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date: 16 October 2019

Arch of Constantine (Rome)locked

  • Giovanna Tedeschi Grisanti



A three-vaulted structure, dedicated in AD 315, which stands between the Caelian and Palatine hills, on the triumphal way from the Circus Maximus to the Arch of Titus (see fig.). Inscriptions on both north and south faces of the arch (on the part of the attic storey above the central span and on the entablatures over the side openings) record that it was erected by the Roman people after the victory of Constantine over Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge (28 Oct AD 312) in gratitude for his first decade as emperor and as a votive offering for his second. Contemporary literary sources, however, make no mention of the arch, and the first extant reference to it is in the anonymous Carolingian Itinerary of Einsiedeln (Einsiedeln Abbey).

The Arch of Constantine faces north and south, and both of these longer sides are articulated by four Corinthian columns in yellow Numidian marble, with four pilasters and statues fronting the flat-topped attic storey. It is the largest triumphal arch to survive intact (h. 20 m, w. 25 m), with a central opening measuring 11.45×6.50 m and openings either side of 7.40×3.35 m. Its elevation is entirely of marble, except for the brick fill of the attic storey. Part of the material for its construction was, however, obtained from Flavian buildings. Even the sculptures vary in date. Among those of Constantine’s own period are the reliefs on the eight tall plinths for the columns. Those of the south façade depict Victories with trophies and barbarian prisoners, as do the two outer plinths of the north façade. The inner plinths flanking the central opening (north) depict Victories writing on shields, and further Victories bearing trophies appear with Genii of the Seasons in the spandrels of the central arch, while river gods occupy those of the side openings. The historical frieze running round most of the arch just above the side openings is also of Constantinian date. On the west side, six panels illustrate the ...

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