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The Arch of Constantine
The Arch of Constantine

The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch, erected c. 315 CE to commemorate the triumph of Constantine I after his victory over Maxentius in the battle at the Milvian Bridge in 312 CE. The arch is located in the valley of the Colosseum, between the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, along the road taken by the triumphal processions.

The arch is the largest of only three such arches to survive in Rome today. The two others are the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Septimius Severus, both in the nearby Forum Romanum.

The battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 CE was the decisive moment in Constantine's quest for power. He had been proclaimed Augustus by the troops in Britain in 306 CE, after the death of his father in York, and even though he had no legal right to that title, he refused to relinquish it. Likewise, Maxentius claimed the title of Augustus of the western empire. The conflict was finally resolved in the battle of the Milvian Bridge just N. of Rome, when Constantine's army defeated the numerically superior but less experienced troops of Maxentius. Maxentius perished while trying to flee across the Tiber River, as a temporary bridge made of boats collapsed under him and his troops.

Constantine entered Rome victoriously, and the senate awarded him a triumphal arch. Construction began immediately, and the arch was finished in a few years, to be consecrated in 315/316 CE on the tenth anniversary of Constantine's rise to power.

The monument is not mentioned by any ancient source, but it is clearly identified by the inscription. The year of dedication is written on the arch itself: "Votis X".

The Arch of Constantine is a three-way arch, measuring 21m in height, 25.7m in width and 7.4m in depth. The central archway is 11.5m high and 6.5m wide, while the lateral archways are 7.4m×3.4m. Eight detached Corinthian columns, four on each side, stand on plinths on the sides of the archways. The lower part, the arches and supporting piers, is build of white marble in opus quadratum, while the attic is opus latericium covered with marble slabs. The different construction techniques might indicate different construction times for the two parts, as some theories argue.

Sculptures and reliefs

The decorative elements on the monument are from different periods and are generally considered to be spolia, that is, parts taken from earlier monuments. The arch has parts from the reigns of Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius and Constantine himself. Some of the older, reused parts have been changed to give the images of former emperors the semblance of Constantine.

Diagram of the Arch of Constantine. The colours indicate the dating of the decorative elements.
Diagram of the Arch of Constantine. The colours indicate the dating of the decorative elements.

In the following two sections the individual decorative elements are described in detail.

This article has been split into 6 separate sections. Use the menu below to jump to another section.

  1. Introduction
  2. Reuse from Older Monuments
  3. Constantinian Art on the Arch
  4. Why Reuse Parts of Old Monuments?
  5. Literature and Links
  6. Photographs

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This page is linked under the names "Arch of Constantine", "Arcus Constantini" and "Arco di Costantino".

Copyright © 2003 René Seindal, last changed 2003-08-06

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