Marius: Imagin[in]g an Ancient Commander-in-Chief

I think that it's key, when trying to write about someone, to be able to picture them in one's head.

The problem with Gaius Marius is that this is the only image we have of him - he's the little guy in his Triumphal chariot on the right (the big head is Roma as Victory in a winged helmet).

Although most text books will tell you that Caesar was the first living Roman depicted on a coin, there was an image of Sulla (or a statue of Sulla) depicted on a coin before that, and then before either: this coin, which is generally believed to represent Marius during his double triumph over the Cimbri and Teutones in 101 BC (the great Mary Beard, The Roman Triumph). Although it's the subject of scholarly dispute, I believe that it is Marius, so the tiny figure riding a horse would be his son or nephew.

Either way, it ain't much help, as one can barely make him out.

We have literary descriptions of statues, and even inscribed statue bases surviving, but no certain sculptural image of my favorite Roman general.

These two busts in Munich are often assigned to Marius and Sulla - it doesn't matter which, as they seem to be interchangeable. They are said to come from Rome, and the idea is that these were copies of the statues of Republican greats that lined the porticoes around the Temple of Mars in the Forum of Augustus (promised at Philippi in 42 BC, begun ca. 20 BC, dedicated in 2 BC).

Both date to ca. AD 10-20, and seem to copy second century BC portrait heads. That's possible for an original of Marius - though there is nothing to concretely link him to either - but not for Sulla, who was far too junior in the second century to have a portrait (portraits were the reserve of the highest achievers, and Sulla only achieved his first imagines around the time of the Jugurtine War).

In fact there are very few images from the Republic, and even fewer that can be linked with a specific person. The fresco from a tomb on the Esquiline is dated to the second century BC.

It is believed, because of one reading of the label - ...anio[s] St[ai] f[ilios] e Q. Fabio[s] - to copy a painting that was once in the Temple of Salus (Health) on the Quirinal, which according to literary sources [Valerius Maximus, 8.14.6]:
Illa vero etiam a claris viris interdum ex humillimis rebus petita est: nam quid sibi voluit C. Fabius nobilissimus civis, qui, cum in aede Salutis, quam C. Iunius Bubulcus dedicaverat, parietes pinxisset, nomen his suum inscripsit? id enim demum ornamenti familiae consulatibus et sacerdotiis et triumphis celeberrimae deerat. ceterum sordido studio deditum ingenium qualemcumque illum laborem suum silentio obliterari noluit, videlicet Phidiae secutus exemplum, qui clypeo Mineruae effigiem suam inclusit, qua conuulsa tota operis conligatio solveretur.
So this painting, by C. Fabius, would represent Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, the victor of the Second Samnite War, which he helped end in 304 BC. Fabius was Master of the Horse, Dictator and held the consulship a record five times - until Marius came along and won a record seven elections. Some even believe that it might be Fabius Maximus' own tomb. [Marius tomb was destoyed by Sulla, so there is no chance of ever finding it].

Some scholars believe that imagines, the masks of ancestors kept in the Atrium cupboard and worn at funerals, were based on death masks. This Republican clay head in the Louvre is believed to have been based on a death mask. There is an exedra from the House of Menander in Pompeii with similar heads, but it's Imperial in date.
Having read Harriet Flower's Ancestor Masks and Aristocratic Power in Roman Culture, I find her arguments that imagines were made during the lifetime, maybe repeatedly, very convincing - so imagines were based on a living Roman rather than his wax death mask.

We know that Caesar brought out an imago of Marius at Julia's funeral, and re-erected statues of his uncle. We also know that Augustus erected statues of Marius, at least one of which was seen by Plutarch in the second century AD, but these are all lost. We haven't a clue what he looked like.

Since I needed to be able to imagine Marius, I thought I'd let my fantasies run wild. It is Christmas Day, after all ...

Eric Bana as Hector in Troy.

I know that the uniform is wrong for Marius, and that the Trojan war was about a thousand years earlier, but Marius might have stopped by Ilium during his Asian Embassy and tried on Hector's armor in the temple there, and Mr. Bana makes a fine warrior ...

Except that ... as I've discussed before, we know that this image of Marius is fake because of the beard. Republican Romans were clean-shaven. Plutarch made a big deal of Marius' beard during his exile, because beards were only worn as signs of mourning during the Republic (when loved ones died, when Romans were in exile or on trial, and so forth). Whilst this cameo supposedly honors Marius, so should depict him in his prime, not at his lowest ebb. If it's fake because of the beard, so alas we must also bid adieu to Mr. Bana.

