The Arch of Constantine

Essay by ralukutza10College, UndergraduateA, May 2004

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~ The Arch of Constantine ~


Triumphal Arches existed very early in Roman world. The first commemorative arches to be recorded date as early as 2nd century BC. However, after the principate of Augustus and his successors, the triumphal arches became a convention of the Imperial scene or "new-fangled invention" as described by Pliny The Elder in 1st ct AD.

This essay is based on one of the greatest triumphal arches of the Roman Empire-The Arch of Constantine. (figure 1) In the first part we will introduce the battle of the Milvian Bridge, whose outcome lead to the edifice of the arch. In the later part, we will examine the decorations that belonged to other emperors as well as the ones belonging to the time of Constantine. Finally, important questions about the change in the artistic style reuse of decorative elements and the originality of the arch will be assessed.

-The Battle-

The battle (figure 2) took place on October 28, 312, between the Roman emperors Constantine (also known as Constantine the Great) and Maxentius. The underlying cause of the battle was a 5-year long dispute between Constantine and Maxentius over control of the western half of the Roman Empire.

Constantine was the adopted son of the western emperor Constantius Chlorus. Maxentius was the son of Constantius' predecessor, Maximian; Maximian was forcibly retired from emperorship in 305 by Diocletian. Still, he schemed and double-crossed both his son and Constantine, when trying to regain power; he was executed in 310. Constantius died on July 25, 306, and his troops proclaimed Constantine as Augustus. Yet, in Rome, the favorite was Maxentius. The system in place at that time (the tetrarchy, a system of government created by the Roman emperor, Diocletian, in order to resolve military and economic problems; this...