Abstract: The Lost Eagle: The untold story of the legionary eagle on Rome's most famous statue


The Prima Porta Augustus is the most famous and recognized marble statue from the Roman Empire, and a potent symbol of the triumph of the West over the East. The statue's message is articulated in detail through the central scene on the emperor's cuirass, where a bearded barbarian returns the lost eagle standard of a Roman legion to an armored figure. From the time of its discovery in the nineteenth century, the scholarly consensus was that the eagle depicted here represented one of the standards lost to Parthia by Crassus and Mark Antony, and recovered by Augustus in 20 BCE. Fooled by Augustus' own propaganda, moderns have seen only what we expected to see, when in fact close analysis of the cuirass proves that it does not reference the so-called Parthian standards at all. In this illustrated lecture we will explore the archaeological and historical evidence that proves the Prima Porta statue was commissioned to commemorate another entirely separate event that occurred on the northern frontier many years after the Parthian standards were returned. Overshadowed by disgraceful defeat and the treachery of one of Augustus' closest friends, this event was later artfully covered up and forgotten by our written sources. In fact, without recovering the 'body' of the Prima Porta Augustus, we might never have discovered the truth about the emperor's lost eagle - a story that will completely change the way we look at Rome's most famous statue.

This lecture previews original research and discoveries that will be published in the journal LATOMUS early in 2012. It should also be accessible to most undergraduates and anyone with a casual interest in Roman history, art history, or archaeology.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

For the lay reader, the Wikipedia pages on the Prima Porta statue and the emperor Augustus are a good starting point for the current state of knowledge/scholarship, and provide more than adequate background for this lecture.

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