Porphyry group of armoured Tetrarchs. From Constantinople (now Venice). 293-305.

Group of two emperors on console/bracket attached to fragmentary column shaft. H (of the figures): 130 cm. Porphyry.

This group is complete and is preserved with its console/bracket. . The fragments of the columns at the back of the groups allow to reconstruct their diameter and thus the height of the columns of about 7 m (Delbrueck).

The first context of the column is unknown (Nikomedeia?). In a second phase it and its pendant LSA-439 were used in Constantinople, probably as ‚statues of the sons of Constantine embracing one another and made of porphyry’ mentioned in the ancient sources on a place called after them Philadelphion (Verzone 1958. Bauer 1996). A part of the missing foot of the other group LSA-439 was found in 1965 in the excavations of the rotunda near the Myrelaion church in Istanbul. With the loot of the fourth crusade of 1204 the groups came to Venice and were inserted into the facade of S.Marco.

The emperors stand and are united in a gestus of embrace. They wear the long-sleeved tunica, muscle cuirass, paludamentum and swords like the tetrarchs in the Vatican (LSA-840, LSA-841). New elements of late antique imperial ornatus have been introduced: a gem-studded belt, gem- studded swords and the new kind of shoes, campagi, adorned with gems. In a kind of anti-climax they wear the pilleus pannonicus, a traditional military cap of Illyricum made of leather or fur (Vegetius, Epitoma rei militaris 1,20). The original fibulae on the shoulders of the proper right emperor of both groups (this and LSA-4) have been chiselled out and replaced by bigger rectangular ones (probably in stucco) which are now missing. Holes in the front and back of the caps have probably served to fasten diadems with jewels in this same phase of re-use of the sculptures . The hole on the back of the cap of the right figure in the group of the Augusti is hidden in the incrustation of the wall, so these changes on the caps ( as well as on the fibulae) must have taken place before the figures were brought to Venice, but after their use in a tetrarchic context - that is at Constantinople (v.infra).

In these groups there are differences between two older, more rugged emperors and two younger ones with less lined faces. The differences are much less pronounced than in the Vatican groups(LSA-840, LSA-841).

All the heads lack the typical characterisation of hair and beard by short regular incisions which is visible in the Vatican groups (LSA-840, LSA-841) and in other images of tetrarchs in porphyry (LSA-523, LSA-836). This rendering of the hair is also lacking in the fragments from Nis and Tekija (LSA-1041 and LSA-1042). The hair is smooth in all cases, but in both groups the emperor on the proper right has a beard made by wavy and irregular incisions, wheras the others have smooth cheeks. This has led to a variety of discussions: does each group represent an Augustus and a Caesar rather than one represent two Augusti and the other two Caesars; do the groups represent constellations of the early or late tetrarchic period; or did they possibly represent members of the family of Constantine from the beginning (Verzone 1958 et alii).

Solutions to these problems are possible by observing the question of the beards. 1. The fragment of a smaller replica of the Venice groups, found at Nis (LSA-1041), is the head of the emperor on the proper right of a group who embraces his colleague. He has no beard. This shows, that these groups were not conceived as combinations of an older, bearded Augustus and a younger beardless Caesar, but that probably in all cases the surfaces of hair and beard were not characerized by incisions. The beards of the tetrarchs at Venice with their strange style must have been added at an unknown occasion.

2.The example of the Gamsigrad tetrarch (LSA-845) shows that porphyry sculptures without incised indications of the surfaces of hair and beard had them painted on. This must also be true for the portraits of the tetrarchs of Venice and Nis and for their pillei pannonici, which are always characterized as hairy or rough by incisions on the surface in marble representations (see the Arch of Constantine in Rome, Giuliano 1955 fig. 36.46). It is very probable that all of the Venice emperors , as well as the emperors represented in the fragments from Nis and Tekija (LSA-1041 and LSA-1042) wore beards, as the tetrarchs are shown on coins. Furthermore the identification of their caps as ‚pillei pannonici’confirms, that the holes in the pillei have been added on the occasion of a re-use of the groups. Note these holes do not exist on the cap of the fragment at Nis (LSA-1041).

Thus the seeming lack of beards cannot be understood as an indication for an original date in the late tetrarchic period or as an indication of a shift to the fashion of shaving before Constantine (Laubscher 1999, 238) or for an even later date (Verzone 1958). The groups are tetrarchic and show the Augusti and the Caesares as the groups in the Vatican. Compared to the conventional clothing of the groups in the Vatican (LSA-840, LSA-841) they show decisive changes in the emperors’ costume. It is decidedly more late antique/monarchic ( campagi, gems) and its combination with the rough ‚Pannonian’ soldiers’ caps is most informative for the contrasting values of the tetrarchic period. As the ancient literature ascribes the ‚introduction’ of gem-studded ornate and monarchic rituals to Diocletian (Alföldi 1934,6-9; Alföldi 1970,6-8) the re-conceptualization of the groups of tetrarchic emperors, represented by the groups in Venice, probably took place during his reign and not in the second or third tetrarchy.

Marianne Bergmann

Main Reference

Delbrueck, R., Antike Porphyrwerke. Studien zur spätantiken Kunstgeschichte, vol. 6, Berlin 1932, 84-91, pls.32,33b, and 34c-d, figs. 31-33

Calza, R., Iconografia Romana Imperiale. Da Carausio a Giuliano (287-363 d. C.), Rome 1972, 98 nos. 7, 8, 28, 47 pls. 11. 27-29; 22.55-56; 28.75; 32.89-90; 45.133

Verzone, P. 'I due gruppi in porfido di S,Marco in Venezia ed il Philadelphion
di Costantinopoli'
Palladio 1
, Rome 1958
, 8-14

Bauer, F. A., Stadt, Platz und Denkmal in der Spätantike, Mainz 1996, 228-233 (Philadelphion)

Laubscher, H.-P., 'Beobachtungen zu tetrarchischen Kaiserbildnissen aus Porphyr', Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 114, Berlin 1999, 207-239, figs. 8-9

Discussion References

Alföldi, A. , Die monarchische Repräsentation im römischen Kaiserreiche, Darmstadt 1970, 1-118

Bergmann, M., Studien zum römischen Porträt des 3. Jahrhunderts n. Chr., Bonn 1977,

Giuliano, A., Arco di Costantino, Milan 1955,

L'Orange, H. P., Das spätantike Herrscherbild von Diokletian bis zu den Konstantin-Söhnen, 284-361 n. Chr. Das Römische Herrscherbild. III. Abteilung ; Bd. 4 , Berlin 1984, 4, 6-10, 21,25,27,103 pls. 4 and 6 (with complete lit.)