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The equestrian statue of Emperor Domitian (lat.: equus Domitiani) is normally understood as a significant testimony of the new absolute claim to power which the last Emperor of the Flavian dynasty wished to convey. This absolute claim probably also constituted the reason why his Imperial rule failed. The colossal equestrian statue stood in the middle of the open Forum space. This specific location was a novelty, because the preceding generals and Emperors had their equestrian statues erected either at the Rostra at the Comitium or later at the Rostra Augusti. However, an equestrian statue, which was erected in the middle of the Forum, dominated the entire area and exhibited a new dimension of Imperial representation on the Forum. One should raise the question whether this choice of location did not result from the independent practice of trying to outperform one’s predecessors by erecting more impressive honorary statues on the Forum. On this view the positioning of the equestrian statue does not have to be interpreted as a result of Domitian’s exaggerated claim to power.
History and Assessment
In celebration of his victories over the Germanic peoples in 83/85 A.D. the Senate and the Roman populus honoured Domitian with an equestrian statue (this historical context can be inferred from the iconography of the statue, see below). Being awarded an equestrian statue was regarded as the most prominent form of receiving an honorary statue in Rome the exclusive location amplified the prominence of this honour. Before Domitian the Rostra was the most exclusive space for the erection of equestrian statues (see Republican Rostra & Rostra Augusti): This is where the equestrian statues of Sulla and Pompey as well as of Caesar and Augustus stood. However, this tradition was broken by Nero, who granted a senator the honour of having his equestrian statue built on the Rostra Augusti. From that time on this location was no longer exclusively reserved for Imperial representation – and it was only a matter of time until new options were presented to the Roman Emperor for a more exclusive site for his honorary statues. The fact that Domitian chose such a solution, by having his equestrian statue erected in the middle of the open Forum area, gives us an understanding of Domitian’s ambitious conception of his own rule – however, at the same time this can be seen as the product of a dynamic process which had brought about many of the changes to the different representational forms since the late Republic.
The practice of erecting honorary monuments in the middle of the square had already been realised prominently by Caesar and Augustus on the Forum Julium / Forum Augustum and can be seen as a relatively exclusive practice, which emphatically underlined the claim that was laid to the respective space by the person honoured. In the cases of the fora that were financed and built by Caesar and Augustus themselves this entitlement to the surrounding area seemed reasonable. Against this background, however, the erection of Domitian’s equestrian statue in the middle of the Forum, a space which belonged to all Romans, must have been perceived as an act of hubris. Nevertheless, Domitian’s construction project was less innovative and presumptuous as it first might seem. Already under the rule of Augustus the middle of the open Forum area had been occupied by three Columnae rostratae (honorary columns decorated with naval rams), which had been erected in honour of Octavian’s victory at Actium in 31 B.C. These columns stood there until Domitian’s equestrian statue was erected, which prompted these columns to be relocated to the Capitoline Hill. By building in the middle of the open Forum area, Domitian followed the example of Augustus, although he thereby replaced Augustus’ monuments with his own.
After Domitian was murdered in 96 A.D. and the Damnatio memoriae decided, which was supposed to eradicate any memory of the Flavians, the fate of the equestrian statue on the Forum was sealed: It was torn down and the traces of the former monument were wiped out, because the Forum area was newly paved.
The location of the equestrian statue of Domitian can be determined by combining literary and archaeological evidence. The poet Statius praises the equestrian statue in one of his poems (silvae 1,1) and describes its location on the Forum: It nearly occupied the entire Forum it was orientated towards the Temple of Caesar the Basilica Paulli and the Basilica Julia stood next to it and the Temple of Concord and the Temple of Vespasian behind it. This description has supporting evidence in the form of a massive piece of the foundation that is composed of opus caementicium and situated at the middle of the open Forum area, which was newly paved. The latter indicates that a monument was taken down at that location in antiquity. In the early 20 th century the equus Domitiani was believed to have stood slightly south of this position – this assessment was based on foundational remains which are still visible at the present day. However, the dating of the southern and northern foundational remains make it more probable that the former was the original location of the equus Domitiani. At the moment the southern foundational remains are believed to be belong to the Augustan Columnae rostratae, which were moved when Domitian’s monument was erected there.