Having perused the rest of the cast photos, Brad Pitt might be more suitable, if he got a haircut.
But if we're going to start making follicular suggestions to movie stars, we might as well get Mr. Bana to shave his beard.

Another statue sometimes linked to Marius is the Barberini Togatus. He's of roughly the right period and with suitable physiognomy for an image of the older Marius.
He wears a Senatorial toga, so would be Marius as homo politicus - except that Marius would probably have been shown in either a consul toga or, since he was awarded the privilege of wearing it at certain public events, his Triumphal robes.

What makes this statue unique is that the Senator holds two imagines or portrait busts, presumably of ancestors - but Marius boasted, when elected consul, of having no imagines in his Atrium ...

The statue is more likely to depict a patrician than a novus homo, and probably in any case dates to a few decades too late. The main head is closer to Caesarian examples, and whilst this would not be an issue if the heads are of older deceased ancestors ... it's also of a different marble.

Back to square one. In any case, coming from Greek archaeology, I prefer my Commanders-in-Chief wearing rather less.

Unless they look like this - Bill Clinton may have been Commander-in-Chief, but he never, as his torso clearly demonstrates, saw active service. Jelly-belly is quite unsuitable as an example of what Marius might have looked like.

What about other modern Commanders as examples?

Vladimir Putin saw plenty of active service, and has both the muscles and the macho attitude to prove it. Technically not currently Commander-in-Chief in Russia, like Marius, he hopes to be re-elected to the post soon.
He's holding a fishing rod, but it could be a sword or a gun. The hat though is more suitable for fair-skinned Sulla.
His eyes look off into the distance, scanning the horizon for enemy armies ....

David Cameron is just a party leader. Not in charge of a government, and could never be Commander-in-Chief anyway since that post is reserved for the Queen in the UK. The image is totally gratuitous.

Like Marius, Nicholas Sarkozy has a beautiful wife admired by all. Here he is in a boat, and one could imagine Marius during his exile, rowing away from the Italian coast ... except that Marius was noted for his austerity in battle, and President Sarkozy is known to be a bit Bling-Bling. Tony Blair ... pass.

Also, would-be commanders must, like Marius, be able to make stirring speeches on the eve of battle. Colonel Tim Collins certainly fits that criterion - his "We go to liberate not to conquer" speech in Kuwait will be studied for centuries to come.

But Collins was not technically Commander-in-Chief.

So the criteria are that he - or she - has to be a Commander-in-chief, an inspiring speech maker and have a good torso.
The winner is clearly President-elect Barack Obama. Obama is Gaius Marius.

So after an exhaustive international search for an image that could be my Marius, I alighted on the Tivoli General.

His date, as with so many Republican images, is debated, but before the period of Marius' death (d. 86 BC), or soon after, is possible - the current consensus amongst people I respect is 100 to 60 BC. It was found inside the Sanctuary of Hercules Victor in ancient Tibur, and is now in the Museo Nazionale / Palazzo Massimo.

The top of his head is missing, so we can't tell if he was balding or had a full head of hair, but enough of the face survives to show that it was weather-beaten, suggesting age. Marius was over 70 when he died.

Although I like my generals nude, the Romans of the period were far more conservative and this sort of Greek-style heroic semi-clad image only began in Italy around 100 BC.

Much is made by Plutarch of Marius' lack of education, with claims that he did not speak Greek. This was clearly a political stance taken by Marius to make him more of a 'real' Roman, like Cato, a man of the 'people' - Anthony the Orator would also claim not to speak Greek as part of his election campaign, just as Mitt Romney would claim not to speak French.

Marius in fact is said to have introduced Greek style Games to Rome, and supported the first Latin school of rhetoric, so was highly sophisticated. A Greek style statue would have been acceptable for him, and perhaps even more acceptable for someone such as Sulla.

Some scholars try to claim that this is an image of a 'local' ... but between the very avant-guard Greek style of the iconography, the location inside a sanctuary, and the cost of commissioning such a piece, it could only represent a leading Roman.

The statue has implications of heroization, even deification, which would work for Marius - to whom unprecedented libations were poured after his victory after Vercellae. The heroic drapery suggests a general rather than a politician, as does the support carved as a military corselet.

I believe that this is a statue of Gaius Marius - Rome's greatest general, the new Romulus, the new Camillus, third Founder of Rome.

[Ancient images looted from around the web. Photos of 21st century Commanders-in-Chief (and the aspiring Cameron) take from - Daily Mail and The Telegraph.]

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