Base for statue of Aspar, probably Flavius Ardabur Aspar, magister militum. Ulpia Augusta Traiana (Thracia). Probably 424-471

In six lines. The first line, a blessing in prose, is carved on the bend above the epigraphic field (see below, 'Description'). The rest of the inscription is an elegiac distich laid out in five lines:

[Ἀγ]αθῆι τύχηι.
Τὸν κρατερὸν πτολέ-/ [μ]οισι καὶ ἄτρομον / ἀσπιδιωτην, /
(5) Ἄσπαρα, χαλκείῃ / εἰκόνι τῖσε πόλις.

'To Good Fortune. Aspar, strong in warfare and a fearless soldier; the city honoured him with a bronze statue.'

DESCRIPTION (from Mihailov and photographs)
The material is apparently a fine local limestone, as Dr M. Kamisheva has kindly told us. Tall base with heavily projecting mouldings on three sides at top and bottom, back side flat and only roughly dressed. All of one piece of stone, the upper moulding chipped on front and right side. The upper moulding is decorated with a flat relief showing a vessel and branches, still visible on the front and left side, chipped off on the right side. In the middle of the base, a continuous broad band extending over the front, left and right sides is slightly cut back from the original surface. This is used as the epigraphic field on the front, with the inscription covering approximately the top half of the band. At the lower edge of the epigraphic field, a hole has later been drilled, almost certainly for a water pipe; it shows traces of rust. On the top of the base, close to the front edge, there are traces cut for the feet of a bronze statue; towards the back of the top, there appears to be substantial damage (perhaps post-antique).

Mihailov records that the base was once at the public fountain of the town ('olim loco fontis publici'). It is now in the Regional Historical Museum of Stara Zagora.

The inscription is explicit that this is a dedication to a military man named Aspar. The only known soldier of this name was a very prominent military officer in the East during the 5th century, Flavius Ardabur Aspar, who was honoured with a consulship in 434. He continued to play a central role in imperial politics, with close ties to Theodosius II, Marcian and Leo, until his murder in 471 (PLRE II, 164-9 Fl. Ardabur Aspar).

Aspar is possibly recorded as magister utriusque militiae already in 424, securely in 431. He is known to have died in 471. If this dedication is to the 5th-century Aspar, we would assume that the statue was erected sometime between 424 and 471.

Mihailov, the editor of the inscription, doubted that it should be attributed to the 5th-century Aspar, because for him the regular form of the letters argued for a 3rd-century date ('vetant litterae quae ad saeculum III spectant'). The letters are indeed very regular, and this would be exceptional in the 5th century. Also against a 5th-century date is the fact that Augusta Traiana was of scant importance in this period. Furthermore, nothing is known that links the 5th-century Aspar with the city, and, indeed, his only recorded military activity in the Balkans was a command in Thrace in 466/7 against Goths and Huns.

However, the inscription is a distich, which fits well with epigraphic practice in the 4th and 5th centuries (but not with that of the 3rd), as does the fact that only primary virtues, and no cursus honorum, are listed. Furthermore no 'Aspar' is known before the 5th century, let alone one who was a distinguished military man. Perhaps most telling, in favour of a 5th-century date, is the record of another statue in the Balkans honouring a mid-5th-century general - the base commemorating Basiliscus at Philippopolis (close to Augusta Traiana), which can be reliably attributed to this man and securely dated to 464/75 (LSA-367).

On balance, although the attribution cannot be certain, we think that our base was indeed set up, probably in the third quarter of the 5th century, to Aspar the magister utriusque militiae and consul. If so, it was one of the very last provincial dedications of a statue this far north in the Balkans.

We are very grateful to Dr Mariia Kamisheva, curator for the Archaeology of Antiquity at the Regional Historical Museum of Stara Zagora for photographs of, and information on, this piece.

Ulrich Gehn

Main Reference

Mihailov, G., Inscriptiones Graecae in Bulgaria Repertae, Vol. III.: Inscriptiones inter Haemum et Rhodopem Repertae. Fasciculus Posterior : A Territorio Philippopolitano usque ad Oram Ponticam , Sofia 1964, no. 1580 pl. 20

Discussion References

Prosopographia imperii romani saec. I. II. III, Berlin & Leipzig 1933-,

Martindale, J. R., The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire. Vol. II A.D. 395-527, Cambridge 1980, 164-9, Fl. Ardabur Aspar