Equus Domitiani

Richardson, L. jr

Equus Domitiani (Fig 40): a colossal (?) bronze equestrian statue of Domitian erected in the Forum Romanum in A.D. 91 in honor of the princeps' campaigns in Germany. Statius devotes a poem to its description (Statius Silv. 1.1), and it appears on coins (Nash 1.389 fig. 476). It was believed by Boni to have stood on a concrete base, 11.80 m long by 5.90 m wide, discovered in 1902 during work in the cuniculi under the forum and exposed the next year after lifting a section of the pavement of travertine blocks. The deep mass of concrete cuts into the main cuniculus and a cross passage of the network of passages of late republican date under the forum but is now considered itself of early Augustan date at the latest. Into the top surface are let three large square blocks of travertine with square mortises, 0.044 m on a side and 0.15 m deep, in positions that suggest the placing of the feet of a striding horse, while the coins show the right forefoot rested on an allegorical head of the Rhine. In the east end of the base was found a hollowed-out block of travertine provided with a lid containing material from a prehistoric burial, including five impasto vessels, a quartz crystal, and a bit of gold. Hülsen proposed the explanation that, in digging out the place for the concrete base, the workmen had encountered a burial of the type of the nearby Sepulcretum (q.v.) and Regia and, not understanding their discovery, had piously enclosed what could be recovered in the base.

With the redating of this base to the Augustan period, it has had to be abandoned as belonging to the Equus Domitiani, but next to it, slightly overlapping on its area, is a well-marked rectangle of blocks in the travertine pavement, 7.80 m wide by 12.20 m long. This covers a mass of concrete that respects the network of cuniculi and seems likely to have been the foundation for the statue of Domitian.

The statue faced east and showed the heavily muscled horse striding forward. The princeps was in military dress, with paludamentum and sword. On his left hand was poised a figure of Minerva, evidently facing forward and lifting the aegis (Statius Silv. 1.1.37-40); with his extended right hand the princeps made a gesture of peace. The statue stood on a massive base to which Statius calls special attention (Statius Silv. 1.1.56-60). The statue must have been destroyed following the damnatio memoriae decreed by the senate after Domitian's death, and the pedestal must have been leveled.

Nash 1.389-90; BullCom 88 (1982-83): 95-98 (E. Rodriguez Almeida); GV 118-22, 133-39.

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