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A mosaic of memories – monuments and public space in Roman Greece (c.200 BC to c. 200 AD)

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Statues in history define space and identity

Important monuments and statues in ancient Greece and Rome were much more than decorative ornaments. They defined spaces of interaction and supported autocratic rule in various ways.

Society

The ancient Greeks were unique in terms of the number of statues and monuments that adorned their public spaces. The practice peaked in the 2nd century AD under Roman rule, with streets, theatres and marketplaces being full of such monuments. Be they marble or bronze, these statues, tombs and monuments livened up their settings and had a surprisingly significant impact on citizens. The EU-funded MMRG (A mosaic of memories – Monuments and public space in Roman Greece (c.200 BC to c. 200 AD)) project studied how public monuments gave settings their meaning. It looked at how the monuments were positioned, how people interacted around them and what dynamics lay among the monuments themselves. An important part of the project’s research was presented through an article titled ‘Contested bones: The politics of intra-urban burial in Roman Greece’. The article looks at the juxtaposition of tombs of legendary heroes and of Roman benefactors. It examines the significance of the statues in solidifying the hold of the Roman Empire while highlighting the power of the local oligarchic elite class. Another article titled ‘Spaces of remembrance – Statues in the urban landscape of Roman Messene’ looks at how honorific statues, votive statues and emperor portraits relayed sophisticated messages to the public. Beyond publishing these two articles, the project team built a database of monuments in Greek and Roman cities from archaeological, epigraphic and literary sources. MMRG also organised an international conference on ‘Public statues across time and cultures’ to stimulate new ideas regarding the use of public statues in ancient Greece and Rome. The conference attracted historians, archaeologists and experts from around the globe who also presented highly relevant papers. The research helps clarify how monuments can be exploited to cement or even challenge relations of power. It also enriches our understanding of the post-classical polis. Without a doubt, the investigation has enlightened academics on the nature of power within the polis community and how local identity was defined during imperial rule.

Keywords

Statues, monuments, ancient Greece, Rome, public spaces, MMRG, polis

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