Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Classical Studies


K.M.D. Dunbabin


This dissertation focuses on the battle scenes of the column of Marcus Aurelius (Rome, late 2nd century AD), which are analysed from three main points of view: from the viewpoint of composition, as representations of historical events, and as bearers of message to the contemporary viewer. As works of art, the battle scenes of the Marcus column diverge significantly from both the established classical tradition of battle art, and also from the battle scenes on the column of Trajan. This identifies them as novel, original works created for the purpose of adorning the new monument. Detailed analysis of the figure types making up the scenes also indicates a connection to the contemporary sarcophagus industry based in Rome, suggesting that it was from here that the designer(s) and/or carvers of the column came. As representations of historical events, the battle scenes prove to be very poor evidence, whether from the view of military equipment, troop behaviour in battle, or in comparison to the few literary descriptions of the battles of Marcus' wars. This contrasts sharply with the representation of battle on the column of Trajan. Finally, and as has been noted by scholars, the scenes of battle on the Marcus column present a remarkably violent depiction of combat. However, this can be shown to be reflective not only of the nature of Marcus' wars but also of a much harsher set of standards for the treatment of rebellious enemies. Thus, the message of the column's battle scenes is one which would correspond well with the presumed viewpoint of a contemporary Roman.

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