Photograph of the week: Arch of Constantine, Colosseum, Rome, Italy


Roman Emperor Maxentius wouldn’t have liked it much. (Had he survived, that is.) After all, the Arch of Constantine was erected specifically to mark his emphatic (and humiliating) defeat at the hands of Roman Emperor Constantine I in an ancient Roman civil war.

Even more notable, though, was the fact that this exquisite arch would come to symbolize not only Constantine’s victory, which gave him sole control over Rome, but a complete overhaul of religion worldwide. After all, this battle was the moment in time that would lead to Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire, and why it was eventually embraced throughout the Western World. The reason? Faced with a much smaller army than Maxentius, Constantine carried his faith into battle, along with the Christian symbol of a cross, and had his troops do the same. Emerging victorious, in spite of his markedly smaller army, it is little wonder that the win was attributed, at least in part, to that faith.

Photo of the Week: Arch of Constantine, Colosseum, Rome, Italy

As symbolic places go, the Arch of Constantine certainly stands out. It also stands out for its size and intricately carved decorations.

Constructed in 315 AD by the Roman senate, three years after the aforementioned Battle of Milvian Bridge in which Constantine defeated emperor Maxentius, the Arch of Constantine stands proud between the Roman Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Aptly called a ‘triumphal arch’, it is the largest Roman version thereof still standing today, measuring 69 feet high (21 metres) and just short of 85 feet wide (26 metres). It also boasts a triple arch, as opposed to the single arch of many such triumphal monuments, with one large arch in the middle and two smaller arches on each side.

Decorated with statues, medallions and reliefs, many of which were taken from earlier monuments, look for one relief in particular to understand the story behind the arch: Constantine’s army is portrayed in a relief on the lower portion of the arch, depicting how he forced Maxentius and his troops toward the Tiber River, where Maxentius would eventually drown during the battle.

Also look for the inscription on both sides of the top of the Arch. A message dedicated to Constantine by the Roman senate, this inscription refers to Maxentius as the tyrant and portrays Constantine as the rightful ruler of the Western Empire. The inscription also attributes the victory to Constantine’s “great mind” and the inspiration of a singular divinity.

Symbolic indeed.

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Comments (7)

  1. Ivor Hunter says:

    Now you’ve got me thinking. There’s no doubt that it was a very important battle when you think of Christianity in Europe and then it’s spread over the globe. Any one name any other battles of even more significance?

    • Helen says:

      Well, there were probably some battles that were more important but does any other battle have a more beautiful monument?

  2. Elaine Rogers says:

    Interestingly, I don’t think I’ve seen a photo of the inscription on top of the arch before. I’ll have to Google it.
    This is a stunning photograph. Excellent perspective and it’s captured such a body yet calming vibe from the sunset sky. Beautiful.

  3. Jeff G says:

    And now for a piece of totally irrelevant trivia. Did you know that the Colosseum was designed so that it could be flooded for the recreation of naval battles?

    When I had a tour of the Colosseum the guide dropped that one in almost as a throwaway line. I’d never heard it before or since. Do any readers know if it is true?

    • Paul Johnson says:

      Well, I didn’t know that but, after a bit of research, it appears it’s true! By the sounds of it, the Colosseum was actually built on the site of a former lake and it did run naval battles for a very short period (around 10 years) during the reign of two Flavian emperors, before those events were later moved to another venue a short distance from the Colosseum. Draining and re-filling the Colosseum must have been quite a feat in itself even if they did only fill it to a depth of 5 feet which is what I’m reading – that’s still an awful lot of water!!

  4. Ceivan says:

    Rome is my dream! And I really loved this photo a lot. I hope I can visit there soon.

  5. Lester Barrett says:

    It’s a revelation that there was such an inscription on the Arch of Constantine. It’s so high up, you would not have noticed it. It’s nice to know it’s there and and now what it means. I’ve been to the Colosseum and must admit that I have not taken that much interest on the arch.

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