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6 - Court Politics and Imperial Imagery in the Roman Principate

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 November 2020

Amy Russell
Brown University, Rhode Island
Monica Hellström
University of Durham
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This chapter examines the role that the Roman imperial court played in the genesis of imperial imagery intended for public display. It argues that the realities of court society have implications for hypothetical reconstructions of who commissioned, designed, and approved such images: ostensibly independent sites of decision-making – ‘senate’, ‘inner circle’, ‘moneyers’, ‘emperor’ – were deeply interconnected. Furthermore, the influence and power of different individuals and groups at court ebbed and flowed, and although such changes never guaranteed particular images, they set new limits on what was possible. With controversial images, artists and their patrons could also exploit the fact that viewing is always conditioned by the viewer’s background knowledge and assumptions, so different audiences could be encouraged to see different things in the same image. A detailed case study of public images of the emperor in the presence of members of his guard units is used to illustrate how some images became more (and then less) possible over time, and how different types of viewers were invited to see varying things in the same image.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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