When modern audiences think of ancient Roman poets, they hardly
When someone says “Ancient Greece” or “Ancient Rome,” many people’s first thought is of gorgeous, marble, armless statues amid crumbling ruins. However, the sculpture of Greece and Rome can tell us a lot about their culture, some of which is very odd.
- They were painted
We’re very used to the modern versions of Greek and Roman sculpture, all in intricately carved, pale white marble. However, based on pigmentary evidence found on many of the statues, in Ancient Greece or Rome a yard full of statuary would have looked less like the Hockey Hall of Fame and more like a 12-year-old’s MS paint project.
- Greek sculptures were nude
The Greeks (not so much the Romans) loved to carve male nudity. That is, so long as the male being carved is the Greek. The concept is known as “heroic nudity,” and it is so prevalent in Greek sculpture that anyone wearing clothes is shorthand for any barbarian – i.e. not a Greek.
The Romans were the complete opposite. The only clothing problem they had was they never wore pants – tunics and leather skirts all the way. On a monument commemorating a Roman victory over a Greek army, the Roman victor made sure to include one very heroically nude and heroically dead Greek in the relief.
- We don’t know who sculpted most of them
In Ancient Greece or Rome the person who made a sculpture would usually not put their name on it. Instead, the sculptor’s name would be passed through word of mouth.
- Men in Greece were purposely…small
Ideas about penis size are cultural. In Greek society, a large penis was seen as inappropriate. In theater, to represent someone who was uncultured or a fool, the actor would wear a large prosthetic penis. So, when the Greeks wanted to sculpt someone who was meant to be important or good (or just not a barbarian or fool), they would purposely give the statue small genitals.
- The clothing can tell you things
This is mostly in Roman sculpture. Romans had very specific rules about their clothing. To begin with, men were the only ones allowed to wear togas (over their tunics and only if they were citizens). Everyone else simply stuck with the tunic. If the toga has a stripe on it, it meant that the man wearing it was a member of the Senate. Then, if the toga is pulled up over the man’s head, then he is either a priest or, at least, performing a priestly duty.
- There was a lot of copying
Especially in Rome, there was a lot of copying of sculptures. The best example of this is the sculptures commissioned by Augustus, the first Roman Emperor. To spread his fame, he had many sculptures in his image made. Perhaps the most famous is the sculpture of him found in his wife’s villa, where the pose is very similar to a famous Greek Statue known as the Spear-bearer.
- Many sculptures were destroyed
Sadly, many sculptures were lost, whether due to natural disaster, looting, or repurposing of materials. One of the main ingredients in concrete is lime, which can be made by destroying chalk or marble. Since Rome was constantly building new things, it became easier to just toss the marble statue in the oven rather than go find some in the raw.