The only thing that has survived from the equestrian statue is its foundation (this is a matter of likelihood, not certainty see above). The area that the statue occupied was about 8 x 12 m, which reveals that the scale of the equestrian statue was massive (much more than life-size). One can estimate its height between 12 – 16 m (in our model we have opted for a height of 13 m). This is in accordance with the detailed description of the statue that was given by the poet Statius (silvae 1,1): He also emphasises the colossal scale of the equestrian statue – although his data should not be taken literally due to the panegyric undertone of his poem. On the basis of Statius’ description we have tried to reconstruct the statue’s appearance: Domitian is displayed with his majestic habitus, riding on a horse with his right arm raised and holding a small statue of Minerva in his left arm, while his horse places one of its front hoofs on the personified Rhine (who is bound), symbolising the subjugation of the Rhine and Germania. Coins dating from 95/96 A.D also show the Emperor on his horse with a similar iconography, which is why these images are sometimes taken to depict the equestrian statue on the Forum.
A more detailed discussion and scholarly reconstruction can be found in the wiki of the digital Forum Romanum (Rolf Sporleder)
J. Bergemann, Römische Reiterstatuen. Ehrendenkmäler im öffentlichen Bereich (Mainz 1990) 164-166.
F. Coarelli, Il Foro Romano II. Periodo repubblicano e augusteo (Rom 1985) 211-217.
F. Coarelli, I Flavi e Roma, in: F. Coarelli (Hrsg.), Divus Vespasianus. Il bimillenario dei Flavi (Rom 2009) 81-83.
C.F. Giuliani, Equus, Domitianus, in: E.M. Steinby (Hrsg.), Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae II (Rom 1995) 228-229.
C.F. Giuliani – P. Verduchi, L‛area centrale del foro Romano (Florenz 1987) 118-122.
H. Knell, Bauprogramme römischer Kaiser (Mainz 2004) 146-147.
S. Muth, Auftritt auf einer bedeutungsschweren Bühne: Wie sich die Flavier im öffentlichen Zentrum der Stadt Rom inszenieren, in: Ch. Reiz – N. Kramer (Hrsg.), Tradition und Erneuerung. Mediale Strategien in der Zeit der Flavier (Berlin – New York 2010) 485-496 (490-493).
S. Muth, Historische Dimensionen des gebauten Raumes: Das Forum Romanum als Fallbeispiel, in: O. Dally – T. Hölscher – S. Muth – R. Schneider (Hrsg.), Medien der Geschichte – Antikes Griechenland und Rom (Berlin – New York 2014) 285-329.
U. Schmitzer, Dichtung und Propaganda im 1. Jahrhundert n.Chr., in: G. Weber – M. Zimmermann (Hrsg.), Propaganda – Selbstdarstellung – Repräsentation im römischen Kaiserreich des 1. Jahrhunderts n.Chr. (Stuttgart 2003) 222-224.
P. Zanker, Forum Romanum. Die Neugestaltung durch Augustus (Tübingen 1972) 26-27.
Equestrian Statue of Augustus — Followup
This just in … the Local seems to be the first off the mark with reports of the news conference mentioned in our previous post on this:
Hessian Science Minister Eva Kühne-Hörmann on Thursday presented fragments of a 2,000-year-old bronze equestrian statue of Roman Emperor Augustus found recently in a stream near Giessen.
“The find has meaning beyond Hesse and the north Alpine region due to its quality and provenance,” Kühne-Hörmann said during the presentation with state archaeologist Dr. Egon Schallmayer and Director of the Roman-German Commission Dr. Friedrich Lüth.
“We’ve rediscovered the remnants of early European history. The unique horse head is a witness to the broken dream of the Romans to create a united Europe under their rule,” she added.
