Arch of Constantine

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After many years of war, Constantine’s army finally defeated the over-powering army of Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD. With this victory, much needed peace was brought to the Roman Empire. In order to venerate Constantine’s grand conquest, the Senate of Rome honored him with a triumphal arch just 3 years later. This arch is said to be the oldest obtainable arch in Rome made with spolia (See fig.1). The arch, positioned in the valley of the Colosseum between the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum, is the largest of only three arches to endure in Rome today.

Several of the attractive sculptures on the Arch of Constantine were taken and included from other monuments. For example, the eight roundels set in pairs above the side arches symbolizing scenes of hunting and sacrifice, are from the time of Hadrian. Also, the eight rectangular reliefs in the attic we brought from an arch that was made in AD 176 to celebrate the numerous victories of Marcus Aurelius. Finally, standing on the cornice on top of the columns, the eight Dacian captives, come from the Forum of Trajan.

I have found the Arch of Constantine’s constructional set up to be extremely exclusive and memorable. Therefore, throughout my paper I will concentrate on speaking of its Corinthian order, the position of the arch, and its components.

First off, the Corinthian order is said to be the most elaborate of the classic orders of architecture. It became completely developed during the middle of the 4th century B.C., making it the latest order. The arch is divided by four columns of Corinthian order constructed with Numidian yellow marble. The shafts of the columns played an important role in the construction of the arch due to its height and dimensions as seen in Figure 2. We may be wondering what the purpose of a column height of 28 3/4 feet was. In his peer-reviewed article, Jones explains that “the cause lies in that of the shafts, 24 feet, a dimension eight times the diameter of 3 feet. This happy combination made it a popular shaft size; at any rate, ones this big turn up in prestigious buildings all over the empire” (par. 24). Shaft size was extremely essential when it came to monoliths of marble and granite because of the fact that they had to be ordered early on due to the delay and supply. The material was also an important factor. They used the honey-colored Numidian marble recognized as giallo antico for the semimonoliths. Jones explains that “the original effect has to be mentally reconstructed, since the accumulated centuries of wear has made white and colored marbles alike converge toward a dull buff. Together with the deep green porphyry frieze in the main entablature, the red porphyry paneling around the tondi, the purple-veined pavonazetto barbarians and their greenish-gray cipollino bases, the shafts completed a rich palette like that visible in the Pantheon today, and indeed more typical of internal rather than external spaces” (par. 26).

Columnar proportions were also crucial when it came to the design of the Corinthian order. Jones states that “these particular columns are entirely canonic in this respect (within an average tolerance of 0.15 percent), and it is this ratio that determined the "odd" height of 28 feet and 9 or 10 inches.(FN62) In fact, they conform precisely with a standard orthodox scheme, one that I have called "Scheme C" (Figure 20).(FN63) The same system also anticipates that the lower diameter of the shaft is equal to that of the astragal at the top of the shaft, the height of the kalathos of the capital, and half of the diagonal width of both base and capital. All these relationships appear, for example, in the Pantheon” (par.28).

Moreover, I find the actual position of the arch to be quite exceptional and interesting. It was constructed running from the southern end of the Circus Maximus to the piazza by the Flavian Amphitheater (See Fig. 3). In her peer reviewed article, Marlowe explains that “at...
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