Supremacy of the Roman Gods and Iconoclasm
The earliest Romans greatly revered the supremacy of divine entities, and it was logical that something so supreme could not be figuratively represented. The issue of iconoclasm and the representation of divinities presented itself again at different intervals through to the Renaissance and Baroque.
We can see this theological problem making itself felt in Rome towards the end of the empire when mosaics of Byzantine inspiration avoided excessively naturalistic facial features in representations of holy figures.
Irrespective of the realism to portray human features and facial expressions the broad range of divinities in any case required easy ways to identify them so that their image could convey clear meanings. This was achieved through well known attributes and items of clothing.
Throughout the Roman Empire, it was highly convenient for various Roman rulers to have themselves personally identified with specific divine beings such as Hercules, Mars, Bacchus and so on. This implies using Roman art of neo-realistic portraiture and sculpture to place a given physical person in the guise of the chosen divinity.
There were a very broad series of gods also linked to human attributes which could be very difficult to define without their supporting symbols – such as Spes (hope) or Fides (faithfulness) for example. Relatively ad hoc gods also came into being such as “Romulus”, founder of the city, “Rome” the city itself and most if not all the city’s emperors from Augustus onwards. Julius Caesar was also deified after his death.
A face was given to all of these deities and they were often represented on coins and public buildings as part and parcel of the political propaganda of the times.
Each divinity had its easily recognisable, personal attributes such as lightning, eagles, a chariot, a cornucopia (horn full of fruit), a snake and so on. These attributes allowed the deities which might be represented on coins to be instantly recognisable and be associated with the ruler or emperor shown on the other face of the coin.
Ancient Roman Gods | ancient roman religion | The Gods of Rome and Politics | Christianity in Ancient Rome |
The Gods of Rome and Politics | Supremacy of the Roman Gods | Many Gods into one Roman God | Roman and Foreign Gods at War | Roman Empire Religion | The Emperor Gods of Rome | moral principles of the ancient romans |