On August 12, archaeologists pulled the gold-gilded, life-sized head of a horse and a shoe of the emperor – who ruled the Roman Empire between 23 BC and 14 AD – from a stream in what was once the Roman outpost Germania Magna. Experts there have uncovered several bits – including a horse hoof and a decorated chest strap – from the statue among some 20,000 artefacts uncovered at the site in recent years.
Scientists from the University of Jena believe it may have been destroyed by Roman soldiers retreating after the legendary Varusschlacht, or the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in 9 AD, when Germanic tribes ambushed and wiped out three Roman legions. As the remaining Roman troops retreated after the devastating defeat, they destroyed most of what they could not take with them.
The horse’s bridle is embellished with images of the Roman god of war Mars and the goddess Victoria, who personified victory.
Restoration and examination of more than 100 statue fragments is underway in Hessen’s state archaeology workshop.
There’s a nice photo accompanying the article:
There’s a little slideshow as well, but it is mostly images of this horse’s head from various angles (there is a photo of the hoof too) …
The photos from the various German-language sources are pretty much the same and as far as I can tell, all are repeating the line mentioned previously that the scholars believe Roman soldiers dumped this in the stream while retreating vel simm.. I continue to see a problem with that — it seems to make more sense to suggest that the victorious Germani dumped it in the river. I also continue to wonder why they are connecting this statue specifically with Augustus … it does make sense, given the apparent date and the like, but I see nothing from these pieces that suggests a positive Augustus connection. Why not Tiberius? Or maybe even Drusus?
Augustus, adopted son and heir to Julius Caesar, was a master of propaganda. This statue is but one of many that were erected throughout the Empire during his reign. Augustus recognized that the vast majority of his subjects would never see him in life but could view him in the carefully controlled context of officially sanctioned, produced, and distributed statuary. This statue thus shows the official Augustus with an entire catalogue of the symbolism that confirms his divine authority and talents. This symbolism is clearly evident when we look at the statue from head to toe to see what each component says abut the emperor.
Two points are quickly evident from looking at the statue as a whole. First, the general pose depicts Augustus as an authority figure in the act of giving a rousing speech. Message: He is a great orator.
Second, he is wearing the uniform of a Roman general. Message: He is a great warrior.
Other messages emerge from looking more closely specific parts of the statue.
The face is a reasonably accurate likeness of Augustus as a young man. In the Greek tradition, he is rather stylized and made to appear very much like the accepted images of Apollo&mdashafter all Augustus was deified and therefore on the same level as his brother god. Along the same lines, such statues never show the emperor as an old or infirm individual&mdashthe emperor is a god and, as such, immortal and ageless.
A relief scene on his armor depicts the return of captured Roman standards by an enemy soldier. Even though Augustus did not actively participate in the negotiations for the return of the standard he of course took all the credit for what he considered a diplomatic coup. Message: he is a great diplomat.
He is carrying a staff, the age-old symbol of authority and power (holy Freud!). Message: he is powerful.
The robe wrapped around his waist would have been originally painted purple, the color reserved for emperors (most ancient statues were painted to some degree). Message: he is emperor.
Baby and Dolphin
The baby riding a dolphin (the dolphin is hard to recognize at this angle) can be interpreted a couple of ways. The Julians (Augustus's family) claimed some divine hanky panky in their lineage (the names Venus and Neptune come up most frequently) and the child could represent Venus's son while the dolphin, a creature of the sea, could be seen as a representation of Neptune, god of the seas. The implication here is that divine blood runs through the veins of Augustus. Message: he is a god.
Posthumous portrait of Augustus, discovered in Saintes (France), ca. AD 40 Saintes, Archaeological Museum © Carole Raddato
Augustus was an important role model for Hadrian. He had a portrait of the first Princeps on his signet ring and kept a small bronze bust of him among the images of the household gods (Lares) in his bedroom. In restoring Augustan buildings at his own expense in Rome and in the provinces – ie. the temple of Augustus at Tarragona- Hadrian was able to revive the memory of Augustus and associate himself with that name. (Souce: Anthony R Birley, Hadrian: The Restless Emperor)
He wished to be seen as the new Augustus. The imperial coinage of Hadrian drastically abbreviates Hadrian’s titulare. Instead of the usual “Imp. Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Aug.”, he would soon be presented simply as “Hadrianus Augustus”.
