Art, Imagery, and Politics in the Late Roman Republic

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Politics and art have a complicated relationship. By supporting the prevailing political and social positions, art can make a significant contribution to political discussion. Nevertheless, for quite a while, art was a force for change that can be used to change how things are in the social and political spheres. Particular ideological issues can be addressed through art, and diverse social frameworks can be reinterpreted. Of course, not every political art seeks to change the entire globe or the established order. Some pieces of art were purposefully made to uphold contemporary cultural power structures. Sometimes, artists are asked to produce works that promote a certain political viewpoint. Propaganda is a commonly used term for this sort of politically inspired art. It manipulates actuality by spreading concepts that benefit one causation and/or hurt the dissenting causation. For instance, from its establishment under Augustus till its extinction at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, the office of “Imperator Romanorum” was known by several different titles. In its 1500-year history, the office has never undergone as many changes as it did in the 1st and 6th epochs of the Common Era. Augustus and Justinian are at different ends of the artistic and political continuum regarding these advances.

The royal iconography of “Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian,” the trivium intended to turn into Monarch Augustus, fueled the expansion of the royal Cult, which centered on this legendary figure who united the Mediterranean basin into a “world Monarch.” Augustus may neglect Hellenistic aristocracy and divinity to the skilled eye (Galinsky, 1998). The young Monarch believed he wanted to make up for his violent upbringing and that his portrayal of a Hellenistic king in conflict with Marcus Antonius during the civil war was the worst of his previous transgressions. He advocated the notion of a “first citizen” like Augustus. Mythology suggests that the princeps served as judges and performed the same civic duties as any Roman magistrate. In contrast to Antonius of Alexandria, he never made public his maiestas.

On the other hand, the propaganda around his accomplishment presented his authority and affluence in a patriotic way, solidifying Octavian’s grandeur in the eyes of the general public without the overt pomp of monarchy. Octavian’s sickly image was transformed into Augustus’s idealized image once he became the sole ruler of the Roman Monarch: strong, dedicated, and triumphant in the battleground, the toy of the Congress, and in the eyes of the deities. He was the supreme pontifex of the deities and became divine after his demise. As imperator, he directed the military alone, and as princeps senatus, he led the Senate alone (Galinsky, 1998). Despite the consent of the state’s old deities, this depiction of the Roman Monarch as a man in sandals and a toga picta became the accepted social standard for the subsequent centuries.

Both the Justinian mosaic in San Vitale Cathedral and the Augustus statue in ad Gallinas Garden portray the reigning Roman Monarch at the time of their creation. The observer may comment on how drastically unlike the two are. It is one thing to read about how the principate deteriorated into an eastern dictatorship, but contrasting each Monarch’s presentation side-by-side reveals the Imperator Romanorum’s significant changes. If Augustus ruled in the Golden Age, then Petrus Sebastius Justinianus ruled in the Dark Ages. The defeated German chieftains assumed control and direction of the Western provinces, which included Britain and North Africa. Western Europe lived independently of the Roman Monarch for the first time in 500 years. The remaining two-thirds of Romania’s original territory consisted of ancient Hellenistic eastern Mediterranean territories (Galinsky, 1998). The Monarch relocated to Constantinople, a fortified seaside fortress where Christianity dominated politics and religion. During the five centuries that separated these two Monarchs, the notion of diarchy with the Roman Senate and modest regal presentation withered away. Like Diocletian, Justinian possessed an uncanny appearance and was an unrepentant ruler.

Even in the San Vitale Church in Ravenna, his gaze impales the spectator, focusing on the exterior and the spirit concealed beneath it. He is the crowning achievement of the Late Antique Roman Monarchs, resplendent with gold, silk, and precious stones. In polytheistic Rome, the traditional royal emblems of the toga and laurel represented a fraction of the Monarch’s cultural wealth (Zanker, 1990). The orb and scepter were more suitable as cryptograms of complete control. Due to his situation, the Monarch’s personality was masked in clandestine astonishment. Despite his few advents and supposedly limitless skills, he maintained a well-organized cult. Despite not being divine, Justinian ascended to power in the same style as Constantine and Theodosius, as the exquisitely selected archetypal of the Christian Godhead. Christ was the supreme master of the realm; the Monarch was only his servant (Zanker, 1990). Nevertheless, until the middle Ages, the Roman Monarch was recognized as the world’s greatest ruler. His reputation as Yahweh’s anointed and the legitimate keeper of the Orbis Romanis, which was more significant than any usurping ruler, made him seem to be the kosmocrator, whether or not he was.

We study art to understand this era and any historical era of any community. Because the creation of art is one of humanity’s most pervasive activities, art history allows us to comprehend our past and its connection to the current time. As an art historian, you will study this rich and essential component of human heritage. This essay’s objective was thus to investigate this shift from an aesthetic and historical perspective while also considering spiritual and traditional factors. I chose Augustus and Justinian as examples because of their different presenting styles. Restraint vs. unrestrained power, as well as simplicity versus complexity. There is a need to observe and assess particular works of art made in their likeness, identifying recurring features before determining why a change was necessary. The concern is why the Roman Monarch went from being a Republican magistrate to a “Military Monarch” and, finally, an Eastern Lord decked with diamonds who claimed to be Roman while resembling the “Great Kings” of Persia.

Because the creation of art is one of humanity’s most pervasive activities, art history allows us to comprehend our past and its link to the present. As an art historian, you will study this rich and essential aspect of human civilization. The accomplishments of Augustus surpass those of Alexander, according to people who have studied ancient history (Zanker, 1990). True, Alexander was one of antiquity’s most significant fiAs is often the case in history, though his dominion did not outlast him. gures. His conquest of Persia in less than a decade remains the most significant military operation in history. To conquer an empire extending from the Strymon to the Hydaspes is a tremendous accomplishment that has seldom been accomplished in a single lifetime. Following his death, Hellas remained divided into a dozen kingdoms and leagues, a turbulent sea of anarchy. Alexander could not overcome his passions throughout his adult life, costing him his closest friends and, ultimately, his life. If he had lived longer, he might have been the greatest ruler to ever sit on a throne, but he died young (Zanker, 1990). He abandoned his global dominion at just thirty years of age without a recognized leader. The subsequent military disorder shattered the empire so severely that the chance of reconciliation was as far as the Hydaspes River.


Galinsky, K. (1998). Augustan Culture: An interpretive introduction. Princeton University Press.

Zanker, P. (1990). The power of images in the age of Augustus. University of Michigan Press.