Mary Beard on Statues

Give this a read.

The Romans had many ways of dealing with the statues of those they no longer wanted to honour. Some they (or their enemies) destroyed: the head of the emperor Claudius found in the river near Colchester may well have been a victim of the rebellion of Boudicca; the head of Augustus found at Meroe (in modern Sudan), now in the British Museum, was almost certainly severed from a statue, destroyed in a raid on the Roman province of Egypt; and there are any number of references in ancient writers to the statues of the short-lived would-be emperors in the civil wars of 68–69 CE being thrown away, just as soon as another very temporary new emperor arrived on the scene.

But the Romans were much more imaginative than that. It was common practice to give a makeover to a marble head and to change the image of one emperor you didn’t like into that one you did (or, to put it another way, to save money by recycling the old guy into the new). And occasionally you could even change one god into another just by changing the statue’s label.

So where does this leave us in our current statue wars? Let me offer just a few observations.

Go read it.