For centuries, statuary décor was a main characteristic of any city, sanctuary, or villa in the Roman world. However, from the third century CE onward, the prevalence of statues across the Roman Empire declined dramatically. By the end of the sixth century, statues were no longer a defining characteristic of the imperial landscape. Further, changing religious practices cast pagan sculpture in a threatening light. Statuary production ceased, and extant statuary was either harvested for use in construction or abandoned in place.
The Afterlife of Greek and Roman Sculpture is the first volume to approach systematically the antique destruction and reuse of statuary, investigating key responses to statuary across most regions of the Roman world. The volume opens with a discussion of the complexity of the archaeological record and a preliminary chronology of the fate of statues across both the eastern and western imperial landscape. Contributors to the volume address questions of definition, identification, and interpretation for particular treatments of statuary, including metal statuary and the systematic reuse of villa materials. They consider factors such as earthquake damage, late antique views on civic versus “private” uses of art, urban construction, and deeper causes underlying the end of the statuary habit, including a new explanation for the decline of imperial portraiture. The themes explored resonate with contemporary concerns related to urban decline, as evident in post-industrial cities, and the destruction of cultural heritage, such as in the Middle East.