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IMAGO Imago was the ordinary Latin word used to signify the copy or likeness of anything ( “Imago ab imitatione dicta,” Festus, p. 112); and, as applied to copies of nature, it includes pictures, statues, busts, or any mode of artistic representation. More particularly, however, imago was used to denote the ancestral likenesses which were exhibited in the more public parts of a Roman noble's dwelling. In the houses of the nobility the imagines of the forefathers of the head of the household were placed in the alae, the two wings which opened out of the hinder part of the atrium, or central hall, one on either side (Marquardt, Privatleben der Römer, i. p. 233; Vitr. 6.3, 6, “Imagines ad latitudinem alarum sint constitutae:” cf. Juv. 8.19). These imagines were portrait-masks in wax (expressi cera vultus, Plin. Nat. 35.6); and the origin of these waxen masks is to be sought, not in the idea of immortalising the features of the dead for the benefit of posterity, but in the ancient beliefs connected with burial and with the life of the dead. That the primary use of the imago was for the purposes of funeral ceremonies is stated by Pliny (l.c., “expressi cera vultus--ut essent imagines quae comitarentur gentilicia funera” ) and the original part it played in these ceremonies is shown by the close analogies that we meet with in most of the civilised nations of the ancient world. Benndorf has shown the close resemblance that the Roman imagines bear to the portrait-masks for covering the faces of the dead, which are found in a great many ancient civilisations; they are analogous to the portrait-heads of the Egyptian mummies, and the light masks of gold, silver, bronze, iron, or tin, which are found used for this purpose in Nineveh, Phoenicia, Carthage, and by Schliemann at Mycenae in Greece (Benndorf, Antike Gesichtshelme und Sepulcralmasken in the Denkschriften der Kaiserlichen Academie der Wissenschaften, xxviii. pp. 302 ff.). The original use of the Roman portrait-masks must similarly have been for covering the faces of the dead. The custom at Rome was to lay out the dead before burial, and in funerals of special distinction this lying in state lasted for seven days (Serv. ad Aen. 5.64). For this purpose the services of an embalmer (pollinctor) were required; and it is a probable supposition that the services of the pollinctor did not end with preparing the body for burial, but that he also fashioned the mask that was to be buried with it. This was done by taking a mould of the face from nature. From this mould he would proceed “to take a cast in wax, to put the finishing touches (emendare) and colouring on this waxen image, which was then laid either on the dead man's face or on his effigy” (Benndorf, l.c. p. 371). The imagines were then waxen casts from moulds, which were taken from nature; they were faces in relief (expressi cera vultus) which received the colours and touches of nature (Lessing, Sämmtl. Schrift. x. p. 290). The original mask which was made from the mould was no doubt burnt or buried with the body (Marquardt, l.c. p. 236): but a fresh mask might be made from this mould, which was the imago placed in the atrium of a Roman house ; and which was used on the occasion of the death of a member of the household, when the imagines of the ancestors formed a part of the funeral procession. Marquardt thinks that the masks might be renewed from time to time, and that on the occasion of such funerals it was not in every case the “fumosae imagines” (Senec. Ep. 44, 5; Juv. 8.8) that were brought to light. The imagines as used in funerals were merely masks which were fitted on to the faces of the actors who represented the dead man's ancestors; but the imagines as kept in the atrium were probably masks fitted on busts. This is the conjecture of Quatremère de Quincy, whose account of the combined uses of these masks, for funeral purposes and for exhibition in the atrium, is extremely probable. He says, “Nothing prevents us from believing that the family portraits in coloured wax had attached to them busts, with the whole head, the neck, the breast, and the commencement of the drapery; but that, for their use in funeral ceremonies, the front part of the head which constituted the face was detached to serve as a mask” (De Quincy, Le Jupiter Olympien, p. 37) In the ceremonies of the apotheosis of a deceased emperor described by Herodian, it is not clear whether the imago was a waxen model of the whole form, or a waxen mask fitted on to a statue (Hdt. 4.2, 2, κηροῦ δὲ πλασάμενο<*> εἰκόνα, πάντα ὁμοίαν τῷ τετελευτηκότι, ἐπὶ μεγίστης ἐλεφαντίνης κλίνης εἰς ὕψος ἀρθείσης προστιθέασιν); but we have here probably described a masked statue resembling the masked busts in the atrium. These busts were placed along the walls of the alae in small, shrine-like recesses (armaria, Plin. Nat. 35.6; ξύλινα ναΐδια, Plb. 6.53), and under each imago was an inscription (titulus) giving the name and deeds of the person represented by it. Such inscriptions were called tituli (Liv. 10.7, 11), or indices (Tib. 4.30, “nec quaeris quid quaque index sub imagine dicat” ), or elogia; having this last name, Mommsen says, because they were regarded as excerpts from the fuller commentarii gentilicii (Mommsen, C. I. L. p. 277, elogium from eligere). They were brief records of the person's history written in prose, although Atticus, we are told, made a new departure in the composition of tituli by writing. them in pointed verse (Corn. Nep. Attic. 18). They were in many cases not trustworthy, [p. 1.993]family pride sometimes leading to their forgery or falsification (Liv. 4.16; 7.40). The imagines were arranged in such an order that. when connected by lines drawn upon the wall, they showed the stemma or family tree (Plin. Nat. 35.6, “stemmata vero lineis discurrebant ad imagines pictas” ), and the immense length of some of these gentilia stemmata (Suet. Nero 37) shows the great antiquity of the practice of preserving the imagines of ancestors; although the fact that some of these pedigrees were traced to a mythical ancestor (Suet. Galba, 2) shows that some of these portraits were imaginary representations; that is, if we suppose every link in the chain of descent represented in the atrium of a noble house to have had an imago corresponding to it. On festal days the recesses in which these imagines were kept were thrown open, and the busts crowned with laurel (Cic. pro Muren. 41, § 88). The triumphators of a family were regarded with especial pride; there seem to have been two portraits of them in the houses that could boast of this distinction: for we find that, while they had a statue in the vestibule (Juv. 7.125, “hujus enim stat currus aeneus alti, Quadrijuges in vestibulis” ), there was also a full-length portrait of them in the atrium, standing on the triumphal car (Juv. 8.2, “stantes in curribus Aemilianos” ). In this latter passage of Juvenal the portrait is spoken of in connexion with the stemma and the picti vultus majorum, which shows that this second representation of a triumphator in the atrium was made to bring him into connexion with the table of descent. Whether these full-length portraits to any degree replaced the older waxen masks, or were only used in the case of triumphators, is doubtful. A passage in Martial (2.90, 6, “atriaque immodicis artat imaginibus” ) and one of Vitruvius (6.3, 6, “imagines cum suis ornamentis” ) seem to point to the fact that such full-length portraits were somewhat generally used in later times to represent the more distinguished members of the family (Mommsen, Staatsr. i.2 p. 429, n. 1).

