Last Statues of Antiquity

shield portrait, philosopher

Shield Portrait, Philosopher

The ‘Arts and Humanities Research Council’ funded this major project in Oxford, directed by Professor R.R.R. Smith and Dr Bryan Ward-Perkins. The Project began in January 2009 and ran for three years, employing two Research Assistants, and incorporating the work of a doctoral student and a large number of external collaborators.

Ancient towns were filled with life-size bronze and marble figures – by the third century important cities of the empire could have over a thousand such statues. The habit of erecting statues in public to rulers, and to other dignitaries and benefactors, was a defining characteristic of the ancient world. The dedication of statues expressed the relationship between rulers and ruled and articulated the benefaction-and-honour system of city politics. Statues also played a significant role in defining civic identity, and in forming and perpetuating a city’s collective memory.

In the fourth to sixth centuries AD, statues continued to be erected in many parts of the empire – but already the uniform practices of earlier imperial times had broken down and become attenuated. By the mid-seventh century, the statue-habit, once ubiquitous, had completely disappeared from the Roman world. Not even in Constantinople were new statues set up.

The ‘Last Statues of Antiquity’ project examined this continuity, and eventual disappearance, by collecting and analysing all the evidence for new, newly dedicated, or newly re-worked statuary in the period circa 284–650. The two ‘publications’ arising from the project are (1) a major database, with over 2600 individual entries (to which new items are still being added), to be found at and (2) a book that discusses the entire phenomenon of the late-antique statue habit from a variety of perspectives – The Last Statues of Antiquity (edited by R.R.R. Smith and B. Ward-Perkins, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2016). The database (not available in print) is the essential foundation for the book, but it is also a free-standing resource usable by scholars, students, and the interested public.

Further details

Directors: Professor R R R Smith and Dr Bryan Ward-Perkins


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