“A horse! A horse!” (I’ll bet you know the rest Richard Armitage…)

The spring semester is in full swing and after a brief hiatus, I’m back in Rome again…HBO’s Rome, that is.  I suppose it’s not surprising that I’m veering toward things Roman.  Res Romani Equites as it happens.

The equestrian statue…namely, a general or other prominent person ahorse, can be found in many ancient cultures, but it became a characteristically Roman thing.  The Romans, in all of their militaristic showmanship, really loved the commemorative life sized equestrian statue…a pedestrian strolling through the ancient Roman forum would have passed any number of them.

This pair depicting the proconsul Marcus Nonius Balbus, was found in prominent position in the forum of the seaside resort of Herculaneum which was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79AD.  The cities of Vesuvius yielded a number of well preserved examples of one the Roman’s favorite forms of public display…but all in marble.  Marble statues are nice, but the cream of the crop equestrian statues in Rome, depicting victorious generals and conquering emperors, would certainly have been cast in beautiful gleaming bronze.

The problem with bronze is that nobody following the Romans chose pagan equestrian statues over Christian cannon balls and bullets.  In fact, later inhabitants of previously Roman territories were so diligent in melting these statues down, that only a single one remains…

Marcus Aurelius Ahorse Capitoline Museum - Rome

Marcus Aurelius Ahorse
Capitoline Museum – Rome

Most scholars agree that this bronze escaped the melting pot because it was originally mis-attributed as a sculpture of the 4th century emperor Constantine who was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity.   It really is a beautiful example of Roman bronzework and of the interest they had in displaying imperial power.  The bits of the horse’s face that are free of patina give a hint at how stunning pieces like this would have looked when gleaming in the Roman sunlight.

Given Richard Armitage’s well established affinity to a number of res Romani, it stands to reason that he could give a credible showing in this beloved Roman genre, and sure enough,

gisborne equestrian 1

he nails the overall equestrian stance here as Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood S2 Ep10, and a close up reveals that he’s got the imperial gravitas under control as well.


Fast forward a few years and here he is again…as a king this time…once again owning the equestrian look:


I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that he’s cheating a bit since he’s using stirrups where the Roman equestrians are clearly without them. (Much more challenging to keep one’s seat and control ones mount without stirrups – they are not thought to have arrived in Europe until the Middle Ages).  

Speaking of the Middle Ages, I’m anticipating an impressive addition to the equestrian corpus once Raymond de Merville arrives on the scene.


Methinks I spy a stirrup off the left gauntlet…

Saddle Up Armitageworld!

15 comments on ““A horse! A horse!” (I’ll bet you know the rest Richard Armitage…)

  1. Guylty says:

    How amazing to think that only one bronze statue escaped the fate of being melted for canons etc. How do we know that they were ubiquitous, by the way? Are they mentioned in texts?
    PS: Guy looks magnificent on a horse *grins*

    • obscura says:

      Bronzes are pretty rare in general – the ones that remain have usually resurfaced from deeply inaccessible places – underwater, under volcanic debris, from tombs.

      You are dead on about the textual references…late imperial descriptions refer to at least 22 “equi magni” (over life size) bronze equestrians in Rome, yet MA is the sole survivor.

      Guy looks positively majestic doesn’t he? (That must have been a good day with equine Richie)

      • Guylty says:

        A Richie double-whammy. Those two were born to be together. I suppose it took Richie A. a little while to establish the relationship with his horse. Maybe his hair wasn’t long enough for a little “hair thing” between them?
        When I really think about it, it is just amazing that we have all these artworks (and other things) from ancient times, over 2000 years old etc.

  2. jholland says:

    I watched “Rome” a few months back and enjoyed it. Can’t remember if they used stirrups, though. Really love that bronze statue. So irritating that so many would have been melted down for cannons!

    • obscura says:

      They probably did in reality, but I think they tried to cover it up for authenticity…there are several scenes where a slave drops down on all fours for a General to step on his back up onto the horse. (I’ve now started watching for details since I can recite the dialogue 😃)

  3. Esther says:

    I saw Marcus Aurelius on his horse when I was in Rome a few years ago! A picture of it is part of my husband’s photo screensaver on the family computer. Nice to see it with reference to Richard! Makes me see that picture in a whole new light when I see it appear on the screensaver now. 🙂

  4. That MA bronze is so intricate! The early Roman technologies were really amazing! And I’m sorry to hear that the rest of the statues are lost to history and the furnace.

    Richard always seems majestic atop a horse–whether he is portraying a king or not. And I would imaging that his horse is very tall–otherwise, Richard’s own tallness might cause his feet to drag the ground. Ha! So the staggering height of him atop a horse wins in impressiveness every time.

  5. linnetmoss says:

    I love the Marcus Aurelius statue. A rare treasure.
    And yes, de Merville is going to be great on horseback! The horses the knights used must have been huge, to carry all the extra weight of the armor.

  6. […] one of the sexiest moments in Robin Hood, period, it’s brought me to my verbal knees before. Others have found that moment inspiring, […]

  7. Hariclea says:

    Uff only saw this post now, sorry! My wp feed seems to be very capricious I need to check the blog directly otherwise such equestrian beauty escapes me involuntarily. Sad about all those bronzes 😦is there a strong preservation reason why they ones found are not cleaned and polished to their initial glory? They must have been spectacular and all that detail… I’ve always loved depictions of heroes and horses 😊 didn’t known about the stirrups very interesting. A d yes our hero per horse is especially majestic 😊 it’s one reasons I won’t mind if more historical drama comes his way if we get to see him like this again. Guy on a horse always stomped forest boy to the ground so throughly 😆

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