Timeline of Roman antiquities, 500 B.C. - 609 A.D.
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500-200 B.C 200-31 B.C. 30 B.C.-53 A.D. 54-96 A.D. 98-138 A.D. 138-360 A.D. 312-609 A.D.

Roman Empire and it's art (98-138 A.D.)

Rome fortified its foreign borders and refined the administration of the overseas empire during this period. It divided Germany into Upper and Lower Germany with two different governors. Under Emperor Marcus Ulpius Trajan (98-117 A.D.), Arabia, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Assyria all became Roman colonies, as did Dacia (today called Romania). Emperor Trajan's mother was Spanish, but he spent most of his childhood and early adulthood accompanying his father, a military commander, in battles in Syria. As a young officer, Trajan put down rebellions in Spain and Upper Germany.

Under Trajan, corn was more freely distributed and crushing poverty ended in the city of Rome. Trajan undertook an ambitious public works plan and after 107 A.D. there were many new buildings (including a sumptuous new bath, the Aqua Triana) and a new forum, the Forum Triani, and twice as many new monumental statues.

Making Dacia (contemporary Romania) a colony gave the Romans complete control over the Danube, and the gold, silver and iron mines of the Carpathians. The Dacians had traded with the Greeks from about 400 B.C. and Dacian crafts were demonstrably affected by Greek decorative motifs in metalworking.

Emperor Trajan's rule was not completely peaceful. There were serious revolts in the Middle East, though Trajan's policy toward the Jews and Christians was tolerant and enlightened for the time.


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Roman Empire in 125 A.D.


Emperor Publius Abilus Hadrian (117-138), when he was in his twenties, served in the military under Trajan but did not have a distinguished record as an officer. He was probably unpopular with the senior generals under Trajan. In 117, Trajan died in a remote Asian province without having formally named a successor. The choice of Hadrian as Trajan's successor was surprising and suspicious to many. Though experienced running Athens, Hadrian could not hold on to Trajan's Asian Empire and was forced to relinquish Parthia immediately after becoming emperor. The revolt of the Jews continued for decades, and under Hadrian Jews were dispersed throughout the Empire and not permitted in Jerusalem.


Eastern portion of the Roman Empire from ca. 100 to 200 A.D.


In the early 120s, Hadrian toured first the northern provinces and then the eastern and African ones. Roman crafts and art were aggressively introduced in Gaul, Britain and Germany during Hadrian's travels. He was away from Rome for nearly a decade. The last years of Hadrian's reign, the 130s, were a time of peace and cultural achievement in Rome and the Roman Empire.


Rock crystal portrait of Emperor Aulius Vitellus (15-69 A.D.), Height: 3.5 cm, private collection, United Kingdom. This piece was originally part of a larger statue. Vitellus was one of four who were emperor during the year 69 A.D. He was publically executed in the Roman Forum on December 20, 69 A.D.


Portraiture during the late 60s and early 70s AD changed dramatically. Extremely factual, with little of the idealism of the Roman Republic, portraits were often psychologically-penetrating likenesses. Vitellus's expression in the piece above is melancholy and anxiety-ridden his mouth in a frown. The expression reflects the year he was emperor, which was one of the most troubled in Roman history. Wrinkles around Vitellus's eyes and on his brow are meticulously rendered. The pupils of the eyes are incised. The hair is only suggested with symmetrical grooves. This is a very good piece, but somewhat awkward and heavy. Nevertheless, such depictions of Emperor Vitellus rarely come on the market.


Portrait of a young boy, ca. mid Second Century A.D., Encaustic on wood, 39 x 19 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art.


This is a particularly moving portrait; its emotional appeal combined with its excellent condition make it a museum-quality piece. But portions of Egyptian encaustic-on wood portraits do come on the market frequently. Often the inscription is less legible than it is in this case. It is in Greek, though the piece was made in Egypt during the Roman Empire. Greek continued to be the language of the educated and the ruling class, while Latin was spoken by the military and, by this time, in courts of law. Most well-educated young men in Egypt learned Greek before they learned Latin. The inscription in purple has the name of the sitter Eutyches, who is called a freed man, and the name of the person who manumitted him.

