Constant celebrationThe Arch of Constantine is situated at the end of the ancient Roman main street, the Via Sacra, in between the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Built in 315 AD, it is the most recent and best-preserved imperial monument to be erected in the area beside and is undoubtedly the most magnificent of the triumphal arches of ancient Rome.
The arch celebrates the victory of the Emperor Constantine I over his rival and co-ruler of the Eastern Empire Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD. With this decisive defeat Constantine the Great became the Emperor of both the East and West Empire. The two sides of the arch tell two different stories. The north side of the arch which faces the Colosseum displays images of war and the camps of Constantine’s army; the south face of shows reliefs of what life was supposedly like after the victory of Constantine, with images celebrating peace and humanity.
Interestingly, by the 4th century the quality and skill of Roman carving and sculpture had significantly declined: the majority of decorative sculpture on the arch was in fact pilfered from earlier monuments and rededicated to Constantine. The four imposing guards standing at the top of the north face of the arch are actually Dacian prisoners, taken from a monument to Trajan. The four reliefs at the bottom originally celebrated the military victories of Marcus Aurelius, and the four round medallions in the middle were taken from a monument to Hadrian and include representations of his lover, Antinous. Similarly the reliefs on the back were intended to honour the military success of Trajan.
The back of the monument displays scenes of Roman gods and goddesses, which is hardly fitting considering Constantine’s fame as the first Christian Emperor - his victory in the battle of the Milvian Bridge was supposedly due to a vision which directed him to fight under the sign of the Cross.