Book Review: The Column of Marcus Aurelius: The Genesis and Meaning of a Roman Imperial Monument


by Martin Beckmann

Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Pp. iv, 248. Illus., diagr., notes, biblio., index. $65.00. ISBN: 0807834610

More than 40 years ago Lino Rossi’s Trajan's Column and the Dacian Warstook that famed monument in the middle of Rome and used it to help document the emperor’s campaigns in what is now Romania.  In this volume,Prof. Beckmann (McMaster), gives us a similar look at the other great memorial column in Rome, that of Marcus Aurelius, completed in about AD 193, a dozen years after the emperor's death, to commemorate his campaigns during the Marcomannic Wars (AD 166-180), in what are now the Czech Republic and Slovakia. 

Beckmann focuses on the genre that the monument represents, as a piece of artistic propaganda, rather than specifically as an historical document.  So we get a great deal on the column’s site, design, and construction, on the meaning of the symbols and scenes that appear on it (many of which are virtual copies of those on Trajan’s Column), and on its history and influence.  Beckmann also contrasts the column with those of Trajan (completed AD 113 ) and the much lesser known one of Arcadius in Constantinople (AD 421).  The war itself is rather sketchily discussed in one chapter, “The Frieze as History”, this does have some interesting insights.  Although the column is very deteriorated due to smog, Beckmann’s analysis benefited from a series of photographs made in 1896 by German archaeologists, the production of which forms an unusually interesting part of the book. 

A volume in the innovative series "Studies in the History of Greece and Rome" from the UNC Press,while not primarily an operational history, The Column of Marcus Aurelius is nevertheless an a valuable adjunct for  anyone interested in the Roman Army at work during the very height of the Empire.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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