Encaustic painting entails the use of heated wax as a medium for painting colors. In other words, the wood or stone on which it was applied had to cool off in addition to drying off. Both brush and a spatula were used to apply the encaustic to wood by the Egyptians by the First Century A.D. Some of the most well-known encaustic on wood works were mummy cases from the First to Fourth Century A.D., were made in Fayum, Egypt. Many of these are still in existence, and sometimes portions of them are found at auction or in galleries.


From top left to right, commonplace kitchen objects from the Eastern Provinces of the Roman Empire: (a) Limestone plate, 4.9 cm, emulates a Roman terra sigillata plate, ca. 100 A.D.; (b) Limestone measuring cup, 12.9 cm in diameter, ca. 100 A.D.; (c) Limestone lamp, 4.4 cm high, ca. 100 A.D.; (d) Pottery bowl, 8.4 cm diameter, ca. 100 A.D. All private collection, Israel.


This tableware is unusual because it is made of limestone. They were locally-made and locally-sold. The shapes follow forms of such objects in the Roman world, typically made of clay. Tableware in the condition above is found in most auctions of antiquities. Pieces are limestone are more rare.

Central Gaul had the Empire's most important pottery industry by the end of the First Century A.D. Tableware produced in the specialized kilns of Central Gaul predominated the market until about 200 A.D. Pots, cups, plates were elaborately decorated with pictures of animals, plants, geometric motifs, and mythological scenes. Pottery was wheel-made in Central, Eastern, and Southern Gaul during this period, though in many other parts of the Roman Empire it was still handmade. Much of the locally-made tableware was used by the military.

Scholars consider the wear above typical of the workshops of the Eastern Provinces in the First Century A.D. Palestine (Israel) had been under Persian rule from 538 B.C. until Alexander the Great took it in 332 B.C. Palestine became a Rome colony in 4 A.D. In 70 A.D., Vespasian and Titus destroyed the great Temple and the city of Jerusalem, the Romans installed a military legate to substitute for a full-fledged governor to govern the province. Legates were the leaders of a legion, a military unit. The legion in charge of Palestine was once closely associated with Julius Caesar; it had jurisdiction over Syria as well as Palestine. Taxes in Palestine, which previously went to pay the expenses of the Temple, now went to pay for a new temple to Jupiter Capitolinus. The most obvious influence of the Romans on visual art in Palestine was the sudden proliferation of statues of humans, and human figures in crafts and fine arts. Judaism forbade human representations. Before the Romans, geometric or floral motifs were used, in deference to Jewish practice. The Romans also increased the number of cities in Palestine and undertook massive construction projects. A Roman forum was built at Sebaste (formerly known as Samaria); a Roman theatre at Scythopolis (formerly called Beth Shean). Many temples to Greco-Roman gods were built in Palestine during the 100s A.D. under Rome's policy of cultural imperialism; most were converted to churches or synagogues after the Roman Empire ended.


Marble floors from the Palatine Palace, Rome, ca. 100 A.D. Many of the colored stones on this floor came from Egypt called Aegyptus in Latin.


Egypt did not have the status of a province but was run and exploited like the private estate of the Emperor. The Romans used Egyptian and other stones in floor decorations, both public and private, from about 30 B.C. when Egypt was conquered by them. Colored Egyptian marble came from the eastern desert. Shipping it was dangerous and costly. By the end of the First Century A.D. the Romans started decorating ceilings with stonework like that above.

Marble and other stones from various parts of the Empire were cut into shapes that fit into patterns. Sometimes a floor would have a herringbone pattern made of tile. This was called opus spicuatum. When a floor was made of both tile and concrete is was called opus signinum.

Remnants of such floors are commonly found at international auctions. Floor surfaces from later in the Roman Empire sometimes include gold or glass pieces.


Portico in Ostia, the major port of Rome, constructed ca. 120 A.D.


