Roman history is filled with conquerors that left their mark on the Eternal City in one way or the other and one prominent, extant example that we have of that is the Arch of Constantine. Named for the Emperor Constantine of Rome, this landmark in the heart of Italia is the inspiration behind later triumphal arches such as the one in Paris and other copies found across the globe.
Far from Italy’s only triumphal arch, the Arch of Constantine is particularly renowned for being emblematic of the celebratory Roman architectural style as well as being popular with tourists and historians alike as an immense cultural treasure from the days of the later empire.
The Arch of Constantine, or Arco di Costantino, was dedicated in 315 AD as a tribute to emperor Constantine’s military victory at Milvian Bridge in 312 AD. This military victory led to the end of the Tetrarchy and put Constantine in the center of the Roman political world as sole emperor.
As such, the arch itself was a gift from the Senate of Rome to Constantine the Great but, interestingly enough, continues elements of earlier arches and even reliefs and statues from earlier monuments. To reflect its importance in the city and Constantine’s rising power, the arch sits astride the Via Triumphalis between Rome’s Colosseum and the Palatine Hill.
In terms of design, the Arch of Constantine borrows heavily from the Arch of Septimus Severus in the Roman Forum which caps the long processional Via Triumphalis. The arch also borrows from a range of now-lost arches as well as existing triumphal monuments to past emperors. In particular, though dedicated exclusively to Constantine himself, the arch has reliefs and statues from monuments to emperors Trajan, Hadrian, and the philosopher Marcus Aurelius.
The borrowings are so heavy, in fact, that there is archaeological debate over whether the arch is truly something new dedicated to Constantine or a refurbishment of an earlier arch that was then rededicated to the emperor.
Such a theory would place the arch itself in a considerably more advanced age than it already is and is interesting from the standpoint of stylistic development and later reappropriation of pagan monuments during the later empire.
The arch itself suffered a troubled history after the fall of the empire and was used as part of a fortress and even had pieces of it requisitioned for other uses. An extensive restoration in the 21st century has brought much of the former arch back to its former glory and ongoing preservation efforts work to keep that state intact.