Triumphal Arches in Roman Forum

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The triumphal arches in the Roman Forum are free-standing monumental structures in the shape of an archway with one or more arched passage ways. Originally five in total, today only three of them survive.

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Triumphal arches are one of the most influential and distinctive types of architecture associated with ancient Rome. They functioned as a kind of monumental messageboard, displaying the militaristic achievements of prestigious Romans past and present and becoming more and more competitive as time when on.

The survival of great Roman triumphal arches such as the Arch of Titus or the Arch of Constantine has inspired many post-Roman states and rulers, up to the present day, to erect their own triumphal arches in emulation of the Romans.

The reason we these arches are called "triumphal" is because the SPQR (Senate and the People of Rome) awarded them to victorious generals returning to Rome to celebrate their Triumph.

List of Triumphal Arches

circa 10 BCE

Triumphal Arch of Augustus
The Arch of Augustus (Arco di Augusto) was the triumphal arch of Augustus, located in the Roman Forum. It spanned the Via Sacra, between the Temple of Castor and Pollux and the Temple of Caesar, near the Temple of Vesta, closing off the eastern end of the Forum. It can be regarded as the first permanent three-bayed arch ever built in Rome. The archaeological evidence shows the existence of a three-bayed arch measuring 17,75 x 5.25 meters between the Temple of Caesar and the Temple of Castor and Pollux, although only the travertine foundations of the structure remain. Ancient sources mention arches erected in honor of Augustus in the Forum on two occasions: the victory over Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BCE, and the recovery of the standards lost to the Parthians in 20 BCE.

circa 16 CE

Triumphal Arch of Tiberius
The Arch of Tiberius (Arcus Tiberi) was a triumphal arch built in 16 CE in the Forum Romanum to celebrate the recovery of the eagle standards that had been lost to Germanic tribes by Varus in 9 CE. The Roman general Germanicus had recovered the standards in 15 or 16 CE. The Arch spanned the Vicus Jugarius between the Temple of Saturn and the Basilica Julia. It was dedicated to the emperor Tiberius because in the Imperial period only the emperor could celebrate a Triumph, so the victory of Germanicus was celebrated as a triumph of Tiberius. Very little is known about this monument. It is mentioned in literary sources, and it is known from a relief on the Arch of Constantine.

circa 81 CE

Triumphal Arch of Titus
The Arch of Titus (Arcus Titi) is one of the oldest of two remaining arches from the Roman Empire. It was built in 82 CE by Emperor Domitian as a tribute to his older brother, Emperor Titus, after his death. The identity of the architect is unknown, with no surviving documents from the arch’s construction time. This arch commemorates the military triumphs of Titus and his father Vespasian, in particular, their victory in the Jewish war which ended in 70 CE. The images carved into the stone celebrate the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the divinity of Titus. The arch is important from a historical as well as a religious and political point of view. The arch represents the glory of the Roman Empire, with Titus being viewed in a god-like way, worshiped for his successes.

circa 203 CE

Triumphal Arch of Septimius Severus
The Arch of Septimius Severus was constructed on the Via Sacra in the Forum of ancient Rome. The arch is composed of three archways. The Arch of Septimius Severus is adorned with numerous detailed designs. The designs include battle scenes in Parthia, people being taken into slavery, nature scenes, other military victories, and numerous deities important to Romans. The overall style of the sculptures is very similar to that of the Column of Marcus Aurelius. Other sculptures that adorn the Arch of Septimius Severus are Mars, the Roman god of war, Bacchus, Hercules, and various other Roman gods.

circa 315 CE

Triumphal Arch of Constantine
The Arch of Constantine, dates to 312-315 CE. It is located along the Via Triumphalis but between the Flavian Amphitheater (the Colosseum) and the Temple of Venus and Roma. The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch made in the honor of Constantine, emperor of Constantinople; also commemorating past great emperors like Marcus Aurelius, Hadrian, and Trajan. The triple-arched triumphal arch erected in his honour was built near the Colosseum and at the time there were statues also on the top. It was mostly decorated with elements from earlier rulers’ monuments; only the narrow frieze above the arch openings was sculpted as new.

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