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Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius

File:Marek Aureliusz Kapitol.jpg
The replica of the statue on Capitoline Hill.

The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius is an ancient Roman statue in the Campidoglio, Rome, Italy. It is made of bronze and stands 3.5 m tall. Although the emperor is mounted, it exhibits many similarities to standing statues of Augustus. The original is on display in the Palazzo Nuovo, with the one now standing in the open air of the Piazza del Campidoglio being a replica made in 1981 when the original was taken down for restoration in the Palazzo.



The overall theme is one of power and divine grandeur — the emperor is over life-size and is holding out his hand in a gesture much like that in the Augustus' portraits. In this case the gesture may also signify clemency as some historians assert that a fallen enemy may have been sculpted begging for mercy under the horse's raised hoof (based on accounts from medieval times which suggest that a small figure of a bound barbarian chieftain once crouched underneath the horse's front right leg). Such an image was meant to portray the Emperor as victorious and all-conquering. However, shown without weapons or armor, Marcus Aurelius seems to be a bringer of peace rather than a military hero, for this is how he saw himself and his reign.

A closeup of the replica statue of Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. The original is in the nearby Capitoline Museum.
The inscription on the plinth of the replica statue.

He is riding without the use of stirrups as the stirrup had not yet been introduced to the West.


The statue was erected in 176 AD. Its original location is debated: the Roman Forum and Piazza Colonna (where the Column of Marcus Aurelius stands) have been proposed.

Although there were many equestrian imperial statues, they rarely survived because it was practice to melt down bronze statues for reuse as coin or new sculptures in the late empire, following Rome's conversion to Christianity (to make new statues for the new Christian churches).[citation needed] Statues were also destroyed because medieval Christians thought that they were pagan idols. The statue of Marcus Aurelius was not melted down because in the Middle Ages it was incorrectly thought to portray the first Christian Emperor Constantine. Indeed, it is the only fully surviving bronze statue of a pre-Christian Roman emperor.

In the medieval era it was one of the few Roman statues to remain on public view. In the 8th century It stood in the Lateran Palace in Rome, from where it was relocated in 1538 to the Piazza del Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill) during Michelangelo's redesign of the Hill. Though he disagreed with its central positioning, he designed a special pedestal for it. The original is on display in the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Musei Capitolini, while a replica has replaced it in the square.

On the night of November 29, 1849, at the inception of the revolutionary Roman Republic, a mass procession set up the Red-White-Green tricolore (now Flag of Italy, then a new and highly "subversive" flag) in the hands of the mounted Marcus Aurelius[1].

Cultural references

The statue is depicted on the reverse of the Italian €0.50 euro coin, designed by Roberto Mauri.

A replica of the statue has been located on the campus of Brown University in the United States since 1908.

The statue was believed to be formerly clad in gold. An old local myth says that the statue will turn gold again on the Judgement Day.[2]

Allegedly the Equestrian Statue of King George III of England which stood in New York City's Bowling Green until 1776 when it was thrown down and the lead turned into musket balls for George Washington's army was based upon the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius.





  1. Leona Rostenberg, "Margaret Fuller's Roman Diary" The Journal of Modern History 12.2 (June 1940:209-220) p. 212
  2. This folk legend is recorded in p. 40 of the National Geographic Traveler's Rome (2006)

External links

Coordinates: 41°53′35″N 12°28′59″E / 41.893°N 12.483°E / 41.893; 12.483


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