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Arch of Constantine, Rome [Reuse from Older Monuments - part 2 of 6] (Photo Archive)

Arch of Constantine

Triumphal arch celebrating the victory of Constantine I over Maxentius, 312 CE Rome / Italy

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Reuse from Older Monuments

Many parts of the decorations of the Arch of Constantine are taken from other monuments erected by earlier emperors: Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, who were known already in the time of Constantine as the Good Emperors. That the reused parts come from precisely these emperors is definitely not a coincidence. Constantine wanted to likened to them.

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The Trajanic Statues and Reliefs

The oldest decorative parts of the arch are from the time of Trajan. The eight statues of pavonazzetto marble, depicting Dacian prisoners, placed above the Corinthian columns, are probably taken from the Forum of Trajan, since similar statues have been found there. One of these is a later replica in white marble. The rest have their hands and feet restored.

Also from the reign of Trajan are the large reliefs at the upper part of the ends of the arch, and the two reliefs on the inner walls of the central archway. The four reliefs are of the same dimensions and are all parts of the same larger series, measuring 3m×20m, which have probably been a part of the frieze of the Basilica Ulpia in the Forum of Trajan. The order (left to right) of the four reliefs in the original frieze are: E. side of archway, E. end of monument, W. side of archway and W. end of monument. The reliefs show battle scenes, probably from the the Dacian wars during the reign of either Domitian or Trajan.

The Hadrianic Roundels

A series of eight roundels, each with a diameter of 2m, is located in pairs above the lateral archways. They have been dated to Hadrian's reign on stylistic reasons, and images of Hadrian and Antinous have been recognised in them.

North face, left to right South face, left to right

The scenes on the roundels are all related to hunting or sacrifice, probably to be interpreted as metaphors for the military and religious roles of the emperor. On the N. face of the arch the roundels show (left to right) the hunt for wild boar; a sacrifice to Apollo; the hunt for lion; and a sacrifice to Hercules. The roundels on the S. face show the departure for the hunt; a sacrifice to Silvanus; the hunt for bear; and a sacrifice to Diana.

Some roundels have been modified. The central figure on all eight roundels, which originally portrayed Hadrian, has been changed to depict Constantine, while other recognisable figures from Hadrian's entourage, such as Antoninus Pius, the adopted heir, and Antinous, Hadrian's young favourite, remain unchanged. Besides this, the roundel showing a lion hunt (N. face, 2nd. from the right) has been changed further. All eight roundels have an undecorated baseline on which the figures stand, but this baseline has been re-carved into a slain lion that is not a part of the original composition. On this roundel Antoninus Pius is in the middle background, while Antinous is holding a horse on the extreme right.

The roundels could be from some unknown Hadrianic monument, but unlike other reused elements on the arch they do not appear to have been remounted in a new context.

Originally the roundels were set in a panel of porphyry slabs, but these has since been removed, except on the right side of the N. face.

The Reliefs of Marcus Aurelius

On the attic, above each of the lateral archways and on each side of the central inscription, are eight panels mounted in pairs. They are from the time of Marcus Aurelius or his son Commodus, but the provenance of the reliefs is unknown. It is, however, likely they come from one of two now lost triumphal arches erected by Commodus in honour of his deified father Marcus Aurelius. The reliefs are contemporary with the Column of Marcus Aurelius and have the same motif: the wars against the invading Germanic tribes known as the Marcomanni and the Quadi.

On the N. face of the arch the motives are (left to right): the emperor entering Rome after the campaign (the adventus), in the background are the Temple of Fortuna and the Triumphal Gate, both located along the route of the triumphal processions; the emperor leaving Rome for the campaign (the profectio), again with the Triumphal Gate in the background; the emperor distributing money to the people, the building in the background is probably the Basilica Ulpia; and an enemy chieftain surrendering to the emperor.

On the S. face the motives are (left to right): the presentation of a captured enemy chieftain to the emperor; enemy prisoners being led to the emperor; the emperor talking to the soldiers before the battle (the adlocutio); and scenes of sacrifice on the battlefield of a bull, a pig and a sheep.

Next: Constantinian Art on the Arch 

This article has been split into 6 separate sections. Use the menu below to jump to another section.

  1. Introduction
  2. Reuse from Older Monuments
  3. Constantinian Art on the Arch
  4. Why Reuse Parts of Old Monuments?
  5. Literature and Links
  6. Photographs

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This page is linked under the names "Arch of Constantine", "Arcus Constantini" and "Arco di Costantino".

Copyright © 2003 René Seindal, last changed 2003-08-06

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