THESE BOOTS WERE MADE FOR DATING
by Doug Ward
OXFORD, OHIO-When viewing a film, we can often guess the time setting of the story from the clothing worn by the characters. If the male characters are wearing leisure suits, for example, the story is most likely taking place during the 1970s.
Similarly, when scholars are trying to determine the date of an ancient work of art, clothes pictured there can provide clues. If a clothing style in one work is very similar to that in a second work whose date is known, the first work may come from the same era as the second.
One scholar who is developing this type of dating method is Connie Rodriguez, a Professor of Languages and Cultures at Loyola University New Orleans. Dr. Rodriguez has done a careful study of the footwear pictured in statues of Roman emperors. Using information from this study, she can give improved estimates of the dates of other statues and statue fragments. On September 20, 2011, she described her work in an Archaeological Institute of America lecture at Miami University.
Cats Versus Dogs
In her illustrated lecture, Dr. Rodriguez showed a number of examples of statues in which Roman emperors are pictured in their roles as military commanders. The emperors in these statues are shown wearing elaborate high boots, sometimes referred to by scholars as “dress parade boots.” 1 At the tops of these boots are leather flaps that picture the faces of wild animals with furrowed brows and flaring nostrils. Sometimes paws of these animals are also pictured in flaps on either side of the face.
In some examples the animal faces look rather feline, while others have more of a canine appearance. Dr. Rodriguez noted that both would be appropriate symbols for the footwear of a Roman emperor. Certainly the wolf-a wild canine-is an important Roman symbol. On the other hand, emperors and kings since ancient times have been celebrated as slayers of lions and other wild felines. (Think of the example of King David in I Sam 17:34-37.)
The slides from the lecture featured statues of emperors who ruled during the first and second centuries A.D, including Titus (79-81 AD), Trajan (98-117), Hadrian (117-138), Antoninus Pius (138-161), Lucius Verus (161-169), and Marcus Aurelius (161-180). Dr. Rodriguez pointed out how the style of the boots in these statues changed over time. For example, statues of Hadrian featured boots with bows at the top, paw flaps at the sides, and animal faces that included ears. In contrast, boots from statues of Marcus Aurelius had no paw flaps, and there were no ears as part of the animal faces.
Rodriguez also observed that in statues from the early part of an emperor's reign, the boots looked very similar to those from statues of the previous emperor. The similarity might have been intended to imply that the new emperor ruled in the tradition and authority of his predecessor. After an emperor became more established, the footwear in the emperor's statue often exhibited a more distinctive individual style.
Dr. Rodriguez has used the changes in boot styles in imperial statues to estimate the dates of other statues. One statue of the war god Mars, now in a museum in Naples, shows boots that feature a Hadrianic style, indicating that the statue might have been made during Hadrian's reign. Another statue of Mars, now in Rome, has previously been dated to the time of Domitian (81-96). However, the boots on this statue look very similar to those from a statue of Lucius Verus, leading Rodriguez to propose a later date for it.
Footwear of Gods and Emperors
No actual boots resembling the dress parade boots on the statues have ever been found, leading scholars to speculate that these boots existed in art but not in real life. Whether or not such boots actually existed, Dr. Rodriguez believes that their inclusion in the imperial statues was intended to imply the deity of the emperors. She finds evidence for this view in imperial reliefs, which picture emperors side-by-side with gods.
In one such relief, now in the Lateran Museum at the Vatican, Domitian is being escorted by gods who are all wearing dress parade boots, while Domitian is shown with simpler boots in a style typically worn by Roman patricians. Rodriguez noted similar footwear patterns from the Arch of Trajan in Benevento, the Great Trajanic Frieze from the Arch of Constantine in Rome, and a relief of Marcus Aurelius. The footwear in these reliefs seems to be contrasting gods and humans. On the other hand, in a relief in which the winged goddess Victory places a wreath on the head of Trajan, indicating Trajan's apotheosis (elevation to deity), Trajan is shown in dress parade boots. Since these examples seem to connect the dress parade boots with deity, Rodriguez proposed that it might be appropriate to call these boots "god boots".
Dr. Rodriguez noted that these fancy boots appear in statues and reliefs over a period of several centuries, at least to the time of Justinian (527-565). She also mentioned that in medieval art, Jesus is occasionally portrayed in the military garb of a Roman emperor, complete with high boots decorated at the top.2 These representations of Jesus picture Jesus standing on a lion and a serpent, illustrating Psalm 91:13, a verse often applied messianically: "Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet." Such references to the footwear of the true Ruler of the world brought the lecture to a fitting conclusion.
1See the article "Roman Footwear" by Norma Goldman, pp. 101-129 in The World of Roman Costume, Judith Lynn Sebesta and Larissa Bonfante, Editors, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1994.
2Some examples are given in the article "Gods in Uniform" by Ernst Kantorowicz, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 105, Number 4, 1961. These include the ninth century Stuttgart Psalter and a mosaic in the Archiepiscopal Chapel at Ravenna, Italy.
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On 14 Oct 2011, 19:29.