The Arch of Constantine (Arco di Costantino) is located in the Piazza del Colosseo, right next to Rome‘s most famous monument. Together with the Arco di Tito and the Arco di Settimio Severo it is one of the three remaining imperial triumphal arches in the Eternal City.
Arch of Constantine Rome
The Arch of Constantine is the biggest one of the remaining triumphal arches in Rome.
It was placed on a stretch of street between the Circus Maximus and the Arch of Titus. The Roman armies used to pass through this Via Triumphalis on their way to the Campidoglio after a having defeated the enemy in battle.
The arch was constructed to celebrate Constantine‘s army’s 312 victory over Maxentius‘ troops. Although Constantine‘s soldiers were fewer than Maxentius‘ they still managed to defeat the enemy and establish peace in the Empire. Maxentius himself was killed in this battle of Ponte Milvio.
Dedication took place in the year 315 AD.
There was an unexpected side effect to Constantine‘s victory. Since the emperor believed that his victory was thanks to the God of the Christians he had the persecutions stopped. He was influential in the 1313 Edict of Milan, which actively declared religious tolerance for Christians in the Empire.
In the middle ages the Frangipane built a fortress between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill. They transformed the arch into a tower and incorporated it into this fortress. After many restorations, it was finally “freed” in 1804.
The Arch of Constantine stands 21 meters tall and has a width of 26 meters. There are three openings, the central one being the widest (6,50m) and tallest (11,45m).
Four yellow Corinthian columns are placed against each facade. These support a trabeation on which the upper part of the arch is built.
Much of the Arch was built using parts of other, older buildings, a common practice in ancient Rome.
The eight statues on top of the arch representing Dacians were borrowed from the Foro di Traiano. The two panels depicting battle scenes on the smaller sides of the attic and the ones inside the central fornix were originally part of a large high relief decorating the attic of the Basilica Ulpia.
The eight round tondi above the fornixes stem from the times of Emperor Hadrian.
The four panels flanking the inscription were taken from a four-side arch erceted by Commodus in hnour of his father Marcus Aurelius.
Some of the faces adorning the bastion were adapted to resemble the face of Constantine.
The embellishments on the middle and lower part were especially made for Constantine‘s arch, but are of lesser quality. By the time the arch was constructed, Rome had lost a lot of its power, although it was not until 330 that Constantinople officially became the capital of the Empire. As a result, craftsmanship had also deteriorated and it had become a habit to plunder existing monuments in order to create new ones.
The sculptures on the plinths of the columns and on the archivolts of the central arch depicting Victories were made especially for the monument. So were the personifications of the seasons on the sides of the central fornix and the river gods on the sides of the other two fornixes. The narrow panels above the minor fornixes and on the sides narrate the battle against Maxentius and were therefore also created at the time.
The frieze shows a battle scene between Maxentius and Constantine, the latter’s army chasing their opponents into the river.
The central part on both sides of the attic is taken up by a long inscription. Paraphrased, this inscription reads: “The Senate and the people of Rome dedicate this triumphal arch to the Emperor Constantine, who, through divine inspiration and the greatness of his own spirit, with righteous weapons avenged the state on a tyrant”.
According to chroniclers, Constantine supposedly had a vision before the battle, in which he was promised victory by the Christian God if he had the sign Chi-Rho (the first letters of Christ’s name in Greek) painted on his soldiers’ shields. According to some theories, the phrase “divine inspiration” is a reference to this vision. However, Constantine did not officially declare himself Christian till just before his death.
In 1936, the Meta Sudans, a monument next to the Arch of Constantine, was demolished to make way for a new road. This brick fountain was built under Emperor Titus and supposedly used by gladiators to wash and drink after their exertions. It got the name meta because of its resemblance to the stones placed at the end of the race tracks in the circuses and sudans because of the way the water, like sweat, poured down its sides. The brown circular space in front of the Arch of Constantine is where the Meta Sudans used to be.
The monument can be seen from outside.
Address and public transport
The address of the Arco di Constantino is Via di San Gregorio. Public transport: Bus: 51, 60, 75, 81, 85, 87, 117, 175, 186, 271, 571, 673, 810, 850, C3, N2, N10. Tram: 3. Metro: Colosseo (lijn B).