank you very much.

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