Detail of Nerva’s head with visible alteration in the basis of the neck.
Though of the reared horse it remains only the head, the fore legs and the left hind hoof, this is the only great composition (statue plus horse) which has reached us of the rampant horse type.
The equestrian statue, found in the temple of Miseno, initially idealized Domitian (81—96 A.D.). After his death and the damnatio memoriae (it provided the destruction of all the traces which could eternalize the personage, as if the condemned man had never been born — writer’s note), thanks to a careful work of re-using, it represented his successor Nerva (96—98 A.D.).
To understand better the personage Domitian we should compare the equestrian statue of this emperor to the one of Mark Aurelius in the Capitol. His equestrian statue expresses itself in the static position of the horse (only one fore leg is lifted), the rider holds the reins with one hand and with the other one he tranquillizes the city: Mark Aurelius is seen as Pacator. In diametric opposition is the attitude of the statue of Domitian-Nerva in the Archaeological Museum of the Phlegraean Fields.
The emperor is on the back of the reared horse and closes his legs around the abdomen of the animal, with his left hand he holds strongly the reins, his look darts towards the ground, while his right arm is lifted and the lance (which we should imagine) is ready to hit the enemy.
The extraordinary expressive force and the unusual violence which appears through the bronze group reflects a military ideology reserved to the conqueror, to the victorious leader and so the rider is seen as Dominator.
The sculptural pattern was the one raised to Dion by Lysippus in 334 B.C. and reduced in the I century A.D. in Herculaneum. It is a reduction of the commemorative group of the battle of Granico, in which Alexander the Great hits with a cutting blow a Persian.
It is possible to read on the armour that before Nerva on the horse there was Domitian. It is short and equal to the one worn in battle by the Great Macedonian. The same kind of armour, in an outburst of folly, wore Gaio Caligula when, in order to celebrate his triumph, connected with a bridge made of ships the two cities Puteoli (Pozzuoli) and Bauli (Bacoli).
In both cases and for different reasons, the two emperors tried to identify themselves with the Great Macedonian leader.
Few images concerning the emperor Nerva reached us; his reign lasted little (from 96 to 98 A.D.). The facial mask of the equestrian statue points out exactly his somatic features. When he ascended to power in 96 A.D. he was nearly 70, a great legislator but old and tired, so that he let himself be helped on the throne by his adoptive son Traiano.
Nerva had not an exceptional body like his dangerous predecessor, he was short (like the greatest part of the Romans), minute and with a skinny face. This created some problems to the artists of Miseno when they had to insert on the big head of Domitian the facial mask of the skinny Nerva.