The Monumental Statue of Ovid / The History of Romania in One Object
Updated: Nov 21, 2021
Photo 1: The statue of Ovid in Constanța
I. The Exile and the Mystery of Ovid’s Grave
Publius Ovidius Naso (Ovid), a most brilliant Latin poet, is recognized worldwide and is one of the symbols of the Romanian eastern province of Dobrogea. Ancient sources reveal that he was relegated to Tomis (present day Constanța) in the fall of year 8 AD by order of Emperor Octavian Augustus. Relegation (relegatio) was a milder form of exile, in the sense that the relegated person did not lose his or her civil rights and his or her wealth was not confiscated.
Ovid received the news while he was passing time on the island of Elba (Ilva in Latin, after the Ligurian tribe of the Ilvats), accompanied by one of his friends. He swiftly returned to Rome, packed, and left taking with him two slaves, the so called “partners for the way”.
Photo 2: Map of Ovid's long and dangerous journey from Rome to Tomis
After a long and dangerous journey that lasted at least three to four months, Ovid arrived at Tomis in the spring of year 9 AD, most likely in April. He would remain there until the end of his life, at the age of 60. The traditional date of Ovid's death is the year 17 AD, but there is also a solid theory that dates his death a year later, in 18 AD.
In his Tomis exile Ovid wrote Epistulae Ex-Ponto (Letters from the Black Sea) and Tristia, works in which he describes the Roman province of Little Scythia (Scythia Minor) and the people who inhabited these wild lands.
The reason for Ovid’s relegation remains a mystery, which aroused and still arouses many controversies. There are several theories, but the Poet himself wrote that he was exiled for carmen et error, "a poem and a mistake". Perhaps the reason for his exile was Ars Amandi or Ars Amatoria - The Art of Love, a blow to the rigid morality imposed by the emperor, or maybe the Metamorphoses, another revolutionary work that bothered Augustus. It was also said that the poet had a detrimental influence on the emperor's niece, Julia Minor, or that he annoyed the emperor's stepson, the future emperor Tiberius. Some also say that the "mistake" mentioned by Ovid is that he had seen the emperor's wife, Livia, naked, in an indecent pose. From the historical sources (especially medieval ones which cited ancient sources) it appears that the Poet’s funeral took place ante oppidimi portam, meaning in front of the city gates. In Ovid's time, the Great Gate of the Tomis fortress was placed somewhere in what is today the old part of central Constanța. However, his grave was not discovered yet. Some believe that his sarcophagus is at the bottom of the sea while others think that it is deeply hidden in the earth that covers the Old City. I fact, we do not even know if Publius Ovidius Naso was cremated or buried. This is quite understandable as around the 1st up to the 3rd centuries AD all over the Greek and Roman world both rituals were practiced simultaneously. Thus, burial was more popular until the 2nd century AD and incineration gained ground and was used more later, until the beginning of the 4th century AD when Christianity finally imposed the burial as the norm.
II. The Statue of Ovid and Its Story
Modern Constanța was enriched and truly embellished with the statue of the great Latin poet in 1887. The idea of a statue of Ovid belonged to the first prefect of the county, Remus Opreanu. He contacted the Italian sculptor Ettore Ferrari, who created the artwork, finished it in 1883 and sent it to Romania.
Photo 3: The inauguration of 1887
However, the statue was placed on its pedestal and inaugurated only three years after its arrival. For unknown reasons, it had been abandoned and forgotten in a warehouse. The inauguration took place on August 18 1887, in the presence of numerous local and national officials and obviously, in the presence of the person who initiated the project, Remus Opreanu. Finally, the great Latin poet got the place he deserved, in central Constanța.
In 1887, the present day Ovid Square looked totally different and was named the Independence Square. This area would be systematized only in 1921, with the completion of construction of the Communal Palace or the Town Hall (started in 1912 but pun on hold because of the outbreak of the First World War), which is today the Museum of National History and Archeology Constanța.
Photo 4-6: The statue and the central square. Aspects from between 1910-1921
The event of August 18, 1887 was a crucial one for the history of the city. A symbol of Dobrogea and of the Romanian Latinity, Ovid became, after almost two millennia, the recognized son of Tomis. Everybody was excited, and the event aroused interest throughout Romania and abroad.
Photo 7-8: During the First World War, the German-Bulgarian occupation forces arrived in Constanța. The Bulgarian troops took down the statue and the Germans put it back again
From 1878 to 1921, the statue of Ovid was placed in various positions. The 7.2 feet bronze statue was initially facing north, but in the following decades it was moved three times. In the autumn of 1916, during the First World War, the German-Bulgarian occupation forces arrived in Constanța. The Bulgarian troops took down the statue of Ovid from the pedestal. By order of General Von Mackensen, the Germans intervened and put the statue back, thus saving it from destruction.
In 1925, in the hometown of Ovid (Sulmona, ancient Sulmo, Italy) was inaugurated a copy of the statue of Ovid, made by the same sculptor, Ferrari.
Text by historian Cristian Cealera. Video presentation by historian Andreea Andrei. Film concept by Cristian Cealera and Constantin Țițineanu. A project developed together with the Museum of National History and Archaeology in Constanța.
The building of the Museum of National History and Archaeology
You can't say you have visited Constanta if you didn't stop, for an hour at least, at the Museum of National History and Archaeology, the monumental building located in the Ovidiu/Ovid Square. Here, in the imposing construction erected exactly a century ago (in 1921) one can easily find evidence of a fascinating history, vestiges that help reconstruct the stories of the millennial city which in the Ancient times used to be called Tomis.
From 1921 until 1977, the building was home to the City Hall and, in the interwar period, was known as the Communal Palace, as Constanţa was at that time an urban commune, municipality and county seat. The edifice became the museum's headquarters on December 25, 1977, with ancient artifacts finally finding their well-deserved home, after endless pilgrimages through various other locations.
Today, the Museum of National History and Archaeology is visited by tens of thousands of tourists from around the world, eager to learn the stories of a settlement two and a half millennia old. A city that was founded and developed by the Greeks of Miletus, which flourished under Roman and Roman-Byzantine rule, survived the troubled times of the Middle Ages and continued to exist during Ottoman rule in Dobrogea, Romania’s south-eastern historical province. Today's Constanţa tells us both the stories of the ancient Tomis, and of a stylish city that became part of the modern Romanian state in 1878.
However, treasures of the region are also hosted by regional museums such as Histria, Adamclisi or Capidava, all administered by the History Museum in Constanța. This project highlights six exquisite objects which tell the fascinating story of Dobrogea.
Our online series THE HISTORY OF ROMANIA IN ONE OBJECT, developed in partnership with some of the most important history museums in the country, evokes decisive epochs in Romania's past starting from artifacts or vestiges with powerful symbolic, representative value.