The Chlamydatus of Corinth

In the most recent Hesperia, Amelia Brown has offered an intriguing article on a significant group of Late Roman portrait statues (“Last Men Standing: Chlamydatus Protraits and Public Life in Late Antique Corinth,Hesperia 81 (2012), 141-176). Chlamydatus statues of Corinth depict men wearing the “distinctive long cloak or chlamys” and this dress typically associates these individuals with imperial office. Brown has assembled a group of 7 largely fragmentary, life-sized statues of this kind from around Corinth with 6 of them appearing in the forum area. These status date to the 4th and 5th centuries and represent both a change in Late Roman portrait style as well as the growing political influence of the imperial center at Constantinople of aristocratic representation at Corinth. According to Brown, these statues appear to be associated with imperial rather than local elite. Corinth’s position as the seat of the governor of Achaea probably accounts for the number of imperial elite present, but also made it both an appealing location for the display of honorific statues dedicated to men who had contributed to the safety, urban environments, religious life, and culture of the province.

As per usual, I’ll let Dr. Brown’s work stand on its own merits and recommend it to anyone interested in understand the development and archaeology of Late Roman statuary. Instead, I’ll focus on two interrelated but admittedly peripheral aspects of Brown’s work.

First, Brown does a nice job of arguing that the Lechaion road was the main area for the display of chlamydatus statues. In her reconstruction of this space of display the chlamys clad statues stood along the sides of the main road into forum area of Corinth. A visitor to the forum area would have passed under the impassive gaze of these statues as they walked along the main artery of the Late Antique city. The Lechaion Road provided access to basic civic amenities like latrines and shops as well as places of display like the Peirene fountain which likely served as an important source of water for the city as well as an area for informal recreation, gathering, and meeting. Thus Corinthians and visitors to the city lived their daily life in and among reminders of the city’s imperial patrons.

The Lechaion Road also likely served as the main route of official processions into the city of Corinth.  Important visitors from the west would have enjoyed their official adventus (or ritual of arrival) into the city along the wide, colonnaded, grandiose Lechaion Road. The chlamydatus would have watched the passage of fellow elites and their retinues accompanied by city fathers, fellow imperial aristocrats, and by the 5th century perhaps local representatives of the Christian communities. The position of the statues along the road left the main route into the city open, but also provided a permanent audience for ritual processions. The most important men in the city and perhaps province would always be there, standing to honor their fellow elites.

The statue that I was most intrigued by was the so-called Kraneion chlamydatus. This statue was found cut down and reused as a threshold at the Kraneion basilica which dates to the 6th century and stood immediately outside of the eastern Kraneion Gate to the city. The location of the statue near the eastern gate of the city suggests that this might have been an area for display during the Late Antiquity with chlamys clad statues greeting visitors from the east.

NewImageHesperia 81 (2012), p. 145

The reuse of the Kraneion chlamydatus in the Kraneion basilica interesting is that it was cut down for use as a threshold block.  It would be easy to recognize in this use of spolia practical concerns; torso of the chlamydatus provided a substantial block of marble suitable for the requirements of a threshold.

I do wonder whether there might be some symbolic considerations as well. The cutting down of the statue would have made it difficult for a visitor to the church to recognize the former function of the block. On the other hand, the process of selecting and cutting down the block must have involved a series of ideological decisions. The chlamys clad man had to be recognized as no longer relevant or important and therefore suitable for reuse. The placement of the block as a threshold offers a nice parallel to the original location of the statue near the gate to the city (or the placement of the other chlamydatus along the processional route of the monumentalized Lechaion Road).  In other words, the location of the reused chlamydatus at the threshold to the church finds a nice parallel with their original location in liminal spaces like the gate to the city or a processional way.

One could even go a step further and suggest that the relocation of the chlamydatus statue at the threshold of the church marked out the boundary between the civic world and the works of the church. The shift is more marked when you consider that within the church the congregation stood in the aisles and watched the ranked procession of the clergy. The congregation may have been accompanied by a passive processions of saints standing in the place of the onlooking chlamydatus along the Lechaion Road while the clergy’s liturgical procession echoed the ritualized adventus of Late Roman aristocrats into the city.

The physical subordination of the Kraneion chlamydatus at the threshold of the church echoed the gradual suppression of monumental civic space throughout the empire and their replacement with churches tied to the ecclesiastical rather than civic or imperial elite.

Crossposted to New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World.

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Categories: Books and Articles, Late Antiquity

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