Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch of Rome built by order of the Roman Senate to commemorate the victory of Emperor Constantine on Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. Located between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill, the arch was inaugurated in 315. Under it passed the Triumphal Way, the route followed by the great generals and Roman emperors in their triumphs.
It was the last and largest of the triumphal arches built in Rome, and is also the only one to make extensive use of Spolia, reusing several large sculptures taken from other imperial monuments of the Emperors’ time Trajan (r. 117-138) and Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180) in striking stylistic contrast with the newly created sculptures for the arch. This mixture earned him the jocular nickname “Cornacchia di Aesopo” (“The Aesopus Crow”).
The bow is 21 meters high, 25.9 meters wide and 7.4 meters deep. There are three arches of passage, the central one with 11,5 meters of height and 6.5 of width and the lateral ones with 7.4 meters of height and 3.4 meters of width each one. On the passages is the attic, built of bricks and covered in marble. A stairway within the arch can be accessed from a door that opens at a certain height from the ground, on the west side (of the Palatine Hill). The overall project, with a main part structured by prominent columns and an attic with the main inscription above was based on the Arch of Seventh Severus in the Roman Forum.
The Arch of Constantine, which was built between 312 and 315, was commissioned by the Roman Senate to commemorate the ten years (decennial) of the reign of Constantine (306-337) – celebrated between July 315 and July 316 – and the emperor’s victory before his predecessor, Emperor Maxentius (306-312), at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge on 28 October 312, as described by the commemorative inscription on the attic; was officially inaugurated on July 25, 315 and began a series of commemorative games and prayers. Constantine himself, however, triumphed in the city on October 29, 312, the date on which the Senate commissioned the work, but left the city in less than two months and only returned in 326.
The chosen location, between Mount Palatine and Mount Celio, was the point where the ancient Triumphal Way joined the Via Sacra, the route followed by the emperors as they entered the city to celebrate a triumph – it began at the Campo de Marte, the extension of the Circus Maximus and circumvented the Palatine Hill; at the point where the arch was, the route made a left turn at Meta Sudans and followed the Via Sacra through the Roman Forum until arriving at the Capitoline Hill, passing through the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Seventh Severus on the way.
During the Middle Ages, the Arch of Constantine was incorporated into the fortress of one of Rome’s families, as happened with many of the city’s ancient monuments. Works to restore it to its original state were held for the first time in the eighteenth century and the last in the late 1990s, shortly before the Great Jubilee of the year 2000. During the 1960 Summer Olympics, the Arch of Constantine served as the finish line for the marathon.