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Equestrian Statue of Trajan

"So he [Constantius II] abandoned all hope of attempting anything like it, and declared that he would and could imitate simply Trajan's horse, which stands in the middle of the court with the emperor on its back."

Ammianus Marcellinus (XVI.10.15)

On the central axis of the forum square was a colossal equestrian statue of Trajan (Equus Trajani), the appearance of which can be discerned from numismatic evidence. Although several coin variants depict Trajan on horseback, those dating to his sixth consulship (AD 112), the year in which the forum was dedicated, would seem to commemorate the monument, itself, which likely was modelled on that of Domitian in the Roman Forum. In turn, the equestrian statue of Trajan must have been the model for the surviving statue of Marcus Aurelius. All depict the same artistic convention: the relaxed posture, the raised hand in a gesture of peace, and lifted right foreleg of the striding horse.

The equestrian statue of Domitian (Equus Domitiani) was erected in AD 91 to commemorate the campaign in Germany and Dacia. Numismatic evidence, such as this gold aureus, and an ecphrasis (formal literary description) by Statius provide some ideas of its appearance. Facing the Temple of Divine Julius, it supposedly towered over the other temples and surpassed the equine statue of Caesar's favorite horse that was in front of the Temple of Venus Genetrix in the Forum of Julius (Suetonius, Life, LXI). "This work fears not...the long-drawn years; it shall stand as long as earth and heaven and Roman day" (Silvae, I.1.91-94). In fact, the statue was pulled down and destroyed in AD 96, following the assassination of Domitian and his damnatio, the massive base concealed under the pavement of the forum.   


The only bronze equestrian statue to survive from antiquity is that of Marcus Aurelius, who had been mistaken for Constantine. It suggests how magnificent the statue of Trajan might have been. Taken to the Capitoline in the sixteenth-century, where it was mounted on a new base and made the centerpiece of Michelangelo's Piazza del Campidoglio, the statue was removed to the Capitoline Museums in 1980 for restoration and a replica put in its place. 

Statius' effusive poem does have one evocative line: "A great sword protects your side, large as Orion's threatening blade on winter nights, affrighting the stars" (1.1.44-45).

References: Statius: Silvae (2003) translated by D. R. Shackleton Bailey (Loeb Classical Library).

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