I better start off by explaining the photo at the top of this page. Here’s the full version:
Actually, there’s another person, who is not shown here, on the left side of the statue throwing rocks. But what is shown here is a statue, identifiable by its base and a staff (Jupiter has been suggested), with a rope around its neck. The rope is being pulled by the figure on the right. The phrase used by Juvenal in his description of an act of damnatio memoriae is “descendunt statuae restemque secuntur” (10.58-59) or “down come the statues in obedience to the rope” (in Peter Stewart’s translation). Placing a rope around the neck is probably the easiest way to tear down a statue. In fact, we have seen the same procedure being carried out in Iraq recently when the citizens of Baghdad tore down Saddam’s statues (although this time with a little help from American tanks).
It’s one of the few (if not only) ancient depictions of iconoclasm. There are medieval depictions, but this example can be dated to the 4th century CE, and is therefore especially noteworthy.
The scene is from the Via Paisiello hypogeum in Rome, that was explored as early as 1865 by G.B. De Rossi. In the same hypogeum there’s a series of very interesting wall-paintings that mix pagan and Christian themes. I might write about them in the future.
Image source: P. Stewart. 2003. Statues in Roman Society. Oxford. Fig. 48, p. 293.
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