Arch of Constantine

The Arch of Constantine is a triple triumphal arch located along the triumphal procession between the Roman Forum and the Colosseum. Completed around 315, it was erected to honor Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge in 312 as well as to celebrate his decennalia. The Constantinian reliefs on the arch are commonly held to mark a shift in art, while it is also noteworthy for its extensive use of spolia.
This triple arch is similar in size and design to the Arch of Septimius Severus in the Roman Forum built a century earlier. It is over 25 meters wide and 21 meters high and has a large inscription above the central passage proclaiming Constantine to be the liberator of Rome. Eight columns with Corinthian capitals on the façade rest on plinths decorated with captives, soldiers and Victorias from the Constantinian era. A narrow frieze runs around the arch above the small arches with scenes of the life of Constantine: (running from east to west) the March to Verona, the Siege of Verona, the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, the Entrance to Rome, Imperial Oration from the Rostra at the Roman Forum and the Distribution of Money. Other reliefs from the Constantinian era include depictions of the sun and the moon in roundels on the ends of each arch and depictions of the seasons, river gods and Victorias in the spandrels.
Among its spolia are reliefs from sculpture originally dedicated to Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius, often with their heads recut. Above the small arches are eight Hadrianic roundels showing, for example, hunting and sacrifice scenes. The Trajanic reliefs, located inside the passageway of the central arch as well as at the end of the attic, depict battles between Romans and Dacians. Large free standing Trajanic sculpture depicting Dacian captives are located on the attic. There are also eight panels of high relief sculpture of Marcus Aurelius on the attic, depicting the emperor at war and engaged in hunting and sacrifice scenes. While the decorative program celebrates imperial authority and victory as common for triumphal arches, it has also been read as Constantine's appropriation of the earlier imperial achievements. 

Inscription

IMP(eratori) CAES(ari) FL(avio) CONSTANTINO MAXIMO

P(io) F(elicit) AUGUSTO 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


To the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantine, the Greatest, Pius, Felix, Augustus: 
inspired by divinity, in the greatness of his mind, 
he used his army to save the state by the just force of arms 
from a tyrant on the one hand and every kind of factionalism on the other; 
therefore the Senate and the People of Rome 
have dedicated this exceptional arch to his triumphs. 

Arch of Constantine

Hadrianic sculpture, roundels Boar hunt (left) Sacrifice to Apollo (right)
Constantine in the Roman Forum (Constantinian sculpture)

Arch of Constantine

Hadrianic sculpture, roundels with Lion hunt (left), Sacrifice to Hercules (right)
Distribution of Largesse (Constantinian sculpture)

Arch of Constantine

Hadrianic sculpture, roundels Departure for the hunt (left) Sacrifice to Silvanus (right)
Constantinian relief of the Siege of Verona

Hadrianic sculpture, roundels Bear hunt (left) Sacrifice to Diana (right)
Constantinian relief of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge

Hadrianic sculpture, roundels Bear hunt (left) Sacrifice to Diana (right)
Constantinian relief of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge

Dacian warriors on the Arch of Constantine (Trajanic sculpture)

Arch of Constantine

Presentation of a barbarian chieftain (Marcus Aurelius, recut as Constantine) left
Barbarian prisoners (Marcus Aurelius, recut as Constantine) right

Trajanic sculpture of Dacian warriors on the right and left

Battles Scene on the Arch of Constantine

Hadrianic sculpture, roundels Bear hunt (left) Sacrifice to Diana (right)
Constantinian relief of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge

Dacian warriors on the Arch of Constantine (Trajanic sculpture)

Arch of Constantine

Presentation of a barbarian chieftain (Marcus Aurelius, recut as Constantine) left
Barbarian prisoners (Marcus Aurelius, recut as Constantine) right
Trajanic sculpture of Dacian warriors on the right and left

Battle scene from the Great Trajanic Relief

Arch of Constantine

Sol (Constantinian sculpture)
Entry into Rome (Constantinian sculpture)

Luna (Constantinian sculpture)
Departure from Milan (Constantinian sculpture)

Arch of Constantine

Luna (Constantinian sculpture)
Departure from Milan (Constantinian sculpture)

Luna (Constantinian sculpture)
Departure from Milan (Constantinian sculpture)

Victory and prisoner on the Arch of Cons
Victory and prisoner on the Arch of Cons

Victories and prisoners on the Arch of Constantine (Constantinian sculpture)

Diagram showing architectural features and spolia by Steven Zucker

Sources

A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome by L. Richardson, Jr.

Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide by Amanda Claridge

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium by Alexander Kazhdan 

Resources

Arch of Constantine Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Arch of Constantine (Khan Academy)

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The Byzantine Legacy
Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016