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  • The Arch of Constantine

    By Antonio Parente

    The Arch of Constantine
    In the early 300s, Constantine the Great waged war upon some of Rome's tyrannical emperors to become the leader of all of Rome. After being named emperor by the army of Rome, Constantine waged war against the Emperor Maxentius in 312 AD to become the emperor of Western Rome. An alliance was then formed with Licinius who shared the title of Emperor of Eastern Rome with his rival Maximinus. This alliance held until Licinius attacked Maximinus, taking the title of sole Emperor of Eastern Rome. In 324 AD, Constantine attacked and defeated Licinius after years of tension between the two sides. Upon his success, Constantine became the sole Emperor of Rome, reuniting the great empire.

    The arch itself references a dedication to the emperor Constantine the Great and his victory of the tyrant emperors Maxentius and Licinius. This implies that construction would have started some time in the early 300s upon his victory. However, scholars have developed theories that may disprove this implication. One such theory states that the arch was started by Maxentius upon one of his major victories and later redesigned (at least partially) by Constantine. Another theory states that the arch was started by the Emperor Domitian some 200 years prior. No matter who started the construction, it is clear who the arch was dedicated for when taking a closer look at the inscription.

    Inscribed on the arch is a dedication written in Latin which has been translated to English:

    "To the emperor Flavius Constantine the Great
    pious and fortunate, the Senate and People of Rome
    because by divine inspiration and his own greatness of spirit
    with his army
    on both the tyrant and all his
    faction at once in rightful
    battle he avenged the State
    dedicated this arch as a mark of triumph."

    The arch is one of the largest surviving triumphal arches of the great Roman Empire. Triumphal arches date back many centuries with the common understanding that the Romans perfected the design. Before the Romans, these arches typically were single bay structures that were designed to span the length of a road so that a parade of people could be marched through. Once adopted by the Romans, the structures began to be designed as three bay structures comprised of the main central arch which was the tallest, flanked by two smaller arches, one on either side. In its simplest terms, a triumphal arch was used to commemorate any impactful event ranging from the winning of battles to the death of a member of the imperial family.

    Designed in the Corinthian order style which is the last developed of the three principal forms of architecture (Doric and Ionic being the other two) the arch stands some 70-feet tall with its three bays, the arch is an imposing structure, perhaps representing the same imposing figure that was the Roman Empire. Corinthian order is the most ornate of these three styles, which is evident when looking at the Arch of Constantine. Separating the three arches are four Corinthian columns with decorative capitals for their tops. The Corinthian columns were first developed in ancient Greece and later adopted by the Romans due to their slender and ornate style which is highlighted by the flutes and decorative capitals. Above the arches, decorative carvings can be seen. These carvings depict scenes and add to the ornate style of the Corinthian order. Standing above the carvings stand sculptures of soldiers. Many of these sculptures were reused works of art from other periods in Roman history including from the Forum of Emperor Trajan, a triumphal arch dedicated to Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and a monument dedicated to Emperor Hadrian. The common theme was to take from parts of history that were perceived as successful. This also said a great deal about Emperor Constantine and what type of Rome he wanted to see succeed. The message was that he wanted to see the glory of old become the steppingstones for the glory of the future of the great empire.


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