HADRIANVS AVGVSTVS HADRIANVS AVGVSTVS
Antoninus Pius, who was perhaps motivated by a desire to be publicly associated with the first emperor, restored the Temple of Divus Augustus built to commemorate the deified first Augustus. The restored temple was shown on coins which depict it with an octostyle design with Corinthian capitals and two statues – presumably of Augustus and Livia – in the cella. The pediment displayed a relief featuring Augustus and was topped by a quadriga.
Temple of Divus Augustus on a coin of Antonius Pius issued circa AD 158
Many more portraits of the Emperor Augustus can be viewed from my image collection on Flickr.
Jen Stack - "The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius"
The article, “The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius” by Alessandra Melucco Vaccaro, outlines the only equestrian bronze monument from the classical period that is still intact and how it came to be that way. The statue of emperor Marcus Aurelius was placed by Michelangelo in the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome, Italy. Little is known about this statue, such as who made it, when it was made or why it was made. It has suffered damage from past preservation efforts, which have seemed to make its condition worse instead of better. Luckily, knowledge of bronze equestrian statues has increased because of underwater finds in the Aegan Sea of Augustus, fragments of a monument of Domitian, and Nerva in the National Museum at Naples, Italy. The Marcus Aurelius statue is the only complete sample among these.
In 1979, a terrorist bomb explosion in the Piazza where the statue was located caused mayor of Rome and art historian, Giulio Carlo Argan, to call for an on-site inspection of the statue. The explosion hadn’t damaged the statue, but there was “serious active corrosion” and “its overall condition was worrying.” All over the statue were cracks and local damage, especially around the horse’s rear feet. It was moved to the Instituto Centrale de Restauro in order to conduct further research and undergo necessary conservation.
Before the restoration, corrosion had obscured the “fine detail” of the statue, causing many to believe that it was of mediocre quality. After the restoration occurred, it allowed historians to place the statue in the years 160 – 176 AD. Another key piece in unlocking the history of the statue came during restoration. The statue lacked symmetry from certain viewpoints in which it appears disjointed and “almost deformed,” which led the historians to believe that the statue may have been a part of a complex equestrian group, as opposed to a standalone statue.
Vaccaro goes into a deep history about the times in which the statue was possibly created and how it came to be in the Piazza del Campidoglio by Michelangelo. She explained that in the 10 th century, it was placed in front of the Basilica of St. John Lateran and was believed to have been of Constantine, which is why it had escaped destruction by the pagans. This tactic, reusing statues and adapting/dedicating them to other people, is beginning to be seen as “one of the oldest and most widespread means of preservation.” In the 14 th century, the statue had undergone a disfigurement that had serious consequences for its physical conditions. The left flank of the horse is “severly deformed” and repairs are evident. This suggested to the restorers that the statue had either fallen or been ripped from its pedestal, but the rider must not have been in the saddle at this time because it showed no damages. Even after these restorations, the statue was unstable.
The statue was originally gilded, and during 15 th century restorations the gilding was renewed in many areas. Recent restorers took samples for metallographic examinations, which confirmed that there were “superimposed” layers of gold leaf in numerous places. The bridle on the horse had lost its relief decoration, but gilding was present, indicating that restorers had added it at a later time. The repairs on the chest and flank of the horse showed no gilding, which showed that it had been restored at a different time than the bridle. In the 18 th century, many restorers worked on this statue, including Carlo Fea and Bertel Thorvaldsen.
