The Significance of Sculpture in Ancient Rome

Roman sculpture was an integral element of culture. Artistic pieces were commissioned, displayed and owned in far greater numbers than their Greek counterparts.

Sculpture often expressed the political views of its time. Monumental arches and columns (such as the Arch of Titus) featured reliefs depicting key campaign events to reinforce Rome’s victory.


Sculpture in ancient Rome was not just an art form, but a vital political tool as well. It served to commemorate significant events and convey a message. From Augustus onward, the Romans utilized sculpture as an idealized representation of their ideas and ideologies.

Busts were the most common type of Roman sculpture. These figures proved much simpler to craft than full-bodied figures and could be created using a variety of materials.

Portrait busts were a popular choice for emperors. These sculptures often showcased the power of the emperor and illustrated him as a hero, military victor, and supporter of Roman religion.

Emperors were often depicted as powerful, athletic and idealized – a style borrowed from Greek sculptures of the time. This type of verism became particularly popular during the later Roman Empire, representing a new era in Roman culture and identity.

One particularly powerful bust of an emperor is this statue of Claudius. He holds Jupiter’s scepter and thunderbolt, symbolizing his authority over the world.

This sardonyx cameo was intended for display in the Imperial Court and boldly compared Claudius’ power over Rome to that of Jupiter over all creation.

Though this cameo may have been created to honor Emperor Claudius’ accomplishments, it also serves as an intriguing representation of Roman Republic values and politics. Unlike their Greek counterparts, citizens in Rome placed greater value on public service and military might than idol worshipping gods; therefore they created idealized figures that reflected these ideals rather than trying to replicate Greek marble sculptures.

Busts of upper-class citizens had a special place in the Roman Republic. These images typically featured people with prominent wrinkles on their faces, signifying age and wisdom; additionally, they typically had a smoother complexion and hairstyle.


Heads were an essential symbol in Roman life, used for religious ceremonies, celebrations and political purposes alike. Furthermore, they often served to convey a message to their viewers.

Roman sculpture of heads provides us with insight into their culture and how they viewed their subjects. For instance, some heads may have been meant to resemble gods or other ancient emperors while others did not.

Ancient Rome boasted many sculptures of heads, such as statues and mosaics. These can be found in tombs, temples, and public areas like the forum.

Roman emperors were known for their elaborate headpieces. These included crowns and wreathes, symbols of their authority and divine status.

Emperors who had achieved great success in their military campaigns would be honored with laurel wreaths during a ceremonial celebration to mark their accomplishments.

These wreaths were not only emblematic of military success, but were also presented to emperors who had achieved success in other realms such as politics or poetry. The laurel wreath was considered one of Rome’s most prestigious symbols.

Another significant symbol of head in ancient Rome was the fasces, which symbolized power and authority. This bundle of rods and an axe was carried by lictors, or attendants.

When a magistrate committed any wrongdoing, their fasces were broken to symbolize his disgrace and loss of power. Additionally, these fasces were carried by Roman magistrates during public processions such as triumphs.

Fasces were also employed as a form of communication between the magister and lictors. If they could not reach the magister, they would carry a fasce on their arms for comfort.

Fasces were sometimes displayed in public venues like forums and temples to compel viewers to respect their governing authority.

In addition to their use in public, Romans also donned head coverings such as pallas during private activities. These garments served to conceal their identity and prevent others from making judgements about them.


Rome was renowned for its highly sculptured society. You could find sculptures everywhere, from public places to private homes. This art form played an essential role in their culture as it brought people together like no other medium can today.

In ancient Rome, sculptures were created to commemorate wars, victories or military campaigns (such as Trajan’s column and Titus’ Arch). Additionally, these pieces served a didactic purpose by showing model citizens how to behave in public or private spaces like bath houses decorated with copies of classical statues.

As Rome grew increasingly powerful, they began using sculptures as propaganda to further their agendas. For instance, Augustus, the first emperor of Rome, ordered an estimated 70 portrait statues made of him to symbolize his newly acquired role and establish a connection with citizens.

Rome took their sculptures to an unprecedented level of verism, creating public works projects depicting intricate mythologies and stunning military victories. This was an integral part of their political agenda and remains one of the most iconic aspects of Roman sculpture today.

However, while these sculptures were visually stunning, they didn’t always have the desired impact on those who saw them. Most of these works were produced by upper class individuals and often idealized, while lower classes often did not share this same taste.

This was because the upper class perceived themselves as more powerful than their lower-class counterparts and thus did not need to worry about their appearance. This allowed them to showcase more realistic features on their faces such as wrinkles or scars, which became integral parts of their identity.

These were an important part of their self-worth, hoping that these flaws would make them more appealing to others. Additionally, they used them as tools to foster relationships with their subjects and form connections between themselves and the person being sculpted.


Ancient Rome used sculpture as an effective medium for both public and private communication. From houses to monuments, Romans employed sculpture to express their wealth, hospitality, military might, and devotion to the Greek gods.

Houses were often adorned with wall paintings and floor mosaics depicting animals, plants and foodstuffs. These images were meant to exude wealth and abundance while encouraging visitors to explore the home’s interior.

Similar approaches were employed on monuments, such as triumphal arches, where the emperor was depicted as a victorious leader who could motivate his troops. Trajan’s Column in Rome commemorated these successful military campaigns.

Another type of statue featured a god or figure whose divinity was highlighted in the artwork. Emperor Claudius, for instance, was depicted as an incarnation of Jupiter in an intricate cameo that circulated throughout his court.

This statue was erected to demonstrate Emperor Claudius’ power over Rome and it combines an idealized version of Greek deity with a partially nude body. Displayed in his palace, it symbolizes his deep commitment to Greek culture.

At the Prima Porta in Rome, Emperor Augustus is depicted as both a military hero and religious fanatic in this marble bust. This serves to affirm his connection to Rome’s past while also showing his devotion to his religious beliefs.

Finally, some statues were commissioned specifically with political purposes in mind. For example, the Orator statue (above) was commissioned to pay homage to the Etruscan origins of Rome; it depicts Aule Metele, an Etruscan senator in the early Roman Republic raising his arm towards a crowd and bearing engravings bearing Metele’s Etruscan parents’ names.