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Arch of Constantine, Rome

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Photo © Mary Harrsch.
Photo © Mary Harrsch.
Photo © Mary Harrsch.

The Arch of Constantine is a large triumphal arch in Rome next to the Colosseum. This arch is religiously significant because it commemorates the battle that led the Emperor Constantine to convert to Christianity, thereby changing the religious landscape of the western world.


The Arch of Constantine was erected to commemorate Constantine's victory over Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 AD. This event is a highly important one for Christian history.

According to contemporary historians, the night before the battle Constantine had a vision. He saw the symbol of chi-rho (the first letters of "Christ" in Greek) - or the cross in some accounts - in the sky with the words, "By this sign, conquer."

Facing an army larger than his own, Constantine was happy to try anything. He had his soldiers carry the Christian symbol into battle, and he was victorious. So Constantine adopted Christianity for himself and declared the religion officially tolerated throughout the Roman Empire.

With Constantine's conversion, Christian persecution ended and the development of Christendom began. Thus, the event celebrated by the Arch of Constantine was a major turning point in the history of the western world.

What to See

The Battle of Milvian Bridge is represented on the very coarsely sculptured band over the right-hand side arch, on the front away from the Colosseum.

The general design of the arch is exceedingly good, and is probably copied from the Arch of Septimius Severus. The two have in common not only the fine sculptured panels with scenes in the life of Septimius Severus, but also the main entablature, and the eight magnificent fluted columns of the Corinthian order decorating the two fronts of the arch.

These columns are large monoliths of Numidian giallo antico. One is now replaced by a white marble column, the original one having been placed in the Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterno where it still exists.

The clumsily sculptured Victories in the spandrels of the central arch, the river-gods over the side arches, the medallions of the rising and setting sun at the ends, the Victories on the pedestals of the giallo columns, and the bands over the side arches, are all of Constantine's time. They show the degraded state into which Roman art had sunk by the beginning of the 4th century AD.

The following inscription is cut in the center top of the arch:

and at the sides:


The second half of the side inscription indicates that the Arch of Constantine was erected after the tenth year of Constantine's reign (315), the meaning being "as he has reigned ten years, so may he reign twenty." The title Maximus, which is used in the main inscription, occurs only on coins of Constantine which were struck after his tenth year.

The phrase "by divine inspiration" (instinctu divinitatis mentis) has been susceptible to wide interpretation at the time and ever since. It is consistent with his later religious policy of actively promoting Christianity while keeping official matters vague enough to satisfy pagans as well. The divinity on Constantine's coins before his conversion, and for some time after, is Sol Invictus, the "Invincible Sun."

A staircase formed in the thickness of the arch is entered from a door at some height from the ground, in the end towards the Palatine Hill.

Quick Facts on the Arch of Constantine

Site Information
Names:Arch of Constantine; Arch of Constantine, Rome; Arco di Costantino
Categories:Historical Monuments
Faiths:Ancient Roman
Visitor and Contact Information
Location:Rome, Italy
Coordinates:41.889771° N, 12.490645° E  (view on Google Maps)
Lodging:View hotels near this location
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

Map of the Arch of Constantine

Below is a location map and aerial view of the Arch of Constantine. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.


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Article Info

Title:Arch of Constantine, Rome
Author:Holly Hayes
Last updated:10/19/2009
Link code:<a href="http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/rome-arch-of-constantine">Arch of Constantine, Rome</a>