Late Antiquity was a period of great change in the Roman Empire, when Christianity became the dominating religion, old traditions were abandoned, and temples were destroyed or adapted to suit new secular or religious purposes. In this process, the statuary decorating the private, official, and religious buildings and open areas was either preserved and reused in new contexts, destroyed and reused as spolia in building structures, or burned in lime-kilns to provide lime for new building works.
Troels Myrup Kristensen and Lea Stirling have assembled a collection of papers on this highly interesting topic that developed out of two international seminars held at Aarhus University in 2008 and 2011. The final product engagingly analyzes the reuse and afterlife of ancient sculpture in Late Antiquity, and we may congratulate the editors for managing to gather an impressive group of international scholars to discuss and publish the results of their most recent studies.
The volume presents a selection of case studies for the history of Greek and Roman statues in Late Antiquity from various parts of the Roman world. The editors provide in their introduction a general view for the topic, discuss issues of methodology and interpretation, and present a chronology of the fate of the ancient statues under examination. The papers that follow are divided into three topics. Part I, “Practices of Deposition and Reuse,” includes three papers; Part II, “Regional Perspectives,” includes seven; and Part III, “Grand Narratives,” contains four. As can be seen from this structure, the main emphasis has been given to the presentation of regional studies that give us an interesting insight into local practices at Sagalassos in Asia Minor, Athens, Corinth, Ostia, Roman Germany, Sicily, and on the Lower Danube.
The editors’ introduction has a poignant subtitle, “From Use to Refuse,” that marks the multiple uses of statuary during late antique times. The editors have utilized the concept of the “life history” of objects developed by Michael Schiffer, adapting Schiffer's model with Theodore Peña's categories for Roman pottery to create a flow diagram for the production and afterlives of Roman statuary (fig. 2). This diagram is very helpful for the reader, as it also conveys the possible alterations a statue may go through in Late Antiquity before the secondary display in the same context or in a new one. Such alterations might include recarving, mutilation, or marking with a cross. One important observation they make is that production of new statuary continued until the fifth century. Thus, we have two parallel lines of development: first, use and reuse, and second, the creation of new statues. Schiffer's model of the life histories of objects acts as a reference point not only for this section, but for all of the volume's constituent papers.
The articles in the first part of the book, “Practices of Deposition and Reuse,” address three different types of late antique practices. In “Metal Sculpture from Roman Britain. Scraps but Not Always Scrap,” Ben Croxford studies fragments of metal sculpture from Britain using the framework of fragmentation introduced by John Chapman. He suggests that the fragments from anthropomorphic statues seem to have been treated in various ways connected to the ideas of the body, as well as to the qualities of the original image. Beth Munro analyzes lime kilns at Roman villas in Italy and the western provinces in “Sculptural Deposition and Lime Kilns at Roman Villas in Italy and the Western Provinces in Late Antiquity,” noting that some of these kilns included fragments of marble statues and thus provide solid evidence for the reuse of statues as raw material for construction projects. She also observes that the collections of broken marble stored at some villas may even indicate that there was lack of demand for raw material for lime production in the late antique countryside. In “‘Christ-Loving Antioch Became Desolate’: Sculpture, Earthquakes, and Late Antique Urban Life,” Myrup Kristensen studies the possible effects of earthquakes on sculpture and urban adornment by comparing the literary evidence of seismic activity to archaeological evidence of damage or destruction, using the cities of Aphrodisias and Sagalassos as case studies.
In the second part of the volume, Ine Jacobs examines a collection of mythological statuettes from the Belgian excavations at Sagalassos in “Old Habits Die Hard: A Group of Mythological Statuettes from Sagalassos and the afterlife of Sculpture in Asia Minor.” She compares this group to others in the eastern Mediterranean and shows in an excellent way the statuary habit and the destiny of mythological statues in the cities of Asia Minor. Nadin Burkhardt's article, “The Reuse of Ancient Sculpture in the Urban Spaces of Late Antique Athens,” is a restudy of several well-known late antique Athenian finds. In her discussion concerning the Palace of the Giants, however, she does not refer to the statue base—identified by Erkki Sironen as a dedication to Empress Eudocia by Theodosius II—that may possibly be connected to the complex.1 For the discussion concerning statuary found on the south slope of the Acropolis, especially from the House of Proclus, the author would have been able to provide a much more detailed analysis from Maria Brouskari's book about all the sculpture finds from the area.