The physical instability mentioned above was critical. Restorers had replaced the iron structures inside. Thorvaldsen replaced a piece of the mane that was missing. The raised hoof was also repaired, and the hooves were filled with a mixture of lead and tin in the “hope of correcting the horse’s dangerous tilt to one side.” This filling worsened the situation, because it added conflicting forces and tensions to the structure that was already weakened. Lead and tin also react differently under the influence of heat than bronze in the realm of expansion. The mechanical means of removing the lead and tin though, would destroy the original bronze so it cannot be done.
Yet another restoration took place in 1912. This restoration had a very long list of repairs. Inside the horse, restorers inserted “28 large, 48 medium and 102 small bolts, and 22 copper wedges. Six large pieces of bronze, fixed to the surface of the horse, with 8 copper wedges, 185 large, 654 medium and 1,133 small bolts.” After this restoration, the statue remained in the Piazza for another seventy years without maintenance, but the environment was changing around it including the pollution levels.
The most recent restorations were going to be difficult. Restorers needed to reconstruct the metallurgical processes that had been used when the statue was created. Since the statue had went through so many prior restorations and changes, it was going to be very difficult to determine this because of all the different techniques that had been used. Something that was less affected by past restorations was the stages of the casting process used to make the statue. Specialists in ancient bronze-working are in agreement that by the end of the 6 th century BC, the Greeks developed a technique that had been used ever since that time to make large bronze groups. It is called “the indirect lost wax technique” and it enables bronze to be cast in separate sections that are later joined together. Traces of this technique were recognizable on the statue, and the restorers could identify the sections that we cast separately and then connected together. The rider was made up of 17 pieces, and the horse was comprised of 15 pieces. This type of construction had an advantage, mainly that the interior of the statue was accessible to the restorers who could then repair the inside of the statue as well.
The soldering of the pieces had been poorly executed and the bronze in the restored areas was of lower quality than the original casting, due to irregularly distributed lead in the alloy. There were a high number of patches that had been applied over the outer surface to hide imperfections and irregularities and finished with alternating hot and cold treatments. The statue was then covered with gold to hide the remaining surface irregularities. Ancient sources state that mercury was used in gilding from the Republican period onwards, but analysis showed that no mercury was found in the gilded surfaces of the Marcus Aurelius. This confirmed that a French method of gilding was employed, called “a la hache.”
Four years of research took place during the most recent restoration with two years of actual restoration following. “Preliminary stages of restoration included X-radiography combing with the use of fiber optics to examine the inside of the statue. X-ray fluorescence, neutron activation analysis and metallography were employed, along with chemical and microchemical analysis in order to determine the composition of the alloy and corrosion products examination with ultrasonic sound was used to determine the thickness of the casting and the locations of cracks and other damage.” Photoelasticity and electrical extensimeters were used, in combination with a special form of speckle interferometry, in order to establish the amount of stress the rider portion of the statue was putting on the horse. Restorers used a 1:5 three-dimensional model of the statue for various tests in order to minimize the stress that would have been inflicted on the original statue. They also ran tests in order to determine which areas of the statue were most subjected to the formation of condensation, which causes corrosion.
Once these places were identified, the restorers began cleaning tests. They wanted to remove any unstable bronze corrosion products and particles that had been deposited from the air, which “initiate cyclical deterioration processes.” The restorers decided that the cleaning agent should not be in liquid form, which could cause the gold leaf to come loose. They used precision mechanical tools, including dentist’s drills and microhammers, to remove the thickest deposits that were inside and outside of the statue in areas that are not exposed to the washing action of rain water. Cleaning ended when they found the right balance between “removal of the dangerous materials and the desire not to remove any components of the alloy.” The presence of the gold leaf meant that restorers could not use commercially available products to do the corrosion inhibiting treatment that usually follows the cleaning. They used three coats of a very dilute acrylic resin, 5% Paraloid B-72, to make the gold leaf re-adhere to the surface of the bronze.
