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Who was the Marcus Aurelius statue in the middle age?

16 February, 2011 at 10:57 am | 2,115 views

Today everybody use to know the bronze horse statue in Rome Capitol like the monument in honor of Marco Aurelio, Roman emperor (II century a.D.), made in 176 a.D.

But which way did medieval people see this monument? And Why?

For centuries this knight and his horse have had another story that leads us into an old weird legend.

Rome since VI century a.D. was the destination of Christian pilgrims from all over the world and many stories about its wonders had been written by travelers, priests and ducts.

Two of them tell the story about the monument of Marco Aurelio, called Caballus Costantini (Constantine’s horse) in middle age.

The books where this kind of legend are report are Mirabilae urbis Romae (“The city of Rome wonders”) by Benedetto Canonico (1140-1143) and Narracio de mirabilibus urbis Romae (“The tail of the city of Rome wonders”) by Magister Gregorius (XII-XIII century a.D.).

The first one tells who really is this mysterious knight and why he was worth to be reminded. However, Benedetto did not know his real name and calls the knight quidam armiger (unknown knight).

Maybe during the barbarians’ invasions (Benedetto is not clear about the time), Rome was besieged from a dwarf king who was even a terrible wizard. Therefore a unknown knight offered his help to the Roman senate, and wanted a huge money amount and a statue in his memory if he had beaten the perfidious enemy king. So he kidnapped and killed him trampling with his horse, and Rome was finally released.

Magister Gregorius, an important English professor, confirm this legend told by Benedetto, but he is more precise about the name of the unknown knight. He give him even three different names, but he accepts only the first one:

-          Marcus (or Quintus) Quirinus: this is the name more obvious for him because it was attributed to the knight from Church authorities , and Gregorius trust blindly in them.

Other names he reports are Constantine and Theodoric:

-          Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor who gave freedom to the Christian religion in 313 a.



D. Is the name with usually the Roman people called the monument, because the statue was near the San Giovanni in Laterano basilica, built by Constantine. But the importance of Constantine was in rapid decrease in middle age because his famous act, where he gave the temporal power to the Church, had been refuting, and celebrating his memory did not seem convenient anymore.

-          Theodoric: the Goths’ king who first dominated Italy when the Roman Empire collapsed. This is the attribution that the pilgrims gave to the statue, because along the via francigena, that led them from England-France to Rome, there was several similar statues. The most important was properly the Theodoric’s bronze monument which Charles the Great took from Ravenna to Aachen in 800 a.D., when he was coming back from his coronation in Rome.

It is interesting to see how the genesis explication of the statue come from its physic details, while the memory of the real history is completely lost. In fact the legend tells about a dwarf king and an owl (who sang every morning when the dwarf king went out the encampment alone). But these characters were simply two big medieval misunderstandings. Actually the little man who was observable in old ages (today he is not there anymore) was simply a symbolic prisoner captured by Marco Aurelio, and the owl was just a tuft of the horse’s mane, which looked a bird because of its high position.


OblerLuperiWritten by (30 articles) and published on History | Useful links to know more about : , , , , , ,


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