The sea creatures in this piece would appeal to many peoples from many alien cultures, who came to the bustling port of Ostia with their individual pagan beliefs. It would not offend any of them. Its absence of human figures would not rankle Christian or Jewish sensibilities. This mosaic is dramatic because of its simplicity of design and its use of only two colors. Portions of such mosaics are often found at auction. In Latin a mosaic was called opus vermiculatum. Most mosaics had stone, tile, pottery and glass. The one at Ostia may have fewer elements resulting in a more homogeneous appearance. During the middle years of the Roman Empire, there was a greater emphasis on decorating public spaces and the exterior of buildings. In the later Empire, the pattern was reversed and public spaces tended to be spare, while interiors were elaborate.


Statue of a woman, Roman, ca. 2nd century A.D., copy of 2nd century B.C. Greek funerary sculpture, Height: 198 cm., Private collection, United States.


In death, the wealthy private citizen of this period could nearly rival the emperor in commemorative artwork. Anyone who could pay a commission could have a splendid sculpture such as the one above, found in the mausoleum of a private person.

In public buildings paid for by private funds, the wealthy often put up exquisitely-made statues of their wives, mistresses, children, parents in niches. For instance, in the Second Century A.D., Herodes Atticus, a wealthy landowner and public official, put up a fountain-house at Olympia, Greece to commemorate the Emperor. It was decorated with statues of his parents, wife, and some of his students.

While we have drawings and descriptions of sculpture with this exact pose, draping, and general appearance, there are no other extant examples. It is a relatively rare type called Pudcitia Braccio-Nuovo, but is in flawed condition. Its provenance is cloudy. It sold recently at an international auction house, but not for an astronomical price.


Apis Bull, bronze, Roman Empire, ca. 100 A.D. It is thought that there were once inlaid stones in the eyes, and there was a crown of gold since detached. 12.7 cm high. Private collection, United States.


The Apis bull was the sacred bull of Egypt but under the Roman emperors its worship became an official Roman state-sanctioned cult. The Apis bull was part of the myth of Osiris, the god of the Underworld but also associated with reincarnation more generally. The cult was one of the secret mystery cults popular in Rome during the time of Trajan and Hadrian. These cults were concerned with securing a happy afterlife. Such cults all required elaborate initiation rites; the substance of these rites is no longer known.

Other Eastern gods also became the subject of Roman cults during this time, among the most popular were Isis, the Great Mother, and Mithras. All these mysteries were syncretic, in other words, worship of one did not preclude worship in another. Worshippers often created individual religions with portions of Asian cults, traditional Roman religion, and sometimes Judaism or Christianity.

The Apis bull sculpture above is a small piece, of medium-good quality that sold for a reasonable price at auction. It had a readily-traceable provenance and is in good condition.


Right Arm, Twice-Lifesize, most likely from a statue of Zeus-Serapis, 2nd Century A.D. Based on a lost original by Bryaxis, Alexandria, Egypt created in the 3rd Century B.C. Length: 87 cm, Private Collection United States.


The god Serapis was worshipped as a healer of the profoundly ill, and worker of miracles. He communicated to his followers in their dreams. Serapis was typically depicted with the face and beard of Zeus. Zeus was the Indo-European Great Father deity. He appears in Greek, Mesopotamian, and Indian myth. In remote antiquity he was the god of the sky and weather thought to be enthroned in distant mountains.

In representations of Serapis, his left arm up was held up and his left hand grasping the staff of Asclepius, the god most closely associated with medicine. According to both Tactius and Plutarch, the cult of Serapis was brought to Egypt by the Ptolemies, who became adherents of the cult while in Asia Minor. During the later Roman Empire, the worship of Serapis was eclipsed by the cult of the female deity Isis.

This is a good piece, with much dramatic punch, and somewhat marred condition. It sold at auction in New York for a respectably high price.

We would be pleased to help with authentication or appraisal of any object from antiquity that you own, please contact us at info@antiquityexperts.com.