This cleaning revealed much of the original sensitivity of the sculpture’s modeling, along with a “considerable quantity” of the gold leaf. It also revealed the “previous patches, repairs, and marks of incorrect handling left on the monument during the course of its history.” They used a retouching technique, commonly used with paintings, in order to make these less obvious, called rigatino (“striped retouching.”) In order to adapt this technique to the bronze, the surface was tinted with streaks and small superimposed dots of watercolor in order to blend the surrounding areas, before the acrylic resin was applied. The cracks and losses that had been concealed under the thick deposits that had been cleaned were so widespread that closing them was impossible for the restorers.
After the restoration, the condition of the bronze and the stability remained fragile and the gold would be lost if they exposed it to polluted air again. The conservation group requested that the bronze statue be kept in “a protected environment and not out of doors.” It has been placed under cover close to the Piazza.
The son of David and Elizabeth Bender, he was born in Boston on September 6, 1805, into a home with ethics for honesty and emphasis on good education.
Horatio sparked an interest in artistic and mechanical hobbies, showing his native skills and talents at a young age. Particularly attracted to chalk, around the age of 12 he made a chalk statue of William Penn, known as his earliest work of record. Horatio also experimented with clay, which medium he learned from Solomon Willard. He also learned how to carve with marble under instruction from Alpheus Cary. Horatio seemed to have a natural talent for art, yet his father wasn’t fond of the idea of this as a career for Horatio.
In 1814 Horatio Greenough enrolled at Phillips Academy, Andover, and in 1821 he entered Harvard University. There he found a passion in works of antiquity and devoted much of his time to reading literature and works of art. With a plan to study abroad, he learned Italian and French, but also still studied anatomy and kept modeling sculptures. While attending Harvard he came across his first crucial influence. Washington Allston was more than a mentor, but a close friend who enlightened and inspired Horatio. He even molded a bust of Washington. Before graduating from Harvard, he sailed to Rome to study art where he met the painter Robert W. Weir, while living on Via Gregoriana. In 1828, he established a studio in Florence.
Although Greenough was generally healthy, in December 1852 he contracted a severe fever. On December 18, after two weeks of this high fever he died at the age of 47 in Somerville, near Boston.
He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1843.[ 1 ] His sketchbook is held in the Archives of American Art.[ 2 ]
Archaeologists Find Marble Head of Roman Emperor Augustus in Italian Town
Archaeologists have uncovered a marble head of the Roman emperor Augustus in the Italian town of Isernia, located in the region of Molise. According to a report by the Italian publication Il Giornale del Molise, the finding sheds new light on the imperial Roman impact in the region.
Led by archaeologist Francesca Giancola, the team of researchers found the head on Thursday and the discovery was announced by the Archaeological Superintendency of Molise. Il Giornale del Molise reports that the Augustus head “bodes well for other and more important, historical finds” for a town that was conquered by the Romans in 295 B.C.E. In 90 B.C.E., it was subsequently taken by the Samnites, an ancient people of southern Italy, and then fell back into Roman control.
The head of Augustus was found during an excavation of the city’s walls, on the Via Occidentale. In images posted to Facebook by the Archaeological Superintendence of Molise, the buried head appears in relatively good condition, with some visible damage to its nose.
Italian publications had previously reported that the parts of the Via Occidentale collapsed while being excavated. Speaking to the publication isNews, officials from the Archaeological Superintendency of Molise said that reports that the dig was mishandled contained “violent accusations.”
“Yes, it is really him, the emperor Augustus, found today during the excavation,” the Archaeological Superintendency of Molise wrote on social media. “Because behind the walls of a city, there are obviously the city and its history, which cannot be pierced with a concrete pile.”
From The Horses Mouth-Secret Codes in Equestrian Statues
The depiction of wartime heroes, royalty, and similar important figures in the form of equestrian statues dates back to the sixth century BC. The Rampin Rider statue from ancient Greece is the oldest known piece of equestrian statuary in the West.
The symbolism of equestrian statues is a rather interesting subject, with some people opining that the depiction of the horse’s feet gives a hint about the rider’s fate.
