Arch of Titus

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Arch of Titus (Arco di Tito), known as the Arcus Titi in Latin, is a first century CE honorific arch, located on the ancient Via Sacra, just to the south-east of the Roman Forum. It was constructed circa 81 CE by the Emperor Domitian shortly after the death of his older brother Titus to commemorate his official deification or consecratio and the victory of Titus together with their father, Vespasian, over the Jewish rebellion in Judaea, today known as the Great Jewish Revolt (circa 66-74 CE).

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The Arch of Titus, situated in the heart of ancient Rome east of the Flavian Amphitheater, just like other triumphal arches across the ancient Roman world, has long been understood as a testament and monument to the military prowess of the Roman Empire.

The arch is most famous for its depiction of "temple loot" from the Second temple of Jerusalem, as the triumphal procession celebrated in 71 CE after the Roman victory culminating in the fall of Jerusalem. The reliefs on the inner side of the arch provide one of the few contemporary depictions of temple implements and other items from the Herod's Temple (or the Second Jewish temple). It became a symbol of the Jewish diaspora, and the menorah depicted on the arch served as the model for the menorah used as the emblem of the state of Israel.

Although commonly believed to depict the triumphal procession of the Flavian triumph with people carrying the items, such as a Jewish menorah, the arch or the panels do not bear any inscription to identify the scenes. The Jewish historian Josephus Flavius notes that this was the only triumph in which all three Flavians took part: "Vespasian drove along behind the spoils and Titus followed him; Domitian rode beside them, dressed in a dazzling fashion and riding a horse which was worth seeing".

Architectural Details

circa 81 CE

The Arch of Titus, thought to have been designed and constructed by Rabirius (an ancient Roman architect who lived during the first and second centuries CE), measures 15.4 meters (50 feet) in height, 13.5 meters (44 feet) in width, 4.75 meters (15.5 feet) in depth. The inner archway is 8.3 meters (27 ft) in height, and 5.36 meters (17.5 ft) in width. It is a structure made of white marble. The arch is single-pass and has four columns in the Corinthian order situated on the facades. The columns with smooth stems are on the sides, and the columns are decorated with channels on the inside. The arch is large with both fluted and unfluted columns (inspect), the latter being a result of 19th-century restoration.

Reliefs and Inscriptions

circa 81 CE

Triumphal Procession with Jewish Menorah Relief
The south inner panel (inspect) depicts the spoils and ritual items taken from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The most evident is the golden candelabrum or Menorah, the main focus of the relief panel and the exotic emblem of all the treasures looted from the Temple, carved in deep relief. Athough a bit difficult to discern there are some other sacred objects being carried in the triumphal procession, such as the Gold Trumpets, the fire pans for removing the ashes from the altar, and the Table of the Showbread. These sacred objects were most likely originally colored gold (inspect), with the background in blue.

circa 81 CE

Titus Triumphator Relief
The north inner panel depicts Titus as triumphator attended by various genii and lictors, who carry fasces. A helmeted Amazonian, Valour, leads the quadriga or four horsed chariot, which carries Titus. Winged Victory crowns him with a laurel wreath. The juxtaposition is significant in that it is one of the first examples of divinities and humans being present in one scene together. This contrasts with the panels of the Ara Pacis, where humans and divinities are separated.

circa 81 CE

Eastern Inscription of Titus and Vespasian
The large ancient Roman inscription on the eastern attic is the primary text on the Arco Tito, deifying emperor Vespasian and by extension Titus. The original inscription is attached to the eastern facade of the Arch of Titus. The inscription is absolutely enormous and could have been fairly easily seen and read from a distance. It is written in Roman square capitals and reads:


Translation: "The Senate and the Roman people (dedicate this) to the deified Titus Vespasian Augustus, son of the deified Vespasian".

The inscription on the arch emphasized on the divinity of Vespasian and Titus, the deified emperors. And since Domitian was part of the family, his claim to the legitimacy was based on military prowess of his father and brother, and on their divinity. Still, the inscription on the arch doesn’t directly implies a claim for Flavian legitimacy or even Domitian’s legitimacy with linear, discursive means of communication.

circa 81 CE

Western Inscription of Pope Pius VII
The western attic bears an inscription dating back to the 1821 CE, inscribing the restoration during the reign of Pope Pius VII. The restorations were supervised by Giuseppe Valadier ().


The inscription translates: (This) monument, remarkable in terms of both religion and art, had weakened from age: Pius the Seventh, Supreme Pontiff, by new works on the model of the ancient exemplar ordered it reinforced and preserved. In the 24th year of his sacred rulership.

circa 81 CE

Coffered Vault and the "Titus on Eagle" Relief
The ceiling of the single arched passage is decorated with coffers with sculptured rosettes and rich mouldings. The central theme depicted on the arch revolves around the apotheosis of Roman emperor Titus, prominently showcased in the vault of the archway. In this representation, the deified Titus is borne aloft by a colossal eagle (inspect), a symbol associated with Jupiter and the city of Rome. This imagery vividly portrays the pivotal moment during the state funeral of emperor Titus, symbolizing the sacred moment when his consecrated soul ascended directly to the heaven from the funeral pyre. In the imperial funerals of the second and the centuries CE, a live eagle was traditionally released from the burning funeral pyre, serving as a symbolic manifestation of the miraculous process of apotheosis.

1821 CE Restoration

circa 81 CE

The Arch of Titus was extensively restored during the pontificate period of Pope Pius VII. Giuseppe Valadier, an Italian architect and designer, urban planner and archaeologist and a chief exponent of Neoclassicism, oversaw the restoration activity. The arch was extensively restored including the outer portion of the arch, and exterior columns (circa 1821-1822 CE). During this restoration travertine limestone was used in order to differentiate between the original and the restored portions.

A number of artists, such as Giovanni Paolo Panini (1740 CE), Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1748-1774 CE), Canaletto (1744 CE), painted the Arch of Titus before its restoration, which show the triumphal arch in quite a state of disrepair.

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