Children in the Visual Arts of Imperial Rome

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Modern approaches to Roman imperialism have often characterized Romanzation as a benign or neutral process of cultural exchange between Roman and non-Roman, conqueror and conquered. Although supported by certain types of literary and archaeological evidence, this characterization is not reflected in the visual imagery of the Roman ruling elite. In official imperial art, Roman children are most often shown in depictions of peaceful public gatherings before the emperor, whereas non-Roman children appear only in scenes of submission, triumph, or violent military activity. Images of children, those images most fraught with potential in Roman art, underscore the contrast between Roman and non-Roman and as a group present a narrative of Roman identity. As Jeannine Diddle Uzzi argues in this 2005 study, the stark contrast between images of Roman and non-Roman children conveys the ruling elite's notions of what it meant to be Roman.