Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.):
Found in front of the Senate House, Roman Forum, Rome.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum):
in loco. Inventory number: 12453
306 CE Apr 21st to 312 CE Apr 21st
Marble statue base, with mouldings on top and bottom. The face of the block, where the inscription is found, has been reused, which is indicated by the deep and rough epigraphic field. The earlier inscription – although erased - can be partially read on the right side. The left side and the back of the block retain the original dedication.
Width: 81 cm
Height: 124 cm
Depth: 85 cm
This inscription was added to an existing statue base in the Roman Forum; although the earlier inscription was erased, its text is still partially legible on the right hand side, revealing it to be a dedication made by the decuriae (voting “groups of ten men”) of the craftsmen’s guild of Rome in 154 CE (see CIL VI, 33586 c-d). That inscription was mostly erased, so that the base could be re-used for the present dedication, which is found in a deeply and roughly cut epigraphic field, indicating where the earlier text was removed. This later inscription records a dedication to Mars and to Romulus and Remus by the emperor Maxentius, whose name was erased from it after his damnatio memoriae in 312 CE; it is an important text for what it reveals about the importance of Rome and romanitas in his imperial programme, and how he used it to make claims about his own legitimacy.
Maxentius had come to power in 306 CE, but by dubious means. In 305 CE, in an unprecedented move, the Augusti Diocletian and Maximian retired, elevating Galerius and Constantius to the position of co-emperors. Two new Caesars were to be nominated, with Constantine, the son of Constantius and Maxentius, the son of Maximian, the expected pairing. Galerius, however, named Valerius Severus, a long-standing friend of Galerius as his Caesar, along with his own nephew Maximinus Daia, in a move that apparently “amazed” all those soldiers who were present (Lactantius, On the deaths of the persecutors, 19.4). That Constantine and Maxentius were expected to be named was reflective of the belief held by Roman soldiers that imperium – rule of the empire – was something that could, and indeed should, be inherited by sons from their fathers, when such sons were available (Harries, Imperial Rome, p. 42). The precedent set by Diocletian followed the way that the Antonine emperors had dealt with issues of succession, nominating individuals of excellent military record and popularity with the troops as heirs, but, unlike Maxentius and Constantius, Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus Pius had had no sons of their own, and so their appointments of unrelated men were deemed reasonable. At this early date in the 4th century, however, the Caesars named by Galerius were promoted without advance publicity, meaning that there was little opportunity for the new Augustus to dispel the impression that the Caesars had been nominated as such simply because of their personal connections to him (Harries, Imperial Rome, p. 42). In the immediate aftermath, Constantine swiftly made his way to join his father Constantius in Eboracum (York) in Britain, where he was proclaimed Augustus by the soldiers on 25th July 306 CE, shortly after his father’s death (Lactantius, On the deaths of the persecutors, 24.2-8; Eusebius, Life of Constantine, 1.19-22). The title of Augustus did not stick, however; Galerius instead insisted on elevating the Caesar Valerius Severus to the position, offering the title of Caesar instead to Constantine, who accepted it. Later in the same year, Maxentius was acclaimed emperor by the senate and the praetorian guard at Rome, with the full support of the citizen body there (Aurelius Victor, On the Caesars 39.47; for a full discussion of the process by which Maxentius was acclaimed emperor, see Cullhed, Conservator Urbis Suae, p. 14-30). He had won the affection of the Roman people by refusing to support Galerius’s tax reform, which removed exemption from payment from the inhabitants of the capital city and the neighbouring regions of Italy, demonstrating from the start that his imperial programme was one that prioritised the importance of Rome as the centre of the empire and which recognised the traditional esteem in which her inhabitants were held. Valerius Severus and Galerius attempted to besiege Rome in order to suppress their new, unwanted, imperial colleague in 307 CE; Maxentius was not trying, however, to join the Tetrarchy as an additional member, but rather sought to establish himself as the sole ruler of the empire. Although his rise to power was rather a usurpation than a genuine accession, he endeavoured to legitimise it by acting within the framework of traditional, non-tetrarchic models and appeals, which centred on the city of Rome (Cullhed, Conservator Urbis Suae, p. 11).
