Citation with stable link: Daniel Mitchell, 'Armenians / Parthians: Statue of the client king Tiridates I in the Louvre (66 CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 26, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=14542.
Comments (Daniel Mitchell and Harland): This marble statue of king Tiridates I, the Parthian king of Armenia, was discovered in the Villa Borghese at Rome before being transferred (in fragmentary form) to the Louvre, where it was restored (including replacing the right arm, which is a reconstruction) sometime prior to 1832 (de Clarac and Maury 1832-34, plate 336 [link] and 1850, 224, no. 2400 [link]). This is one of several statues commissioned to celebrate Nero’s crowning of this client king at Rome about 66 CE. The photo, the painting by Panos Terlemezian (who passed away in 1941), and the drawing by de Clarac picture the statue from roughly the same vantage point but may accentuate different details.
Standing at about two metres tall, Tiridates is pictured wearing traditional Parthian clothing among nobles, including a belted tunic, a long mantle, pants, and sheathed sword. The head-gear is reminiscent of an Attic-style helmet but may also be based on Parthian head-gear. The disposition of king Tiridates in this statue is notably passive, despite the presence of a weapon. This juxtaposition may be intentional. Although the suppression of Boudicca’s revolt in the new province of Britannia had occurred under Nero’s watch around 60 CE, the closest Nero came to achieving a new conquest was this reaffirmation of the client kingdom status for Armenia. Nero only achieved this through his Syrian governor, Cn. Domitius Corbulo (died 67 CE), who had won a series of military victories against the Parthians and Armenians between 58-63 CE (see Cassius Dio, Roman History 62-63). Cassius Dio’s narrative suggests that a diplomatic peace agreement was reached in 63 CE, which stipulated among its conditions that Nero had the right to crown the king of Armenia at Rome.
Our sources suggest that Nero was framing this diplomatic win as a military victory in light of an absence of perceived accomplishments. Suetonius (writing about 121 CE) pictures Tiridates, as defeated suppliant, falling at Nero’s feet before being lifted up by his right hand and kissed, suggesting restoration of relations with Tiridates clearly in a submissive role (Suetonius, Nero 13). Nero removes Tiridates’ hair-band or turban and replaces it with the diadem of a client king. On this compare Roman coins depicting defeated peoples kneeling as suppliants (link). Dio alludes to this victory-focussed interpretation in his more elaborate and much later (ca. 233 CE) coverage of the entire affair, including descriptions of Tiridates’ nine month journey to Italy, the spectacle events staged upon Tiridates’ arrival at port city of Puteoli, and finally the crowning in the Roman Forum where Nero is pictured dressed in triumphal gear and leading a victory procession. The negative press that Nero faced after his death and the condemnation of his memory make it hard to evaluate the nuances of Nero’s principate. Yet the pattern of this imperial propaganda and spectacle around Tiridates aligns with other similar situations involving subject peoples.
Works consulted: De Clarac and A. Maury, Musée de sculpture antique et moderne, Text volume 4 (Paris: Victor Texier, 1850), 224, no. 2400 (link) / Plates volume 3 (Paris: Victor Texier, 1832-34) plate 336 (link).
Source of images: Photo of the full monument by the “Admin” of “peopleofar.com”, used under fair use provisions after repeated attempts to communicate with the photographer (link); photo of the painting by Terlemezian Panos (1865-1941), public domain (link); sketch of the statue by de Clarac and Maury 1832-34, plate 336, public domain.