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An equestrian statue in gilded bronze


To have oneself portrayed with an equestrian statue was regarded by the Romans as a great privilege confined to persons prominent in the State and local communities.

Mostly made of gilded bronze, these statues were often melted down, and those that have survived are very few when compared with the number of accompanying inscriptions that still remain.

The emperors above all were portrayed on horseback wearing a cuirass or a tunic and paludamentum (cloak), as in the well-known statue of Marcus Aurelius on the Capitoline Hill in Rome.

The toga seems to have been reserved for local notables as in the two bronzes from Cartoceto, the statue of a decurion from Pompeij, and some fragments from Petelia.

Statues of this level were mostly set up in the forum, either in the center or aligned along the sides.

Northern Italy has a large number of inscriptions from equestrian statues, primarily dating from the second half of the first and the second centuries AD.

In Turin, this form of recognition was accorded to C. Valerius Clemens, duovir and patron of the colony, the decurion P. Cordius Vettianus, and perhaps Q. Glitius Atilius Agricola, consul in AD 97, to whom there are two dedications engraved on slabs whose shield-like shape is that adopted for the Vettianus monument.

The fragments that now remain were unearthed in 1577 when the Holy Martyrs Church was erected between Via Botero and Via Garibaldi. Found all together, and congruent in size, type and technical details, they come from a single statue.

The differences in the composition of its alloy revealed by chemical analysis are a frequent feature of large ancient bronzes cast as separate pieces and then welded together.

The horse's right foreleg is bent and thrust forward to simulate a step. The man's leg wears a boot (the calceus patricius) with four laces and a spur.

The folds of a toga can be discerned at the thigh, and its ends were laid across the rider's lap.

The toga is an indication of civil rather than military merits and hence suggests that the subject of the statue was a local worthy, not an emperor.

The same excavations brought to light a bronze inscription reciting the erection of a statua equestris in honour of C. Valerius Clemens, patron of the colony, but its disappearance has left us in doubt as to who this person was.