This approach can clearly be seen in the dedicatory inscription under discussion here. Maxentius offered it to the “father” of Rome, “unconquered Mars” (Mars Invictus pater), and “to the founders of his eternal city” (conditoribus aeternae urbis suae), by which Romulus and Remus are understood. Maxentius is presented here with the traditional honorific epithets, Imperator, “pious” (pius), “fortunate” (felix) and “unconquered Augustus” (invictus Augustus), but without any of the additional epithets that had grown popular amongst the emperors of the third century CE, such as “peacemaker of the world” (pacator orbis) or “restorer of the world” (restitutor orbis). He rather appealed to the simplicity of the more traditional epithets enjoyed by earlier emperors of the first and second centuries CE, which celebrated the ruler’s pietas, and the good fortune that was returned to him by the favour of the gods. The military virtus of Maxentius was celebrated by the epithet Invictus, which also connected him to the divine “father” of Rome, Mars. The military aspect was further emphasised by the epithet dominus, “master”, which had been employed in military dedications to the emperors since the Severan regime (Noreña, Imperial Ideals, p. 227). The inscription was also dedicated to the “founders of [the] eternal city” (conditoribus aeternae urbis suae), or Romulus and Remus, the sons of Mars. Henning Wrede conjectured that the base originally held a statue of Mars together with Romulus and Remus, in grouping that repeated images from coins issued by Maxentius, in which Mars frequently appeared with the twins and She-Wolf who raised them (Wrede, “Der genius populi Romani,” p. 140-142; Coarelli, “L’Urbs e il Suburbio,” p. 21). The eternal power of the emperor was, therefore, associated with the eternity of Rome and the mythical foundation of the city, with their powers perfectly paralleled and justified as divinely bestowed (Coarelli, “L’Urbs e il Suburbio,” p. 21).
The significance of the city of Rome to Maxentius’s imperial message was indicated by his support of the citizens’ refusal to accept Galerius’s tax reforms, but also by his attitude to the monumental landscape of the city. Although the earlier tetrarchs had contributed large-scale building projects, such as the Baths of Diocletian, none had resided there and the city had lost its status as chief imperial residence. Maxentius, conversely, presented himself as “the champion of the city, and the guardian of its traditions” (Cullhed, Conservator Urbis Suae, p. 45). His coinage demonstrated visibly “pro-Roman” motifs and legends, including images of Dea Roma, a structure that has been identified as the Temple of Venus and Rome, and the She-Wolf already mentioned; a series of coins minted throughout his reign also proclaimed Maxentius, on the reverse, as conservator urbis suae, (the “conservator/preserver of his city”), “stressing the majesty of the old capital as the centre from which the empire should be ruled” (Cullhed, Conservator Urbis Suae, p. 38; 46-47). A new Basilica was added to the Forum, and a new circus was constructed on the Via Appia as part of the complex of his own imperial villa, in a further demonstration of his commitment to the city (for these structures see Claridge, Rome, p. 115-116; 336-341). Although a display of pietas towards Rome was expected of all emperors, the physical absence of the tetrarchs from the city represented a shift in traditional practice that was hard to reconcile, especially once Galerius proposed to tax the city like any other of the empire (Cullhed, Conservator Urbis Suae, p. 63). Maxentius’s clear devotion to the capital, his proclamation of Dea Roma, Venus and Mars on his coinage, his monumental building works, revocation of the tax reform and dedications such as this one to the founders of city were a bold statement of his attachment to the Roman traditions going back to the Republic and the Early Empire. The fact that the present inscription was also dedicated on Rome’s birthday, the 21st April (dedicata die XI Kalendas Maias) was no accident either, but designed to emphasise the link between the aeternitas of the city and Maxentius’s reign, which had prioritised the renovatio (“renewal”) of the city in all the traditional forms, and which had their origins in the memory of the city founded by Romulus.
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