The Arch of Constantine
The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch in Rome, located between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill. It was erected to commemorate Constantine’s victory over his brother-in-law Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in October 312 AD. Dedicated in 315 AD, it is the latest of the existing triumphal arches in Rome, from which it differs by spolia, the extensive re-use of parts of earlier buildings.
The arch is 21 m high, 25.7 m wide and 7.4 m deep. It has three archways, the central one is 11.5 m high and 6.5 m wide, the lateral archways are 7.4 m by 3.4 m each. The lower part of the monument is built of marble blocks, the attic is brickwork wrapped up with marble. A staircase formed in the thickness of the arch is entered from a door at some height from the ground, in the end towards the Palatine Hill.
The general design with a main part structured by detached columns and an attic with the main inscription above is modeled after the example of the Arch of Septimius Severus on the Roman Forum. It has been suggested that the lower part of the arch is re-used from an older monument, probably from the times of the Emperor Hadrian. It seems Constantine ordered that an existing Arch, dedicated to the Emperor Hadrian, be rebuilt in his honor.
The arch spans the Via Triumphalis, the way taken by the emperors when they entered the city in triumph. This route started at the Campus Martius, led through the Circus Maximus and around the Palatine Hill; immediately after the Arch of Constantine, the procession would turn left at the Meta Sudans and march along the Via Sacra to the Forum Romanum and on to the Capitoline Hill, passing both the Arches of Titus and Septimius Severus.
The decoration of the arch profoundly uses parts of one or more older monuments, which gives a new meaning in the context of the Constantinian building. The Constantine frieze celebrates the victory of Constantine in Italy against his enemies. The other imagery, taken from the golden age of the Empire under Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius places Constantine next to these good emperors, and the content of the pieces suggests images of a victorious and even religious ruler.
Another explanation given for the re-use is the short time between the start of construction (probably late 312 AD) and the dedication (summer 315 AD), so the architects used accessible artwork to make up for the lack of time to craft new art. It has also often been suggested that the Romans of the 4th century AD lacked the artistic skill to produce adequate artwork and consequently plundered the ancient buildings to decorate their own contemporary monuments. This interpretation has been much criticized in recent times, as the art of Late Antiquity has been valued in its own right. Probably a combination of all those explanations should be taken into account, but one cannot be absolutely sure about it.
 D.Kleiner. Roman Sculpture. Yale (1994) 444
 Since this is a relatively new interpretation only little is published, I only know of an Italian work: Adriano . Architettura e progetto. Milano (2000).
- Quote paper
- M.A. Diana Beuster (Author), 2007, The Arch of Constantine, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/128678