A complete alteration in the fashion of the imagines was caused, during the Empire, through the decreasing number of ancient and noble families, and the rise of new families, who had no imagines, and yet wished to decorate the atrium with portraits. The old waxen masks were now replaced by clipeatae imagines, bronze or silver medallions, such as had been long used for the decoration of temples and public places (Plin. Nat. 35.6). The senate-house during the Empire was decorated with the medallions (clipei) of famous orators (Tac. Ann. 2.37, 83); and at Pompeii the walls of the alae in private houses are adorned with portrait-medallions of this kind (Marquardt, l.c. p. 239). These medallions sometimes represented the emperors and other prominent persons unconnected with the family; but they also replaced the waxen masks as portraits of ancestors (Just. Cod. 5.37, 22), to such an extent indeed that Pliny tells us that in his time the older form of the imago had wholly disappeared (Pliny, Plin. Nat. 35.6, “Imaginum quidem pictura in totum exolevit” ). By this is meant only that the custom of forming such waxen masks as portraits had ceased, for the older imagines kept in the armaria are found as late as the year 276 A.D. (Vopiscus, Florian. 6, in which the expression “imagines aperirent” shows that the passage refers to the older waxen masks; Marquardt, l.c. p. 239, n. 3).

As has been stated above, the first use assigned to the imagines at Rome was their exhibition in public funerals. This leads to the consideration of the Jus imaginum, or the conditions that had to be satisfied by a man before his imago could be exhibited in the funeral processions of any of his descendants. The right was confined to those who had filled the offices of dictator, consul, censor, praetor, and curule aedile: it coexists with the right of the toga praetexta and the sella curulis (Cic. in Verr. 5.14, 36, “togam praetextam, sellam curulem, Jus imaginis ad memoriam posteritatemque prodendae” ), and coincides nearly with the possession of curule office, although the interrex, a curule magistrate, does not seem to have been included (Mommsen, Staatsr. i.2 p. 427, n. 2). We find that the actors at such funerals who wore the imagines of the dead were adorned with the insignia of the offices these had, filled in life, with the toga praetexta of the consul or praetor, the purple robe of the censor, or the toga picta of the triumphator, and sat on curule chairs to listen to the laudatio of the member of the race, whose funeral they attended, and to the mention of their own past deeds (Plb. 6.53). The Jus imaginum must originally have been a sole patrician right, when the patricians filled all the highest offices, and were indeed the only true members of a gens, with which the funeral imagines were intimately connected (Plin. l.c. “ut essent imagines quae comitarentur gentilicia funera” ); but on the growth of the new nobility of office, which followed on the equalisation of the two orders, it became a privilege of the noble plebeians as well; and the distinction between those who had the Jus imaginum and those who had not was equivalent to the distinction between nobiles and novi homines. This right might, however, be lost after death by one who satisfied the conditions of having held curule office. If it was affirmed by the ruling powers at Rome that a man had not died in the full possession of citizen rights, he lost the privilege of having his imago exhibited, as we see in the case of Brutus and Cassius, the exhibition of whose masks at the funerals of their race was not permitted (Tac. Ann. 3.76, 5); and we find the extinction of this right made part of a penal sentence on a man who had anticipated condemnation by suicide on a charge of majestas (Tac. Ann. 2.32, 2, “ne imago Libonis exsequias posterorum comitaretur” ). But, as it was possible to fall below this right, so it was possible to rise above it. The representation of the imago was a human privilege; and consequently the deified emperor might not be borne in the procession at the funeral of a member of his race (D. C. 47.19).

