Art History Lab

The Arch of Constantine: A Triumph of Ancient Architecture

The world-renowned Arch of Constantine is an important landmark located in Rome, Italy. It was built almost 2,000 years ago to honor the achievements and victories of the great Roman Emperor Constantine.

The Arch of Constantine is not only a stunning architectural masterpiece, but it has significant historical significance. In this article, we will explore the history and significance of the Arch of Constantine, its architecture, location, and materials.

Description of the Arch

The Arch of Constantine is an impressive architectural monument created by emperor Constantine in the fourth century. It stands about 21 meters high and 25.9 meters wide, and it features a three-bay design.

The archway is supported by four Corinthian columns that are approximately 11 meters high, which are also known as the engaged columns. The archway consists of three arches, which are decorated with intricate reliefs.

Above the arches are several panel designs with texts describing the history of Constantine’s reign.

The Architecture

The architecture of the Arch of Constantine is a grand statement of the artistic talents of the people of that era. It is a robust and sturdy structure that has retained its original form and structure to this day.

The three-bay design of the arch, which was adopted in many other late Roman buildings, consists of a central arch with two smaller arches on each side. The central arch has a height of 11.5 meters and a width of 7.4 meters, while the smaller side arches are 7.4 meters high and 3.4 meters wide.

The columns that support the Arch have intricate designs that have been carved on to them by master craftsmen. The base of each column has a circular decoration, known as a torus, which looks like a rope that is twisting around it.

On top of the torus is a cubic pedestal, four in number, which support the capitals that are intricately carved. The Corinthian capitals are also adorned with complex artistic designs, including flower blossoms, acanthus leaves, and palm tree leaves.


The Arch of Constantine is built out of marble-covered concrete, which was a famous material used during that period. The concrete used for the construction of the Arch of Constantine was made of a mixture of river sand, lime, and crushed rocks.

The marble used to cover the Arch has many colors, and its patterns are breathtaking. Some of the marble is sourced from the Greek island of Karystos, while the rest came from other parts of Italy.


The Arch of Constantine is strategically located on the northwestern end of the Colosseum, in the heart of the City of Rome. The arch stands on the Via Triumphalis, an important street used in ancient Rome to lead triumphal processions through the city.

This road is still referred to as the victory road today. The Arch of Constantine is located at the entrance of the Palatine Hill, which was an exclusive area in ancient Rome that was reserved for the emperors and their families.

Its location is in Regio X Palatium, one of the fourteen administrative subdivisions of ancient Rome.


The Arch of Constantine is much more than an architectural masterpiece. It is also known for its historical significance.

It was created by Emperor Constantine, to commemorate his victory over Maxentius in 312 AD. The arch is also significant as it was dedicated to Constantine the Great, who is regarded as one of the most significant Roman Emperors.

Constantine was the first Christian Emperor, and his reign marked the beginning of the Christianization of Rome’s population. In conclusion, the Arch of Constantine is a remarkable monument that has stood tall for almost 2,000 years.

It is a testament to the skill and expertise of the people who built it and stands as a symbol of the great Emperor Constantine’s achievements and reign. The Arch of Constantine is still a significant landmark in Rome, and its historical and cultural value will never be forgotten.

History of the Arch

The Arch of Constantine was constructed in the year 315 CE by the orders of Emperor Constantine. The construction of the arch was to commemorate the emperor’s victory in the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 CE against his rival, Maxentius.

It is said that the vision of the cross in the sky inspired Constantine, and he attributed his victory to the Christian God.


The Arch of Constantine had a dual purpose. Firstly, it was built to celebrate the ten-year rule of Emperor Constantine and to commemorate the decennalia, a term used to celebrate an emperor’s tenth year of ruling.

The arch was also built to establish the legitimacy of the new Christian rulership for the Roman Empire. Secondly, the arch also served as a means for the emperor to gain credibility with the Roman populace by associating himself with prior successful emperors such as in the use of ornamentation from the “golden period” of the second-century emperors.

Restoration and Usage

Throughout the centuries, the Arch of Constantine has undergone several restorations. The most significant restoration took place in the 18th century when Pope Benedict XIV decided to restore the arch to its former glory.

The arch was later excavated in the late 1990s, which led to the discovery of the site’s original foundations. In addition to celebrating ancient and modern Rome, the Arch of Constantine played a notable role in 20th-century Rome.

During the 1960 Olympics, the arch was used as the finish line for the marathon event, where Ethiopian Abebe Bikila famously won the gold medal while running barefoot.

Symbolism of the Arch

The Arch of Constantine is not only a triumphal arch, but it is an insight into the political and artistic ideals of the ancient Roman era.

Comparison with Maxentius

The Arch of Constantine is full of historical symbolism and is often compared to Maxentius, who was responsible for building the Basilica of Maxentius. The Basilica was a public building project that became a popular gathering place, and it served as an inspiration for later Christian churches and buildings.

