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Obelisks still in exile: Monuments made to measure?

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Chapter Summary

The first volume of Erik Iversen's magisterial Obelisks in Exile provides not only the basis for my own title but in fact the necessary starting point for any consideration of Rome's obelisks. This chapter outlines a new framework within which to try to make historical sense of obelisks. Let us restate as the overarching question: “What did obelisks mean to Romans of the Empire?” This broad question clearly invites several possible answers, urging us to consider such varied aspects as their transportation; the measuring of obelisks and the use of them to provide measurements; the habit of adding inscriptions to them; problems involved in describing them; and finally imitations and representations. A fuller account of visual responses to obelisks might thus examine not only ancient frescoes and mosaics but also modern architectural appropriations of the obelisk form.

Keywords: Erik Iversen; Obelisks in Exile; Roman world



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