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The Roman Emperor Seen From the Provinces. Imaging Roman Power in the Cities of the Empire from Augustus to the Tetrarchs (31 BC-AD 297)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RESP (The Roman Emperor Seen From the Provinces. Imaging Roman Power in the Cities of the Empire from Augustus to the Tetrarchs (31 BC-AD 297))

Reporting period: 2021-09-01 to 2023-02-28

The main question addressed by the project is how the images of Roman emperors were transferred from Rome to the provincial territories and were reproduced and disseminated among the local communities. The serial reproduction of the imperial image is a striking phenomenon of visual duplication well-attested both on coinage and in sculpture. The relationship between these media (as well as other ones less documented in archaeology, such as paintings, gems and other objects), which must have involved the use of common models, is however only vaguely understood. The project is combining traditional research methodology with digital advances in three dimensional reproduction to reconstruct the genesis and diversification of imperial portraits in the provinces during the first three centuries of the Empire (from the reign of Augustus to that of Diocletian).
The research addresses this question in a completely different way from how it has been done in the past, by adopting a ‘peripheral’ perspective, which emphasizes the cultural, religious and artistic background of the local communities in the imperial provinces rather than the traditional ‘central’ one generated in Rome. By taking this point of view the research will challenge the traditional ‘romanocentric’ approach to this subject to reassess imperial art and its broader ideological framework in a global context.
The overall objectives of the project are: to produce the first narrative of the representation of Roman emperors on visual media in the provinces; To shed light on the methods of manufacture and distribution that underpinned Roman imperial image-making; to reassess the forms and influences of provincial cultural and artistic diversity, and their relation to the wider culture of the Roman Empire; to develop and implement a new research methodology in the field of digital humanities for the study of ancient portraiture.
In the first 18 months of the project a large team of researchers and collaborators has been formed by the PI (fourteen people in total, including nine in Verona and five between King's College London and the WMG at Warwick University). Important partnerships have been established with institutions in Italy and abroad (Verona, Rome, London, Paris, Copenhagen, Frankfurt) and more are in the process of being implemented. The project’s website has been published and the database has been developed to host the data collated by the researchers to generate catalogues and all the materials indispensable for the project's publications. The database is divided in two sections to cover all the evidence of imperial representation in full-figure in the provinces and of provincial portraits. The whole dataset includes nearly 1000 entries with thousands of images, ranging from the Julio-Claudians (31 BC - AD 68) to 2nd and 3rd century emperors and empresses. A crucial strand of research which has been initiated is also the one centred on developing and implementing a methodology to apply digital technology to portrait studies using 3D imaging and modelling as well as Artificial Intelligence. Three articles have been written and submitted for publication and more are in process of being finalised.
At this stage the research progress, based on the survey and collation of data and on the analysis of this dataset from a historical and archaeological perspective, is perfectly in line with the initial plans and expectations. The research strand which has produced advances beyond expectation and which has the potential to generating ground-breaking results from a methodological perspective is the one that focusses on using 3D technology to study the relationship between portraits of the same emperor on different visual media and to understand how they might have originated from a shared model. Using 3D scans of original sculptures and plaster casts of original sculptures, as well as 3D scans of coins which show for the most part only profiles, the project is exploring different strategies to try to recreate the original models and the processes of dissemination. One is using a digital morphable model of a human face to generate a portrait in the round from the 3D data acquired from the profile of a coin portrait. The other is using Artificial Intelligence to define a process of facial recognition of portraits of Roman emperors on coins minted in the provinces to understand the discrepancies between the images created by provincial artists and workshops and their models designed in Rome.
The project's logo is inspired by an image of a Roman emperor being worshipped in the provinces