However, Maxentius’ architectural projects, such as the Basilica, lacked the intense political propaganda that Constantine sought to convey.

Stylistic Shift

The architecture of the Arch of Constantine marked the disintegration of the classical Greek standard and the indication of Rome’s decline. The arch exhibits the decline in the empire’s building styles due to a lack of resources, skilled labor, and lackluster artistry.

The lack of artistic skill and shift in sculptural style is also evidenced in the different proportionate ratios of various sculptural examples on the arch.

Sculptural style

The artistry displayed on the Arch exhibits the fourth-century stylistic shift away from the classical canon of proportions of the human body to a simplified aesthetic that could be mass-produced. The sculptures on the arch significantly depart from the standard Roman art style, such as the simplified forms of the horned sol and the she-wolf sculptural with Romulus and Remus.


The Arch of Constantine’s iconography is rich in symbolism and historical value. The sculptures displayed on the arch are recycled from earlier examples and are mainly symbolic of various aspects of Roman society.

Some of these recycled sculptures bore no relation to Constantine whatsoever and have nothing to do with his military accomplishments. The new friezes on the arch depict Constantine’s successful military campaigns in Italy and his victorious soldiers receiving military honors as per a long-standing Roman tradition.

The reuse of the old art was most likely due to a lack of time or artistic talent, which was common practice in ancient Rome. The Arch of Constantine represents not only a significant architectural structure, but it is also an insight into the historical, political, and artistic aspects of Ancient Rome.

The dual purpose of the arch to celebrate Constantine’s rule and commemorate his triumph at the Battle of Milvian Bridge, showcase a politically charged message intended to legitimize the new Christian ruleship in Rome. The historical importance of the Arch of Constantine has connected modern-day with ancient civilization by serving as an essential landmark in Rome and serving a wide range of purposes, and it will continue to do so for generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

The Arch of Constantine is an iconic landmark in modern-day Rome, and visitors from all over the world come to marvel at this architectural masterpiece. Here are some frequently asked questions that people typically have about the Arch of Constantine.

When was the Arch of Constantine built?

The Arch of Constantine was built between 312 and 315 CE.

It was constructed on the orders of Emperor Constantine to celebrate his victory over his rival, Maxentius, in the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 CE. The construction of the arch took approximately three years to complete, and it was dedicated to Constantine’s victory over Maxentius.

Why was the Arch of Constantine built? The Arch of Constantine was built with a dual purpose.

Firstly, the arch was constructed to celebrate Emperor Constantine’s defeat of Maxentius in the Battle of Milvian Bridge, which was a significant victory for Constantine’s rule and the new Christian rulership. Secondly, the arch was also built to gain credibility with the Roman populace.

Constantine wanted to associate himself with prior successful emperors, such as Marcus Aurelius and Trajan, to gain political capital from the Roman populace.

Who built the Arch of Constantine?

The Roman Senate authorized the project, but the team of architects, engineers, and artists who built the Arch of Constantine remains unknown. It is possible that Constantine commissioned a team of engineers and artists from Rome to build the arch.

The arch was also constructed from the materials obtained from pre-existing structures such as the Colosseum, giving new life to the old. What is the Arch of Constantine made of?

The core of the Arch of Constantine is built of brick-faced concrete. The concrete was made out of a mixture of slaked lime, volcanic ash, and small rocks or debris.

The exterior of the arch is covered with marble slabs that gave the monument a grand appearance. The marble slabs used were sourced from several locations, and they have been carved with intricate designs and images of mythological figures and historical scenes.

The sculptures and friezes found on the arch are made of different materials, including bronze and marble, and are integral to the arch’s symbolic significance.


The Arch of Constantine is one of Rome’s most significant landmarks. It serves as a tangible reminder of the architectural and artistic genius of the ancient Romans and the political maneuvers of Emperor Constantine.

The arch’s dual purpose of celebrating Constantine’s victory over Maxentius and gaining political credibility with the Roman populace is an essential aspect of its significance. Understanding the Arch of Constantine’s significance and how it was constructed allows us to appreciate its historical legacy and the role it plays in modern-day Rome.

In conclusion, the Arch of Constantine stands as a remarkable testament to the triumphs and political maneuvers of Emperor Constantine. Built between 312 and 315 CE, the arch was constructed to celebrate Constantine’s victory over Maxentius and to gain credibility with the Roman populace.

The arch’s architectural design, use of materials such as marble-covered concrete, and its location on the Via Triumphalis all contribute to its grandeur and historical significance. Despite the shift in artistic style and recycled sculptures, the arch remains an iconic symbol of Ancient Rome.

Visiting the Arch of Constantine allows us to explore the rich history and artistic achievements of the Roman Empire. Its enduring legacy serves as a reminder of the power and impact of architectural monuments throughout history.

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