Particularly in the United States, the urban legend goes thus:
- If the horse has one hoof in the air, then the rider was wounded in battle—and may have died later from the wounds.
- If the horse has both hooves in the air, then the rider was killed in battle.
- If the horse has all hooves on the ground, then the rider survived all battles uninjured and later died of natural causes.
This intriguing deduction has over the years been popularized by many a tourist guidebook, the most popular of which is the 1987 book Hands on Chicago written by Mark Frazel and Kenan Heise. A paragraph of this book says:
“At Sheridan Road and Belmont Avenue, the statue of [General] Sheridan beckons troops to battle. The horse General Sheridan rides is named Winchester…Winchester’s raised leg symbolizes his rider was wounded in battle (the legs of [General] Grant’s horse are on the ground, meaning he was not wounded).”
So is this idea, in all its glamour, just a myth? Or is it fact?
Civil War General Philip Sheridan statue in Albany NY. Photo: Kenneth C. Zirkel CC BY-SA 4.0
It should first be noted that the idea of a tradition of signaling the fates of riders in the hooves of their horses has been debunked by the U.S. Army Center for Military History. If the words alone of the historians of the U.S. Army are not enough, perhaps a walk through Washington D.C. would suffice to confirm what they say.
Washington D.C. is the city with the largest collection of equestrian statues in the world. Among this vast collection of horses and riders, only about 7 out of 29 that were analyzed have been found to conform to the myth.
Statue of General Philip Sheridan. Washington.
Moreover, there are cases in which multiple statues of the same person are contradictory. Take General Philip H. Sheridan for example: an equestrian statue of General Sheridan in Washington D.C. depicts the horse to be standing on all four hooves. Two other statues in Chicago and New York show the horse to be raising one hoof.
Indeed, General Sheridan was wounded during the Civil War, but did not die in battle. So if the tradition holds true, the horse should have one hoof in the air, like the statues in New York and Chicago. But the one in Washington D.C. goes against the tradition.
Another notable statue in Washington D.C. is that of General Andrew Jackson, in Lafayette Park. This equestrian statue is the oldest statue in Washington D.C. The horse in this fine piece has both forelegs in the air. However, Jackson died of tuberculosis and heart failure, not in battle.
General Andrew Jackson.Photo: AgnosticPreachersKid CC BY-SA 3.0
There have also been cases in which one sculptor made several equestrian statues without following the tradition. One such case involves the famous Irish sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Sometimes his statues follow the tradition, sometimes they don’t.
This suggests that the posture of the horses in each statue would merely be dependent on the choices and skills of the sculptors, and conformity with any supposed tradition could be dismissed as simple coincidence.
Perhaps a confirmation of the myth can be found in the equestrian statues erected in memory of the Battle of Gettysburg that took place during the American Civil War. If we consider only the statues that commemorate Gettysburg, the majority of them do conform to the tradition.
However, with even just one statue going against the tradition, claims of secret messages should be taken with a pinch of salt. And there is one Gettysburg statue that fails to adhere to the tradition: that of Lieutenant General James Longstreet. The highly controversial but talented Longstreet was not wounded at Gettysburg. However, the horse in his equestrian statue has one hoof in the air.
Lieutenant General James Longstreet. Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania.Photo: Ken Lund CC BY-SA 2.0
The same principle can also be said of equestrian statues in Europe in general: If such a tradition exists, there should be some widespread consistency to it. Some non-American examples of statues that ignore the tradition include those of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Emperor Constantine, and King Louis XIV.
Aurelius’ statue has one hoof in the air, but there is no record of him ever being wounded in battle.
Constantine’s statue has his horse rampant—with both legs in the air. However, it is a well-known fact that he did not die in battle.
King Louis XIV also has a statue with his horse rampant. Contrary to what the equestrian statue tradition would say, King Louis XIV died of gangrene, and not in battle.
With all this, it is safe to say that the tradition does not hold up to scrutiny.
Admittedly, it would have been quite fascinating if such a tradition were proven to be true. However, because there is no strong proof of its credibility, it remains what it has always been: a myth.
