Images of Plenty and Prosperity

Images of plenty and prosperity appear on monuments from the ancient Roman and Byzantine Empires. The celebration of the harvest and the promise of providing for the people often are depicted alongside references to control of the chaos of natural forces.

On the Augustus of Primaporta (executed in marble that would have been painted) the allegorical figure of plenty reclines at the base of the Emperor’s cuirass. Facing to the emperor’s right, the figure holds an overflowing cornucopia on her lap; two babies reach up to her for sustenance.

A similar composition fills one of the panels on the Ara Pacis Augustae (which also would have been painted). The figure, sometimes identified as Tellus or Pax, dominates the center of this relief panel. In her lap are the fruits of the harvest while grains grow and fauna flower around her. Beneath her and in the foreground, animals suggest the fecundity of the herd.

The Byzantine Emperor, Justinian I, adopted a number of ancient Roman  motifs in this panel. The depiction of the Emperor, on horseback and with a Nike figure in the upper right-hand corner, promotes his military successes. Beneath the horse’s hooves another allegorical figure celebrates the harvest and promises prosperity under Justinian’s leadership. Harvested fruits and grain fill her lap and tip out towards the viewer.

References: Zanker, Paul. Roman Art. Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008;  Bardoz, Marie-Cécile. Leaf of a diptych: The Emperor Triumphant, Louvre Museum of Art online.


Hans Weingartz, Augustus of Primaporta, early 1st century CE, marble, originally painted. Vatican: Musei Vaticani, 6′8″. Wikimedia Commons.

Ara Pacis Augustae, 13-9BCE. Rome (Italy). Wikimedia Commons.

Luciano Tronati. Detail of Relief panel, rear facade, Ara Pacis Augustae, 13-9BCE. Rome, Italy. Wikimedia Commons.

The Emperor Triumphant (or the Barberini Ivory), mid-6th century. Paris: Musée du Louvre. Wikimedia Commons.


Further reading: John Williams. Augustus. New York: New York Review of Books Classics, 2014; Thomas R. Martin. Ancient Rome: From Romulus to Justinian. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013.

Posted by Jennifer D. Webb

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