All you need to know about ancient arches in Rome: what they are, who built them, where they are and fun facts about these peculiar ancient Roman structures.
As you stroll around Rome, chances are you will find yourself passing beautiful ancient arches.
Rome arches are tall structures, often dating back from imperial times, and are among the most striking and recognizable archaeological landmarks in Rome.
The first one you are likely to see is the Arch of Constantine, beside the Colosseum; the second and third you will encounter are probably the arches inside the Roman Forum.
However, several others will appear on your way as you get off the beaten track!
Roman arches are striking, peculiar and historically important. As a Roman history graduate, I find them immensely fascinating and I love how much we can learn from them.
I also find them stunningly beautiful!
Today, I want to share info about them.
In this guide to the ancient arches of Rome, we look at where they are, their names, use and significance.
List of the most famous arches in Rome
|Name||Time of construction||Type of Arch||Address|
|Arch of Constantine||IV century AD||Triumphal Arch||Via di San Gregorio, 00186 Rome|
|Arch of Titus||I century AD||Triumphal Arch||Roman Forum/Palatine, Via Sacra, 00186 Rome|
|Arch of Septimius Severus||II century AD||Triumphal Arch||Roman Forum, Via dell’Arco di Settimio, 00186 Rome|
|Arch of Gallieno||II century AD||Celebratory Arch/Gate||Via di San Vito, 00186 Rome|
|Arch of Dolabella and Silano||I century AD||Celebratory Arch||Via di S. Paolo della Croce, 00184 Rome|
|Arch of Janus||IV century AD||Celebratory Arch||Via del Velabro, 5, 00186 Rome|
Ancient Rome Arches Map
Arches in Ancient Rome: meaning and use
When we talk about arches in Ancient Rome, we need to first distinguish between structural arches and Roman triumphal arches.
Structural arches in Rome
Structural arches are an architectural feature of Roman architecture.
They are structures created to support weight and they are a huge reason why the Romans were able to build large structures we still see today.
The peculiar shape of the arch allows the weight of the building to spread outwards and down, making them more resistant than, for instance, a beam.
The most spectacular examples of structural arches in Rome are Rome’s aqueducts however, structural arches in Rome are ubiquitous, on the facades of buildings and indoors.
Top tip! The most impressive aquaeducts in Rome are along Via Appia. You can reach them by bike or even just spot them from your taxi between Rome and Ciampino Airport!
Triumphal arches in Rome
Triumphal arches in Rome are free standing architectural structures with celebratory meaning.
After significant war successes, the Senate or the sons of the glorious emperor would commission the building of an arch that would recall and evoke their grandeur.
The arch would take the name of the general/emperor and it would be decorated with carvings that tell the story of the war campaign, often depicted on the front or the inner parts of the arch.
Ancient sources tell us that triumphal Arches in Rome were common during Republican times; however, the only ancient Roman arches in Rome are from Imperial times, from the I century onwards.
The most famous triumphal arches in Rome
There are three triumphal arches in Rome we can still see today.
The Arch of Constantine
The Arch of Constantine is the first arch most people see in Rome and one of the most impressive.
Located beside the Colosseum, the arch is a large, free-standing structure with three openings: a taller, central ones and two smaller ones at the two sides.
The arch dates from the IV century AD and it is honour of Emperor Constantine, who is best known for being the First Christian Emperor of Rome but who was also a valiant general.
The most distinctive feature of this arch are its decorative medallions.
If you look at the facade of the arch, you notice four of them, round, two on each side of the main archways.
These medallions tell the story Emperor Constantine wanted to be remembered for: his victory over Maxenxius, happened in 313 on Ponte Milvio (Milvio Bridge, on the Tiber, in Rome).
The story of the arch is on the arch itself.
As it inscription above states, the Senate dedicated the arch to the Emperor on 25th July 315.
This day marked ten years from Constantine’s victory and had the purpose of celebrating the decennalia (tenth anniversary) of Constantine’s Era, depicted as a new beginning for Rome, a little bit like the Augustan Era centuries before.
The Arch of Constantine is significant as it is the biggest triumphal arch in Rome and a fantastic example of propaganda from the Constantine’s era, invaluable for historians to get a sense of that time.
Constantine was an innovator; however, he also wanted to show that he was a legitimate contender to the Imperial Throne and that he followed the long line of good emperors that preceded him.
Because of this, his arch includes sculptures from pre-existing buildings and depicts emperors such as Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius.
Interestingly, they are all represented with features that make them resemble Constantine himself, as if Constantine was the epitome of all imperial powers before him!
The Triumphal Arch of Titus
The second triumphal arch in this list is the Arch of Titus, located at the entrance of the Roman Forum, Colosseum side.
The Arch of Titus dates from the I century AD (Titus’ reigned 79-81AD) and it was built by order or Emperor Domitian’s, Titus’ brother, after the death of his predecessor.
Titus’ Arch is located at the top of Via Sacra, the road that still leads from where we now see the Colosseum, across the Roman Forum and to the bottom of the Capitoline Hill and is a great example of a triumphal arch from the imperial era.
The arch is made of Pentelic marble, it is freestanding and has one central opening, with elaborate carvings on the inside of its archway, telling the story of Titus’ war triumphs.
The carvings are spectacular and touching.
Built to commemorate the sack of Jerusalem by Titus, the arch has sculptures representing Roman soldiers carrying away the spoils of the Temple such as a menorah, silver trumpets and the Table of Shewbread.
