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date: 16 June 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Deciphering the language of imagery used by the Romans requires an examination of all components of material culture, whether or not we would classify them as ‘art’. We often ask ‘what is “Roman” in Roman art, but a more appropriate question would be what is “art” in Roman art?’ This article examines issues related to Roman self-representation, focusing primarily on political and religious imagery of the late Republic and Empire, but touching on all visual media and most geographic regions. It highlights the fundamental ambiguity of Roman iconography as well as the problems in comprehension encountered both by the Roman viewer and the modern scholar. The article begins with the issue of space and time: how the Romans indicated the extent of the empire that they controlled, and how they expressed its unlimited duration. The most prominent element that shifted between the realms of politics and religion in the Roman Empire was the arch, which had begun to serve as a symbol of triumph by the first century BCE.

Keywords: Roman Empire, imagery, Roman art, self-representation, visual media, iconography, arch, politics, religion

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