Arch of Constantine

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The Arch of Constantine viewed from the Via Triumphalis

The Arch of Constantine is a three-sided triumphal arch in Rome . It was erected in honor of the Emperor Constantine in memory of his victory at the Milvian Bridge (in 312) over his adversary Maxentius .


It seems clearly recognizable that the parapet was added later

The Arch of Constantine was begun in 312 and consecrated on July 25, 315. On this day Constantine celebrated the beginning of his tenth year of reign ( decennalia ). The Senate commissioned the work . The arch was erected in a prominent place: it spans the Via Triumphalis in the immediate vicinity of the Colosseum , which connects to the Via Sacra just a few meters after the arch . This way beat all traditionally triumphators one when the Circus Maximus Coming to Palatine circled, and then on the Via Sacra and the Forum to the Capitol to arrive. Originally the building is said to have been crowned by a quadriga , which is said to have been lost during the sack of Rome by the Visigoths under Alaric in 410 or the sack of Rome by the Vandals under Geiseric in 455.

In the Middle Ages , the triumphal arch, like the Colosseum, was integrated into the city fortifications. At the beginning of the 19th century it was restored to its current structural condition. In modern Rome, the arch, like many other ancient monuments, suffered greatly from the stresses of motorized road traffic.

Construction and design

Detail of the Hadrianic tondi, including the Constantinian frieze
Hadrian tondi, above Dacian statues and Aurelian relief tablets
Reliefs on the column base (south side)

The Arch of Constantine is the largest and the youngest of the three triumphal arches that have been preserved in the ancient quarter around the Roman Forum. It is 21 meters high, 25.7 meters wide and has a passage depth of over 7 meters. However, it differs from other buildings mainly in that several parts of the ornamentation as well as the fluted Corinthian columns come from older monuments and buildings.

On the frontal sides, four columns characterize the picture, similar to the construction of its architectural model, the Septimius Severus Arch . The bases of the pillars bear reliefs of goddesses of victory, soldiers and captured barbarians. Allegorical decorations and figures can be seen in the arched corners : deities, the personified seasons, river gods. Winged gods of victory lie over the main arch. This is followed by a circumferential relief over the small arches, which tells the story of Constantine's campaign, his victory and the seizure of power in Rome: It begins on the narrow western side with the “Departure from Milan ” ( profectio ), followed by the siege on the southern side a city, probably Verona ( obsidio ) and the depiction of the battle at the Milvian bridge ( proelium ). On the east side the entry of the victorious emperor into Rome is depicted ( adventus ), and on the north side the speech of the emperor in the Roman Forum ( oratio ) as well as the distribution of monetary gifts to the people ( largitio ). So much for the Constantinian decoration, which largely lacks the artistic delicacy and expressiveness of past centuries.

The Arch of Constantine as seen from the Colosseum; the Via Sacra and the Arch of Titus can be seen on the right edge of the picture.
Distribution of the reliefs on the Arch of Constantine and their dating

The eight conspicuous tondi , positioned in pairs on the front, date from the time of Emperor Hadrian. They show four hunting scenes and four sacrificial scenes. The main figure is Hadrian , but his head was replaced by Constantine on four reliefs and by Constantine's father Constantius I or Constantine's co-regent Licinius on the remaining four (identification is not certain). The reliefs of the main passage come from the Basilica Ulpia at the Trajan's Forum.

The statues that crown the columns at the height of the attic represent Dacians, who are reminiscent of Trajan's Dacian campaign . Between the statues there are again pairs of rectangular reliefs with motifs of the Marcomann Wars of Marcus Aurelius . They tell the story of the departure, the war and the emperor's return home in 173. Above the main arch there is a dedication inscription in large letters, but with unclear details.

In research it is controversial whether the recycling of older works (Spoliencycles) testifies to possible financial difficulties and the need to save, or whether Constantine should thereby be placed in the tradition of earlier emperors who were highly praised in senatorial historiography . It is sometimes assumed that the arch already had a previous building from Hadrian's time, which was simply topped up with the attic and newly clad. The prepared and reworked reliefs date from the reign of the emperors Trajan (98–117), Hadrian (117–138) and Marcus Aurelius (161–180).

The style is strict, there is an immense sequence and graduation of the frontally and symmetrically arranged figures. The perspective of meaning clearly underlines the social contrasts and the social hierarchy in the time of domination. Regardless of his position within the relief, the emperor is shown taller than the people around him; he was followed, graduated according to size, by the court officials and the soldiers.

The inscription

The Arch of Constantine in Rome
The Arch of Constantine in 1742, painting by Canaletto

P * F * AUGUSTO * S * P * Q * R
QUOD instinctu divinitatis MENTIS
magnitudine CUM EXERCITU SUO

The inscription reads:

Imp (eratori) Caes (ari) Fl (avio) Constantino Maximo
P (io) F (elici) Augusto s (enatus) p (opulus) q (ue) R (omanus)
quod instinctu divinitatis mentis
magnitudine cum exercitu suo
tam de tyranno quam de omni eius
factione uno tempore iustis
rem publicam ultus est armis
arcum triumphis insignem dicavit

The (analogous) translation is:

"The emperor Flavius ​​Constantinus Maximus,
the pious and happy Augustus, has the Senate and the people of Rome,
because through divine inspiration and greatness
of spirit he and his army avenged the state with just arms
both on the tyrant and all his
followers at the same time
dedicated to this triumphal arch. "

The triumphal arch avoids by the formulation "by divine inspiration" a clear attribution of the victory to the God of Christians, as found in Laktanz and Eusebius in the statement " in hoc signo vinces " ("in this sign you will win"), and does not contain any Christian symbolism.

The dedication inscription in the center of the attic (Arch of Constantine 2014)

The Arch of Constantine in Art History

The triumphal arch depicted in the fresco The Punishment of the Rotte Korah by Sandro Botticelli was modeled on the Arch of Constantine. Antoine Caron quotes the Arch of Constantine in his painting The Bloodbath of the Triumvirs (1566).


  • Hans Peter L'Orange , Armin von Gerkan : The late antique picture decoration of the Arch of Constantine, Berlin 1939.
  • Gerhard Koeppel : The historical reliefs of the Roman Empire IV. City Roman monuments of unknown building affiliation from Hadrianic to Constantinian times. In: Bonner Jahrbücher 186, 1986, pp. 1–90.
  • Patrizio Pensabene , Clementina Panella: Arco di Costantino. Tra archeologia e archeometria. Rome 1998.
  • Maria Letizia Conforto u. a .: Adriano e Costantino. Le due fasi dell'arco nella Valle del Colosseo. Milan 2001.

Web links

Commons : Arch of Constantine  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ↑ In summary, see Josef Engemann : Der Konstantinsbogen . In: Alexander Demandt , Josef Engemann (ed.): Konstantin der Große . Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2007, pp. 85–89.
  2. CIL 6, 1139 .
  3. ^ Norbert Schneider: History painting. From the late Middle Ages to the 19th century. Cologne u. a. 2010. p. 101.
  4. ^ Norbert Schneider: History painting. From the late Middle Ages to the 19th century. Cologne u. a. 2010. p. 131.

Coordinates: 41 ° 53 ′ 23 "  N , 12 ° 29 ′ 27"  E