The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius depicts the famous Roman Emperor on horseback. The emperor is over life-size and extends his hand in a gesture used by emperors when addressing their army and legions. It is an image designed to portray the Emperor as victorious and all-conquering. It is believed that a conquered enemy was originally part of the sculpture, based on accounts from mediaeval times, that suggests a figure of a bound barbarian chieftain once cowered underneath the horse’s front right leg. However, Marcus Aurelius is depicted without weapons or armour; he is portrayed as a bringer of peace rather than a military hero. That is how Marcus Aurelius saw himself and his reign. The statue was erected ca. 175 AD, during the Marcus Aurelius’s reign, but its original location is unknown and debated.
Marcus Aurelius is riding without the use of stirrups, which had not yet been introduced to the West. The saddle cloth design is Sarmatian in origin. The Sarmatians were a large Iranian confederation, and it is believed that the horse is a Sarmatian horse and that the statue was created to honour the victory over the Sarmatians by Marcus Aurelius. This bronze statue stands 4.24 m (13.9 ft) tall and today is on display in the Capitoline Museums. For hundreds of years previously, it stood in the open air of the Piazza del Campidoglio, and today a replica made in 1981 now stand where this original formerly stood.
Many imperial equestrian statues did not survive because it was the common practice to melt down bronze statues for the reuse of the bronze for coins or new sculptures. The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius in Christian Rome owes its preservation to the misidentification of Marcus Aurelius with Constantine the Great, the Christian Emperor. In the medieval era, it was one of the few Roman statues to remain on public view, because it was assumed to be the first Christian Emporer. It was moved to the Piazza del Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill) during Michelangelo’s redesign of the Hill. Michelangelo designed a special pedestal for it.
Replica standing in the open air of the Piazza del Campidoglio
Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180) also called a Philosopher, was Roman emperor from 161 to 180. He was the last of the Roman rulers traditionally known as the Five Good Emperors. He is also seen as the last emperor of the Pax Romana, an age of relative peace and stability for the Empire. His philosophical writings, now commonly known as Meditations, are a significant source of the modern understanding of ancient Stoic philosophy.
Marcus was born into a Roman patrician family. He was educated at home, as children from Roman aristocratic families often were. His tutors sparked his interest in philosophy, and he studied Greek and Latin. Marcus’ reign was marked by military conflict. In the East, the Roman Empire fought successfully with a revitalised Parthian Empire and the rebel Kingdom of Armenia. Marcus defeated the Marcomanni, Quadi, and Sarmatians in the Marcomannic Wars. However, these and other Germanic peoples began to represent a troubling reality for the Empire.
Persecution of Christians is believed to have increased during Marcus Aurelius’ reign. Marcus had at least thirteen children, including Commodus, whom Marcus named as his co-ruler in 177. Commodus is considered a disappointment as emperor, and his succession has long been the subject of debate among historians.
Meditations is a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy. Marcus Aurelius wrote his books in Greek as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. It is unlikely that Marcus Aurelius ever intended the writings to be published and the work has no official title, so “Meditations” is one of several titles assigned to the collection. These writings take the form of quotations varying in length from one sentence, to long paragraphs. The first translation from Greek into Latin was in 1558. Since then, his work has been praised by writers, philosophers, and monarchs, as well as by poets and politicians.
Exploring Masterpieces of the Capitoline Museums
- Colossus of Constantine
- Capitoline Wolf
- Dying Gaul
- Boy with Thorn
- Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius
- “Loss is nothing else but change and change is nature’s delight.” – Marcus Aurelius
- The statue is depicted on the reverse of the Italian €0.50 euro coin. Your souvenir.
Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius
- Title: Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius
- Date: 175 AD
- Material: Bronze
- Dimensions: 4.24 m (13.9 ft) tall
- Museums: Capitoline Museums
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Marcus Aurelius Quotes
“Do every act of your life as if it were your last.”
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
“If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.”
“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”
“Death smiles at us all, but all a man can do is smile back.”
“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.”
“The only wealth which you will keep forever is the wealth you have given away.”
“A man’s worth is no greater than his ambitions.”
“He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.”
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts; therefore guard accordingly.”
“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”
“Loss is nothing else but change and change is nature’s delight.”
– Marcus Aurelius
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