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.
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.