Art of the Ancient World, C. 5000 B.c.e.–400 C.E.

Roman Art

What is a triumphal arch?

A triumphal arch is a large monumental structure in the shape of a freestanding arched passageway. They were used in ancient Rome to commemorate great military victories. The Arch of Titus (c. 81 C.E.) and the Arch of Constantine (312-315 C.E.) are two of the most famous examples of triumphal arches in Rome. Over fifty feet tall and made of marble and concrete, the Arch of Titus was constructed after Emperor Titus conquered the city of Jersualem. Relief carvings on the interior of the structure show Roman soldiers proudly carrying home the spoils of war, including a menorah taken from the Temple of Solomon. Built almost three hundred years later, the Arch of Constantine celebrates Emperor Constantine’s defeat of Maxentius at the Battle of Milvan Bridge. The event is important in Christian history as Constantine was said to have had a vision of a cross and heard the words, “In this sign you shall conquer” just before battle. Constantine’s mother, Helen, was Christian, and Constantine ended legal persecutions of Christians in Rome in the Edict of Milan. The Arch of Constantine was made of partly recycled material, and incorporated relief decoration from monuments dedicated to earlier rulers such as Marcus Aurelius, Trajan, and Hadrian. Triumphal arches continue to be used to mark important historic events and can be found in cities such as Paris, New York, and Moscow.


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