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Thanks for visiting mitchmen, home of Mitchell's Gay Art

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Message updated 5th May 2024

Friday 5 April 2024

Defeated Army Enslaved

Charles Gleyre - Romans Under The Yoke (1858, detail)

This image depicts the subjugation of an entire, defeated army. 
The muscular soldiers have been stripped of their uniforms and armour.
Reduced to loincloths, their hands are tied behind their backs 
and noose collars of enslavement have been put round their necks.

The entire army was forced to pass under a yoke,
 symbolically bending their heads to acknowledge their failure
and the superiority of their captors,
 who flogged them as they ducked to pass through the arch.

In the full size image of this picture, the artist sought to heap further embarrassment
on the captives by surrounding them with jeering children and choirs of celebrating women.

It's an 19th century work but those sullen, masculine faces and muscular physiques 
still reach out to us across the chasm of time. 
Sadly that homoerotic tang is absent from other, grand works by Gleyre
but some have an unexpectedly modern, surreal quality,
Look for 'Egyptian Temple' and the fantasy world of 'Lost Illusions'.

In this image of the scene the captives are tethered together, like oxen. 
This illustrator seems to have heavily based his work on Gleyre's compelling image
But, he's accorded the captives more modest attire, Victorian style.

Another image of the scene shows a captive stripped completely naked
and his clothes and possessions being looted by the captors.

Other artists have imagined a less graphic format to the humiliating submission
with the 'yoke' merely symbolic, the arch actually made from the captor's spears.

However, the flimsy shifts worn by the captives here are scarcely better than full nudity
The depiction is highly sensual and the 'horns' of the aggressive captors
add a threatening tang of sexual domination to the army's subjugation.


The event that inspired these images was the ancient battle of Caudine Forks (321 BC)

It wasn't really a battle at all.
The entire Roman army was decoyed into a trap by the Samnites.
Bottled up in a canyon, they surrendered without a fight.
That's humiliation enough for any seasoned soldier.

Samnite Re-enactment Fan

I doubt that the Samnite warriors ever looked quite like this!
But that short tunic and bag dangling from his belt
might have been a useful distraction during close combat!

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