A walk through the ruins of the glorious empire’s centre: a voyage to discover those monuments built for celebration.
(by NikonZ7II, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
A short distance from the famous Colosseum lies the Arch of Constantine. It represents another triumphal gateway inaugurated in 315 CE on the occasion of the emperor’s “decennalia” (ten-year reign). This triumphal arch represents what became almost a custom to mark Rome’s victory after successful campaigns. In fact, in the Republican era, the building these arches became a political promotion. However, it was not always so, and despite few sources, the first ones were initially built of wood and dismantled at the end of the celebration, which could last for days.
Since the advent of the Augustan Empire, this commemorative act became a right and honour only reserved for the emperor. Thus, from being celebratory elements of the whole empire, they became monuments to symbolize the empire’s individual regent and deeds. This fashion spread to all the cities and provinces of the vast imperial kingdom to emphasise the power of the emperor in each province. The Arch became a veritable museum and official exhibition and publicity space, extraordinary in artistic worth and importance.
The arches became colossal works, often exceeding five meters in width. Reliefs, sculptures, and other decorative elements make these architectural works artistic masterpieces to this day. Images carved on the stone often refer to victorious moments in war, usually accompanied by inscriptions at the top of the arch.
The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch with three “fornixes”, that is, with a central passage flanked by two smaller side passages, extraordinary in richness and beauty. Its dimensions are truly mammoth, which, in proportion, almost bear comparison with the nearby Colosseum. Its 21 meters high, 26 meters wide, and 7.4 meters deep make it a feat clearly made to last and pass the message of Rome’s greatness to future generations.
The Senate dedicated the arch to commemorate Constantine I’s victory over Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (Oct. 28, 312). The arch is built of square marble work in the piers, while the attic, which houses an accessible space, is made of masonry and concrete covered on the outside with marble blocks. White marbles of different qualities were indifferently used, probably reused from older monuments. Emperor Constantine seems not to have hesitated to allow the subtraction of pre-existing sculptures and monuments to create an absolute masterpiece. An example of this artistic “borrowing” is that magnificent 3-meter representation of Dacian prisoners traceable to the time of Trajan. In addition, the arch doors are surmounted by ten panels showing battle scenes through high reliefs. Because of the artistic finish and complexity of the forms and motifs, this work symbolises Rome’s greatness.
In the centre of the attic is the following inscription:
To the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantine Maximus Pius Felix Augustus, the Senate and the Roman people, since by divine inspiration and the greatness of his spirit at once with his army he avenged the state, by means of a just war, both from a tyrant and from every faction thereof, dedicated this distinguished arch for triumphs.