Arco di Costantino

That of Constantine is the most majestic arch of triumph in Rome, the largest and richest honorary arch of our time.

A triumphal arch full of sculptures

The Arch of Constantine is the largest honorary arch of our time. It is located between the Colosseum and the arch of Titus on the Roman road traveled by the triumphal processions and which goes towards the temple of Jupiter Capitoline.

The arch celebrates the victory of the Roman emperor Constantine against Maxentius after the battle of Milvio bridge took place on 28 October 312 AD and the tenth anniversary of his reign (315 AD).

The Arch of Constantine fits into a long Roman tradition where triumph in battle was represented. The art of representation takes shape in Rome with definite rules, which sometimes proceed autonomously with respect to the phenomenology of historical events, but which interact strongly with it. Rostral columns, equestrian monuments, images of Victories and trophies, submissive enemies and divine statues began to decorate the Capitol, the Forum, then all the relevant political spaces and the temples of Rome from the end of the fourth century BC, configuring the first traces of a genus destined to have a long life.

Above the fornix, at the centre of the two sides of the arch, is the inscription:

Imp · caes · fl · constantino · maximo · p · f · avgusto · s · p · q · r · qvod · instinctv · divinatatis · mentis · magnitvdine · cvm · exercitv · svo · tam · de · tyranno · qvam · de · omni · eivs · factione · vno · tempore · ivstis · rem-publicam · vltvs · est · armis · arcvm · trivmphis · insignem · dicavit ·

Translation:

“To the cesar emperor Flavio Costantino maxim, pious, happy, august, the senate and the Roman people who, for the inspiration of the divinity and for the greatness of his spirit with his army, he avenged at once the state of a tyrant and of all his faction with just weapons, they dedicated this outstanding arch of triumphs.”

The Arch of Constantine has three arches with a larger central passage and two smaller lateral ones.

The arch is built in a square marble in the pillars, while the attico, which is accessible, is made of concrete masonry and covered with marble blocks.

The Arch of Constantine is decorated with marble slabs in relief obtained from more ancient monuments. In reality, the entire arch is mainly decorated with sculptures from monuments from earlier periods of the Traiano, Adriano and Commodus periods.

Other elements such as frames, capitals and columns have also been recycled.

The decoration in relief marble slabs was conceived and made in the Constantinian age according to a single project, using mainly materials from other imperial monuments. On the main faces of the arch and on the sides, in symmetrical patterns, are reliefs from the age of Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius alternating, and finally, in the lower sector, from the age of Constantine. All the faces of the emperors appearing in the reliefs have been reshaped into the likeness of Constantine, with the nimbus connoting their imperial majesty.

Modern critics have assigned the function of synthesising the changes of the Constantinian era in monumental form to the arch. Both in the iconographic details of the figures and in the large inscription that appears, identical, on the attico on both facades, reconstruct the events of 312 and present symbols of the early conversion of Constantine and the rejection of the emperor to the traditional ascent as the final scene of the triumph, at the Giove Capitolino temple. In the monument we see a voluntary figurative ambiguity, which would reflect the implementation of a compromise between the Christian faith of the emperor and the customs of pagan Rome.

Including the attico, the monument is 25 metres high.

Overall, the Arch of Constantine can be considered a sort of museum of official Roman sculpture because it contains precious “pieces” from different eras belonging to different important monuments.

It’s considered the triumphal arch of Rome par excellence and thanks to its vicinity to the Colosseum, it has also become one of the symbolic places immortalised by tourists.

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