Throughout the Roman Empire, victorious Roman armies marched along the Triumphal Way in celebration, passing important monuments, like the triumphal arches specifically dedicated to victory. The arches were, however, much more than symbols of victory.
This is evident specifically in the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Constantine. Both the emperors Domitian and Constantine erected the arches to help legitimize their claim to rule Rome. Domitian called on symbols and images of his father and brother to show his right to rule. Although he had a birthright claim to the throne, he needed to prove to people he deserved to lead since he had been born ten years after his brother and wasn’t groomed for leadership like Titus had been.
Unlike Domitian, Constantine did not have a birthright claim to the throne and needed to make his rival, Maxentius, appear as an illegitimate choice to rule the empire while showing himself as the right choice as leader. Constantine therefore showed himself as a benefactor to the people and likened himself to past great emperors, such as Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius, by borrowing from their monuments. Thus, these arches not only celebrated triumphs, but also legitimized these emperors’ image and status as leaders.
Morgan Hoffman, ’15
Major: Classical Studies
Sponsor: John Gruber-Miller