Little Bits of History

July 25

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 25, 2017

315: The Arch of Constantine officially opens. The Arch was built between 312 and 315 and was dedicated by the Roman Senate to honor Constantine’s reign (306-337) and especially his victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge which took place on October 28, 312. Constantine came to Rome in 312, after his victory and then left two month later and didn’t return until 326. During his time in the capital, they were also celebrating the decennia, a series of games (like the Olympics) Romans participated in. The games were also a reason for many prayers to be offered up. During all the festivities, the Senate decided to build the largest triumphal arch in the empire.

Although dedicated to Constantine, much of the massive structure contains decorative materials from the earlier monuments to Trajan (98-117), Hadrian (117-138), and Marcus Aurelius (161-180). While it was the last of the Roman triumphal arches, it was also the only one to make extensive use of spolia (reused major reliefs from other, earlier monuments). The arch is 68 feet high, 85 feet wide, and 24 feet deep. There are three archways with the central one 37 feet high and 21 feet wide while the two bordering arches are each 24 feet high and 11 feet wide. Above the entire archway is an attic made of brickwork and faced with marble.

The structure is located between the Coliseum and Palatine Hill. The arch spans Via Triumphalis, the road on which emperors entered the city in triumph. The route began at the Campus Martius, threaded through the Circus Maximus, and around Palatine Hill. As soon as the procession passed through the Arch of Constantine, they would turn left at the Meta Sudans and Via Sacra to the Forum Romanum and then on to Capitoline Hill which had them pass through both the Arches of Titus and Septimius Severus. During the Middle Ages, the arch was incorporated into one of the family strongholds of ancient Rome. The first restoration project was carried out in the 1700s. The last excavations took place in the 1990s as the city prepared for the Great Jubilee of 2000. The arch was the finish line for the 1960 Summer Olympics Marathon.

Because pieces were cobbled together from other monuments, it is possible to notice the artistic changes over the centuries of the Roman Empire. Rome was by this time, a city in decline as would become evident when Constantine moved his capital to Constantinople in 324. The styles from the earlier works were much less “violent” but in one relief, the head of an earlier emperor was replaced by Constantine’s image and the later artist was able to copy the style of the earlier one. Earlier parts are more Hellenistic than the later portions of the reliefs. The piece remains, today, a great lesson in art history and the building projects of the Romans.

Rome has grown since its humble beginnings that it is now overwhelmed by its own greatness. – Livy

Ancient Rome was as confident of the immutability of its world and the continual expansion and improvement of the human lot as we are today. – Arthur Erickson

They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I wasn’t on that particular job. – Brian Clough

Rome will exist as long as the Coliseum does; when the Coliseum falls, so will Rome; when Rome falls, so will the world. –  Venerable Bede