Column of Merten - Jumper with the Anguiped

  • Column of Merten - Jumper with the Anguiped
The column discovered in Merten, in 1878, is a masterpiece of the museum of Metz. It is certainly not a unique piece because it is part of a rich and varied corpus, but its monumental aspect places it in the ranks of the very beautiful sculptures uncovered in East Gaul. It brings together elements from the Greek Mythology, the Roman Pantheon and the Celtic tradition. 

The superposition of five parts allows the head of the rider to be enthroned at nearly 12 meters in height. A stone with four gods serves as the basis of the whole: we can see Hercules, Apollo, Juno and Minerva. Then a niche drum presents the deities of the week. Here, an essential indication identifies the jumper. This is the letter M which, on other copies, associated with an I and an O , forms the initials IOM : Iovi Optimus Maximus (ie: "To Jupiter very good and very great"), . Finally, a shaft decorated with a capital decorated with allegories of the seasons supports the sculpted group. 

This one presents Jupiter breaking down an anguiped, a half-man & half-serpent monster who, in the Greek tradition, belongs to the race of giants. Gigantomachy relates this episode in which Porphyrion dies, struck by Zeus-Jupiter. Through assimilation, this giant incarnates the barbarians the Roman emperor, under the features of the jumper, must submit. The discovery of columns near the limes seems to support this hypothesis. 

However, the rapprochement of Jupiter with Taranis deserves to be evoked. Like him, he is the master of lightning and natural phenomena. Moreover, some sculptured groups (Obernburgam-Main, Bavaria) show a Jupiter which does not brandish either a thunderbolt or a spear, but a wheel, the attribute of the Celtic god. 

Note that several columns have been found in rural areas, in a context of private habitat, hamlets or farms. This geographical element seems to be very important since it allows the rider to be considered in another perspective, always clearly protective, but much more focused on everyday work. Thus, this Jupiter-Taranis which unleashes the storms  also probably played a major role in the Gallo-Roman popular beliefs related to the fertility of the soil. 
The iconography of the columns of Jupiter presupposes several interpretations. With a strong concentration of anguiped horsemen in the middle Rhine valley, not far from the limes, it is reasonable to think that it was a martial Jupiter, an adversary of barbarism, which imposed itself among the legionaries.
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