Roman Battle Sarcophagi: An Analysis of Composition as aReflection of Changing Imperial Styles and Production

by Sarah E Beal

Institution: University of Cincinnati
Year: 2016
Keywords: Classical Studies; Battle sarcophagi; Roman sarcophagi; Antonine period; Amazonomachy sarcophagi; Production; Composition
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2068121
Full text PDF: http://rave.ohiolink.edu/etdc/view?acc_num=ucin1468337348


Roman sarcophagi that show battle scenes were produced in Italy during the Antonine period. These scenes are completely devoid of mythological figures and likely represent real battles from Rome’s history, in which Roman soldiers fought wild barbarians. Past scholars, such as Per Gustaf Hamberg and Bernard Andreae, have studied the iconography and compositions of these battle sarcophagi; however, they have yet to be reexamined in light of recent developments in the study of sarcophagus production.This thesis seeks to examine the compositions of Roman battle sarcophagi in order to answer questions about their production. It considers the precedents for such battle scenes, from Classical grave stelai to grand imperial monuments. This study demonstrates how the battle sarcophagi expand upon trends already seen in imperial art of the Antonine period, while incorporating stylistic elements from Hellenistic sculptures.Next, the compositions of the battle scenes are examined, in which the prevalence of specific figural types and groups that are repeated on the full corpus of battle sarcophagi are noted. Many of these figural types are identical to Roman copies of the Attalid victory statues, leading to the argument that the compositions of the Roman battle sarcophagi were inspired not by a single painted prototype, as suggested by Andreae, but instead are the gathered collection of various statuary forms that were applied to a relief.This thesis then discusses various models of production in order to show that the Roman battle sarcophagi support the heterogeneous model developed by Ben Russell. While some workshops were large enough to maintain a stock of completed works to be sold off the shelf, others were much smaller, only creating commissioned works.Finally, the figural types on the battle sarcophagi are examined alongside the figural types on sarcophagi that show Amazonomachies. This examination brings to light the similarities between these two sarcophagus types. This thesis argues that these similarities in composition are evidence that a workshop could rough out a generic battle narrative on a sarcophagus, to which finer details could later be applied according to the wishes of the customer in order to transform the scene into either an Amazonomachy or a battle between Romans and barbarians. The figures of Roman soldiers and Amazons in these scenes would have been interchangeable, which suggests complexities in how the Romans viewed these female warriors. Advisors/Committee Members: Burrell, Barbara (Committee Chair).