Setting the Stage for the Authority of the Roman Emperor: The Family Metaphor in the Aedicular Facades of Asia Minor

Üçer Karababa, İdil
Family has always been an important aspect of the Italian way of life from antiquity to the present. Since the Roman Republic was an oligarchic state, the governing class had always been identified with families. The family pride in state affairs were advertised in the most public part of the Roman house, the atrium, by way of busts, wax masks and shield portraits of the notable ancestors; trophies and wall-paintings illustrating the notable achievements of the family; and family trees and shrines to the Lares, Penates and Genius. These paraphernalia reminded the inhabitants of the household of the family pride, to which they must be loyal and whose expectations they must fulfill. Augustus, within the process of his institution as the sole ruler of the empire, extensively employed familial concepts as a propaganda tool. He praised the Roman family as a traditional Roman institution within the context of the restoration of order and unity of the Republic. His definition as an autocrat above the senate was made through a familial concept, Pater Patriae. Augustus, as Pater Patriae, controlled and ordered his empire as Roman fathers managed their families. His dynasty was linked to Aeneas and Romulus by way of contemporary legends. Through these legends, he was defined as divinely ordained to reinstitute peace and order, in a way refound the honored tradition of Roman nation as his ancestors had in the past. His monuments in Rome, therefore, featured the imperial dynasty not only as a symbol of order and unity of the empire, but also as a token of the continuity of the reinstituted peace implied by these legendary familial connections. During the time of the successors of Augustus, monuments representing the imperial family became widespread both in Rome and in the provinces with the aim of heralding and ensuring the continuity of the imperial rule. Within this framework, two examples from Asia Minor, the propylon of the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias and the reconstructed Hellenistic gate of Perge, will be the focus of this paper, to argue how these monuments in their local contexts created a framework through which Greek cities defined themselves as part of the Roman Empire through familial associations. Both of these examples are gates in the form of aedicular facades, which featured statues belonging to the contemporary emperor and his dynasty in their aedicular units. Within this context, the imperial family was a symbol of the order and unity of the Roman Empire and its continuity like in Rome. In addition to the imperial family, these facades also featured tutelary deities of Aphrodisias and Perge. By inclusion of tutelary deities of cities to the otherwise dynastic sculpture repertoire, it was implied that these cities were tied to the empire with similar ties that links an individual to his/ her family. In Aphrodisias, Aphrodite was identified as the ancestral mother of the divine rulers hinting at Greek roots of the imperial dynasty through Aeneas. In Perge, statues of the Greek heroes of the Trojan War implied Trojan roots of the Roman Empire through Aeneas. So, through these associations, a Greek framework was formulated for the alien authority of the Roman emperor. Ultimately, it can be stated that the aedicular facades in these cities can be thought of as large-scale versions of the familial paraphernalia in the atria of Roman houses. Sebasteion Gate at Aphrodisias and the reconstructed Hellenistic Gate at Perge set up stages on the colonnaded avenues of their cities, representing their city as an extension of the empire. Through this representation not only subjugation to the unity of the empire was legitimized through the family metaphor, but also willful loyalty and devotion to the alien authority of the Roman emperor was sealed through the evocation of a common ancestry.


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Citation Formats
İ. Üçer Karababa, “Setting the Stage for the Authority of the Roman Emperor: The Family Metaphor in the Aedicular Facades of Asia Minor,” ODTÜ Mimarlık Fakültesi Dergisi, vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 43–62, 2017, Accessed: 00, 2020. [Online]. Available: