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Arch of Constantine

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

The triumphal arch is a monument of glory to Emperor Constantine the Great. It was issued in Rome on July 25, 315 CE. to celebrate the tenth anniversary of government (decennalia) and his victory over Maxentius in the battle of the Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312 CE.

The construction of the arch lasted from 312 to 315 CE. The building, 21 meters high, 25 meters wide and 7 meters deep, was placed near the Colosseum and the Temple of Venus and Roma, between the Palatine and Celius hills. This place was not accidental, because this is where the route of triumph led (via Triumphalis), which the emperor walked during the empire.

In the Middle Ages, the triumphal arch was included in the construction of one of the fortresses, thanks to which the building has largely survived to this day. The first major renovation works were carried out in the 18th century.

Design and decoration

Bas-relief on the Arch of Constantine the Great. Reliefs from the time of Constantine are characterized by one planarity and symmetrical composition in which the figure of the ruler placed in the centre is presented frontally.
Na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa - Na tych samych warunkach 3.0.

The arch has a three-span structure. It has one main and two smaller entrances with four Corinthian columns placed on high pedestals decorated with reliefs. Above them in the attic were eight sculptures depicting the Dacians, personifying the Dacian tribes conquered by Trajan. The sculptures come from the time of Trajan. Besides the figures are panels with reliefs, which were taken from an unknown monument created in honour of Marcus Aurelius. They show events from the reign of the emperor, including the emperor’s triumphant return (adventus), the ruler leaving the city, the distribution of coins among the people, or the interrogation of a German prisoner by Marcus Aurelius. On the attic, there are also panels with reliefs referring to the achievements of Emperor Trajan, which were taken from the frieze of a building from the time of Trajan. Placing decorations from objects from the Nerva–Antonine dynasty proves that Constantine wanted to refer to the golden period of the Empire.

The inscription above the main passage says:

IMP(eratori) · CAES(ari) · FL(avio) · CONSTANTINO · MAXIMO · P(io) · F(elici) · AVGUSTO · S(enatus) · P(opulus) · Q(ue) · R(omanus) · QVOD · INSTINCTV · DIVINITATIS · MENTIS · MAGNITVDINE · CVM · EXERCITV · SVO · TAM · DE · TYRANNO · QVAM · DE · OMNI · EIVS · FACTIONE · VNO · TEMPORE · IVSTIS · REMPVBLICAM · VLTVS · EST · ARMIS · ARCVM · TRIVMPHIS · INSIGNEM · DICAVIT

so:

To the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantinus, the greatest, pious, and blessed Augustus: because he, inspired by the divine, and by the greatness of his mind, has delivered the state from the tyrant and all of his followers at the same time, with his army and just force of arms, the Senate and People of Rome have dedicated this arch, decorated with triumphs.

The words INSTINCTV DIVINITATIS, meaning “inspired by the divine”, are sometimes understood as confirmation of a change of religion by the emperor.

Below the main passage is the inscription: LIBERATORI VRBIS – FUNDATORI QVIETIS, meaning “liberator of the city – founder of peace”.

Two relief medallions from the time of Hadrian are located just above the passage. The first one located on the south shows scenes related to hunting. The other on the north shows scenes from hunting for bears and lions, sacrificing to Apollo and Hercules.

The arch has a three-span structure with four columns in Corinthian order.
Na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa - Na tych samych warunkach 3.0.

The frieze so-called a continuous, surrounding object, which was built during the reign of Constantine. Constantine taking part in the war with Maxentius can be seen on it many times. Reliefs show, among others the victorious battle at the Mulwijski Bridge, drowning in the Maxentius River, the entrance of Constantine to Rome, the speech of Constantine to the people at the Roman Forum and the distribution of awards (liberalitas). The figure of the emperor is always in the centre. Other figures on the bas-relief are shown in profile, which further elevated Constantine. This work is done in one plan. Medallions on the side walls depict Diana, the Moon and the Sun. Images of Victoria from the main passage and figures of barbarians standing at the base of the arch also come from the time of Constantine.

The triumphal arch of Constantine the Great was originally crowned with a bronze quadriga led by Sol Invictus, which, however, was looted during the capture of Rome by the Goths (410 CE) or Vandals (455 CE).

Sources
  • Mary Beard, The Roman Triumph, 2009
  • Bernard Berenson, The Arch of Constantine: The Decline of Form, London 1954
  • Brigitte Hintzen-Bohlen, Rzym. Sztuka i architektura
  • Witold Szolginia, Architektura, Warszawa 1992

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