Ancient towns were filled with life-size bronze and marble figures – by the third century important cities of the empire could have over a thousand such statues. The habit of erecting statues in public to rulers, and to other dignitaries and benefactors, was a defining characteristic of the ancient world. The dedication of statues expressed the relationship between rulers and ruled and articulated the benefaction-and-honour system of city politics. Statues also played a significant role in defining civic identity, and in forming and perpetuating a city’s collective memory.
In the fourth to sixth centuries AD, statues continued to be erected in many parts of the empire – but already the uniform practices of earlier imperial times had broken down and become attenuated. By the mid-seventh century, the statue-habit, once ubiquitous, had completely disappeared from the Roman world. Not even in Constantinople were new statues set up.