The best way to see them is by standing on the side of the arch furthest from the Colosseum. Look up and right, you will see them on the inside of the archway.
As well as the memory of that event, the arch also depicts scenes winged Victories and Tutus carried by an eagle, a traditional depiction of Emperor’s apotheosis.
The Triumphal Arch of Septimius Severus
The Arch of Septimius Severus is one of the most impressive arches in Rome.
The Senate dedicated this arch to Emperor Septimius Severus and his sons Caracalla and Geta in 203 AD an it is a triumphal arch commemorating their victories in the Parthian’s campaign.
Like the arch of Titus, this arch is on Via Sacra and occupies an elevated position that highlights its size and dominance. Its size is impressive: 26.42 m high, is 23.27 m wide and 11.20 m deep!
The arch of Septimius Severus is made of masonry and Pentelic Marble and has three fornices: a central, taller one and two small at its left and right.
Each archway is decorated with Doric columns and sculptures both inside and on its facades.
The story the arch tells is that of the victory of Rome over the Parthians.
Looking up, you can still see the prisoners of war, several personifications of rivers and the Victories, always present as symbols of Rome and its power.
The Arch of Septimius Severus is stunning and it is also fascinating as it bears witness of the implementation of damnatio memoriae.
This practice wanted all mentions of an enemy of the state to be erased from public memory.
The arch, like all triumphal arches, has an inscription that commemorates the generals it celebrated.
After his fall into disgrace of Geta, Caracalla ordered his name and figures to be erased from the arch: a strong sign that he was the only one in charge now.
Interesting to know: Damnatio Memoriae was common in Rome. One of the most illustrious victims of it was Emperor Nero. While we still remember him, his palace, the Domus Aurea, hardly survived. After his death, his residence was first destroyed, then filled with debris and turned into foundations for thermal baths. When the Romans decided to erase you, they went all out!
Other important arches in Rome
The arch of Gallieno
The arch of Gallieno is another triumphal arch in Rome but very different from the ones above.
The arch is also not a freestanding structure or at least, not anymore.
While, in origin, the arch would have had the same shape of traditional triumphal arches, over time it was incorporated in subsequent structures and now stand sandwiches between a house and a church!
The main reason for these distinctive traits is in the history of the arch.
In origin, the arch was a gate within the Servian Walls. It’s name was Porta Esquilina and ancient sources tell us that it has 3 archways and that Augustus too care of its restoration.
In 262AD, the city prefect Aurelius Victor repurposed it and dedicated it to Gallieno and his wife Salonina.
Th inscription on the arch is still visible today and says: Gallieno Clementissimo Principi Cuius Invicta Virtus Sola Pietate Superata Est at Salonina Sanctissimae Aug. – Aurelius Victor V. E. Dicatissimus Numini Maiestatique Eorum.
The Emperor would have passed under the arch when on its way to his home, on the Esquiline Hill.
It translates: To Gallieno, very merciful princeps, whose unconquered value is only outdone by his religious devotion, and to Salonina, very virtuous Augusta – (by) Aurelius Victor, egregious man, very devout to the Gods and to their Majesties.
The Arch of Janus
The Arch of Janus is a very peculiar arch located in Foro Boario, in between the Circus Maximus and the River Tiber.
Unlike any other arch in this list and in the city, the arch has a quadrangular shape: rather than being a gate, the arch has four-faces,so four passages, that give it a distinct and unique appearance.
The arch dates from the IV century and it is usually referred to as Arch of Janus; however, it is most likely to be an imperial arch dedicated to Emperor Constantine by his sons, that ancient sources call ‘Arcus Divi Constantini).
The reason for the misnomer are interesting.
Janus was an ancient Roman God, associated with the solar disc and, more precisely, with the transition between day and night and again night and day.
Symbolically, he was represented as a man with two faces, looking in two different dictions, both ahead and behind.
The peculiar shape of this arch, that looks the same from all sides, made erudite from the XVI century associate this arch with the God Janus and the name stuck.
The arch has a peculiar history: in the Middle Ages, the Frangipane Family built onto it to create a new fortress-like structure and the arch only saw the light again, as such, in the XIX century.
The arch of Dolabella and Silanus
The Arch of Dolabella and Silanus is on the Caelian Hill and while it is the most ancient on this list.
The inscription at its top tells us the year of its construction, 10AD, and the people it celebrates. The epigraph reads: P. Cornelius P. F. Dolabella C. Iunius C. F. Silanus Flamen Martial CoS Ex S C Faciundum Curaverunt Idemque Probaver”.
It translates: “P. Cornelius Dolabella, son of Publius, and Gaius Giunius Silanus, son of Gaius, flamine* of Mars, consuls, by degree of the Senate ordered this work and tested it”.
*Ancient religious figure
Good to know! If you are intrigued by the names on these inscription, you may enjoy the quick into we share on our guide to ancient Roman names.
Like the much later arch of Gallienus, this ancient Roman arch wasn’t atriumphal arch but rather, a celebratory dedication of a pre existing gate.
This one in particular seems to be the ancient Porta Celimontana, one of the gates on the Servian Walls, built under Tarquinius Priscus and Servius Tullius, two of the seven Kings of Rome (VII century B.C.)
Nero incorporated in his acqueduct as an extra support structure.
Nowadays, we can still pass under when walking from the top to teh Caelian hill to the church of st Peter and Paul, the Caelian Domus and the Palatine.
I hope you enjoyed this quick overview of the most important ancient arches in Rome and it helped you answer some of your questions about these peculiar structures. Happy Rome travels!