Connected with the Jus imaginum is the question what restrictions were laid down by the state on the exhibition in public of statues, medallions, or other representations of individual citizens. Mommsen thinks that in the older times at Rome it was forbidden to set up the statue or bust of a living man in a public place, or even in a public part of the house, such as [p. 1.994]the atrium. In the last two centuries of the Republic this restriction seems to have been removed or neglected; for we find M. Claudius Marcellus, consul in 152 B.C., placing his own statue in the temple of Honos and Virtus founded by his grandfather (Ascon. in Pison. p. 12), and L. Fabius Maximus, as curule aedile in 56 B.C., erecting on the Fabian archway a statue of himself (C. I. L. i. p. 278; Mommsen, l.c. 434, 435). The setting up of the busts and statues of one's forefathers in public seems never to have been forbidden; Pliny, in tracing the origin of the clipei, tells us that Appius Claudius, consul in 307 B.C., set up medallions of his ancestors in the temple of Bellona which he had built, with the tituli honorum beneath them (Plin. Nat. 35.6), and in the second century B.C. we find the portraits of ancestors taking their place on Roman coins (Mommsen, Römisches Münzwesen, p. 462). It is probable that an exhibition of this sort was held by the same standing right as the exhibition in the atrium of those who satisfied the conditions of the Jus imaginum; and that therefore it did not require the consent of the state. But the community or the senate might order the setting up of a statue of those who had filled no magistracy, but had done some signal service to the state. Such statues were granted to Horatius Cocles and Cloelia (Liv. 2.10; 2.13); and to the boy Aemilius Lepidus by a decree of the senate (V. Max. 3.1, 1). Under the Empire, the princeps has a standing right of having his statue set up in any public place during his lifetime, and of granting a similar privilege to any officer or magistrate, as Tiberius granted it to Sejanus (Tac. Ann. 4.2, 4; 74, 3). To the emperor's statue, and even to his head on coins, a peculiar sanctity attached; to clasp his imago was equivalent to taking sanctuary, and this right of asylum led to abuses which claimed legal restraint (Tac. Ann. 3.36, 1 ; Furneaux's note, Gai. Inst. 1.53; Mommsen, Staatsr. ii.2 p. 737, n. 1). The right of individuals to have statues during their lifetime was also extended under the early principate. Augustus ordained that with the honour of a triumph or triumphal ornaments should be joined the erection of a bronze statue of the triumphator (D. C. 55.10); while Claudius permitted the same honour to those who had built or restored a public building at their own cost (lb. 60.25). But, since the permission to have the triumphal insignia as well as to erect buildings for public uses had to be gained from the senate, the permission to have a statue practically depended on the will of this body, or rather on the will of some member of the ruling house who guided their decisions (Mommsen, Staatsr. i2 p. 438).

(Marquardt, Privatl. der Römer, i. pp. 235-239, 243; O. Benndorf, Antike Gesichtshelme und Sepulcralmasken in the Denkschriften der Kaiserlichen Academie der Wissenschaften, xxviii.; Eichstädt, De imaginibus Romanorum dissertationes duae; Quatremère de Quincy, Le Jupiter Olympien, pp. 36, 37. On the Jus imaginum, Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht, i.2 pp. 426 sqq.


hide References (30 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (30):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 4.2
    • Polybius, Histories, 6.53
    • Cicero, For Lucius Murena, 41
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.5.36
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 40
    • Suetonius, Nero, 37
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 6.6
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 6.3
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.2
    • Tacitus, Annales, 3.36
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.32
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.37
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.83
    • Tacitus, Annales, 3.1
    • Tacitus, Annales, 3.5
    • Tacitus, Annales, 3.76
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.2
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.3
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.4
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.74
    • Cornelius Nepos, Atticus, 18
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.6
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 7
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 13
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 10
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 16
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 2.6
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 2.90
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 3.1
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