Roman army

Trying Hard to Show it Wrong

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Roman relief of a man wearing what scholars call an “Attic helmet” (style of first or second century CE, Palazzo Ducale, Mantova, inv. gen. 6733). Showing someone wearing one of these helmets associated them with Greek culture, but examples from this period are hard to find in the ground.

People, especially people who are most interested in material culture, often find it hard to accept that ancient art does not directly and literally depict the world. People who recreate Roman material culture, for example, often fret that when we can check it against other evidence, Trajan’s column is usually wrong. “But the rest of the sculpture is so lifelike,” they complain. “Shouldn’t we use what evidence we have?” “Why would they go to so much trouble to depict something wrong?”

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