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Arch of Constantine

Arch of Constantine (north side)

The Arch of Constantine (Latin Arcus Constantini, Italian Arco di Costantino) is a triple triumphal arch located along the route of the triumphal procession between the Roman Forum (Forum Romanum) and the Colosseum. Completed around 315, it was erected to honor Constantine’s victory over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge in 312 – and at the same time 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 – reused reliefs from the second century CE.

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 as the liberator of Rome. Eight columns with Corinthian capitals on the façade rest on plinths decorated with captives, soldiers, and the personifications of victory (Victoria) from the Constantinian era. A narrow frieze runs around the arch above the small arches with scenes of the recent activities of Constantine. These reliefs depict (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 personifications of the seasons, river gods, and victory in the spandrels.

Among its spolia are reliefs from monuments 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 and at the end of the attic, depict battles between Romans and Dacians. Several large free-standing Trajanic statues 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 is typical for triumphal arches, it has also been read as Constantine's appropriation of the earlier imperial achievements.

Inscription (south side)

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. 

View of the Arch of Constantine (south side) and the Colosseum

South left side of the Arch of Constantine

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

South right side of the Arch of Constantine

Hadrianic roundels: Boar hunt (left) Sacrifice to Apollo (right)

Constantinian relief with the Battle of the Milvian Bridge

North left side of the Arch of Constantine

Hadrianic roundels: Boar hunt (left), Sacrifice to Diana (right)
Constantinian relief with Constantine in the Roman Forum

North right side of the Arch of Constantine

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

Arrival of the emperor (Marcus Aurelius, recut as Constantine) left
Departure of the emperor (Marcus Aurelius, recut as Constantine) right

Trajanic statues of Dacian warriors on the right and left

Imperial generosity (Marcus Aurelius, recut as Constantine) left
Submission of the defeated (Marcus Aurelius, recut as Constantine) right

Trajanic statues of Dacian warriors on the right and left

Detail of Constantinian relief of the Departure from Milan 

Details of Constantinian reliefs with the Siege of Verona and the Battle of the Milvian Bridge

Arch of Constantine.jpg

Details of Constantinian reliefs with Constantine in the Roman Forum and the Distribution of Largesse​​

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

Emperor addressing soldiers (Marcus Aurelius, recut as Constantine) left
Sacrifice (Marcus Aurelius, recut as Constantine) right

Battle Scenes from Trajanic reliefs (from east and west ends)

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

Sol (Constantinian relief)

Luna (Constantinian relief)

Departure from Milan (Constantinian sculpture)

Luna (Constantinian relief)

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

References 

Bardill, J. Constantine, Divine Emperor of the Christian Golden Age

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

Claridge, A. Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide 

Kazhdan, A. (ed.) Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium 

Resources

Arch of Constantine Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

The Hadrianic Tondi on the Arch of Constantine (Following Hadrian)

Arch of Constantine (Khan Academy)

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