As Teddy Roosevelt’s Statue Falls, Let’s Remember How Truly Dark His History Was
Nazism was an outgrowth and the logical culmination of the European colonialism celebrated by Roosevelt.
People pass by the Theodore Roosevelt Equestrian Statue in front of the the American Museum of Natural History on June 22, 2020, in New York City.
Photo: TImothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
New York City’s American Museum of Natural History announced Sunday that it will remove its famous statue of President Teddy Roosevelt from its sidewalk entrance.
The museum’s president emphasized that the decision was made based on the statue’s “hierarchical composition” — Roosevelt is on horseback, flanked by an African man and a Native American man on foot — rather than the simple fact that it portrayed Roosevelt. The museum, co-founded by Roosevelt’s father, will keep Roosevelt’s name on its Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Hall, Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda, and Theodore Roosevelt Park.
This suggests that Americans still have not faced the extraordinarily dark side of Roosevelt’s history.
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Roosevelt was born in 1858 to a wealthy New York City family. When his father died while Roosevelt was attending Harvard, he inherited the equivalent of about $3 million today. While in his twenties, Roosevelt invested a significant percentage of this money in the cattle business out west. This led him to spend large amounts of time in Montana and the Dakotas in the years just before they became states in 1889.
During this period, Roosevelt developed an attitude toward Native Americans that can fairly be described as genocidal. In an 1886 speech in New York, he declared:
I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indian is the dead Indian, but I believe nine out of every ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth. The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian. Take three hundred low families of New York and New Jersey, support them, for fifty years, in vicious idleness, and you will have some idea of what the Indians are. Reckless, revengeful, fiendishly cruel.
That same year Roosevelt published a book in which he wrote that “the so-called Chivington or Sandy [sic] Creek Massacre, in spite of certain most objectionable details, was on the whole as righteous and beneficial a deed as ever took place on the frontier.”
The Sand Creek massacre had occurred 22 years previously in the Colorado Territory, wiping out a village of over 100 Cheyenne and Arapaho people. It was in every way comparable to the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War. Nelson A. Miles, an officer who eventually became the Army’s top general, wrote in his memoirs that it was “perhaps the foulest and most unjustifiable crime in the annals of America.”
The assault was led by Col. John Chivington, who famously said, “I have come to kill Indians. … Kill and scalp all, big and little nits make lice.” Soldiers later reported that after killing men, women, and children, they mutilated their bodies for trophies. One lieutenant stated in a congressional investigation that “I heard that the privates of White Antelope had been cut off to make a tobacco bag out of.”
In a subsequent book, “The Winning of the West,” Roosevelt explained that U.S. actions toward American Indians were part of the larger, noble endeavor of European colonialism:
All men of sane and wholesome thought must dismiss with impatient contempt the plea that these continents should be reserved for the use of scattered savage tribes. … Most fortunately, the hard, energetic, practical men who do the rough pioneer work of civilization in barbarous lands, are not prone to false sentimentality. The people who are, these stay-at-homes are too selfish and indolent, too lacking in imagination, to understand the race-importance of the work which is done by their pioneer brethren in wild and distant lands. …
The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages. … American and Indian, Boer and Zulu, Cossack and Tartar, New Zealander and Maori,—in each case the victor, horrible though many of his deeds are, has laid deep the foundations for the future greatness of a mighty people.
It is no exaggeration to call this Hitlerian. And while it’s extremely unpopular to say so, Nazism was not just rhetorically similar to European colonialism, it was an outgrowth of it and its logical culmination.
In a 1928 speech, Adolf Hitler was already speaking approvingly of how Americans had “gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousands, and now keep the modest remnant under observation in a cage.” In 1941, Hitler told confidants of his plans to “Europeanize” Russia. It wasn’t just Germans who would do this, he said, but Scandinavians and Americans, “all those who have a feeling for Europe.” The most important thing was to “look upon the natives as Redskins.”