In “Crosses, Noses, Walls, and Wells: Christianity and the Fate of Sculpture in Late Antique Corinth,” Amelia R. Brown re-evaluates sculptural finds from Corinth and their contexts and provides a new critical view for the interpretation of the material. The discussion, however, might have benefited from an overall plan of Corinth, with the main monuments and find-spots of statuary, to help situate the reader in the topography of the site. Shifting the focus back to Italy, Cristina Murer discusses the reuse and relocation of funerary statues in late antique private houses at Ostia in “The Reuse of Funerary Statues in Late Antique Prestige Buildings at Ostia” and speculates on how these statues would have been transported to their new locations. The results are fascinating and relevant to other sites, as Murer asserts that the same phenomenon of reuse and relocation is attested in other cities of Latium and Campania in Late Antiquity.
In “Germans, Christians, and Rituals of Closure: Agents of Cult Image Destruction in Roman Germany,” Philip Kiernan concentrates on the evidence from Roman Germany, concluding that Christians, Germans, and pagans were all engaged in the destruction and deposition of cult images to different degrees. Denis Sami's “The Fate of Classical Statues in Late Antique and Byzantine Sicily: The Cases of Catania and Agrigento” shows how difficult it was for Christians to balance between disgust for idolatry and admiration and reverence of well-admired statues which formed the backdrop of civic life. Cristina-Georgeta Alexandrescu's “The Fate of Sculpture on the Lower Danube in Late Antiquity: Preliminary Observations” adds an important, previously unknown group of evidence from the Lower Danube and increases our knowledge concerning the afterlife and reuse of sculpture in that area.
The four chapters in the third part of the volume provide more general views of the visual culture and the afterlife of sculpture in Late Antiquity. In “Shifting Use of a Genre: A Comparison of Statuary Décor in Homes and Baths of the Late Roman West,” Lea Stirling returns to her special areas of research, providing interesting comparisons for the various uses of statuary in late antique houses and baths, using the sculpture collections of Cherchel and Chiragan as her starting points. Benjamin Anderson argues that the public display of official portraits became unsuitable in Late Antiquity due to social tensions and rioting in “The Disappearing Imperial Statue: Toward a Social Approach.” In “The Sunset of 3D,” Paolo Liverani explores the central feature of late antique art: the popularization of two-dimensional representations which came to eclipse and partially replace sculpture as a decorative medium. Finally, Michael Greenhalgh's chapter “Travelers’ Accounts of Roman Statuary in the Near East and North Africa: From Limbo and Destruction to Museum Heaven” presents an overview of the history of sculpture in the Near East and North Africa and shows how attitudes towards spolia have changed over time.
The editors have added a useful presentation of statistics concerning different statuary practices from the third to the sixth century (11–13). The most interesting results are the disappearance of ritual deposits in the fifth century, and, in addition, the disappearance of the practice of recarving during the sixth century. The statistics show an increasing amount of construction and destruction, as well as the use of statues in limekilns for lime production from the third to the sixth centuries.
The quality of proofreading and illustrations is generally good. However, there are a few exceptions. For example, on p. 139 the invasion of Alaric is dated to AD 390, when it should be AD 395–396, on p. 141 the reference to a seated goddess on a throne should be a god on a throne (illustrated on fig. 9), and on p. 142 a bust of Isis is dated to the first century B.C., while on p. 139 the same is dated to the second quarter of the first century C.E. All in all, however, this volume provides an important updated view for the study of late antique sculpture that incorporates new empirical data and new ways of approaching additional information for the material culture of Late Antiquity.