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AP Art History
Arch of Titus (Rome), after 81 CE
1. “Titus (AD 79-81) had the honor of officiating at the opening ceremonies of the Colosseum, in AD 80.
But he is probably best known to us today for the triumphal arch that was erected to celebrate his victory in
the Jewish War. Triumphal arches were connected with the Roman idea of a victory, and a ‘triumph’ was an
honor voted by the Senate. This was celebrated with the Roman idea of victory, and a ‘triumph’ was an
honor voted by the Senate. This was celebrated by a specified ritual procession where the troops marched
before the populace and exhibited the booty and prisoners-of-war so as to confirm the success of the general
and his army. Law and convention required that the soldiers had to lay down their arms outside the city
walls, before marching beneath the triumphal arch” (Ramage and Ramage 140). “The Arch of Titus was
erected by Titus’ brother and successor, the emperor Domitian (AD 81-96). It is a relatively small marble
arch, with just one passageway underneath. A partially restored inscription on the attic clearly states that the
Senate and the Roman people erected this monument to commemorate the deified Titus. Representations
of ‘Victory’ fill the corners above the arch, called the spandrels, and two large relief panels, each with a scene
from the triumphal procession, decorate the walls of the passageway. Illusionism, in this case shown by the
implication of space, depth, and atmosphere, is here exploited to its fullest. Both reliefs suggest that the
spectator is walking beneath the arch in the direction from the Colosseum into the forum, which would
indeed be the way a procession would be moving when coming into the city center” (140-141). “Heavy
damage was inflicted on the reliefs when the Frangipani family incorporated the arch into its medieval
fortress. Large holes were gouged out to make room for beams, but luckily much of the relief survives
relatively intact. Indeed, it is the earliest surviving sculptured arch in Rome with its reliefs still in place” (141).
2. “On the right, as one faces the forum, is the relief depicting the emperor Titus in his chariot, led by a
personification of the goddess Roma, while Victory flies in behind him, crowning his head with a laurel
wreath. The head of Titus, which is now destroyed, must have been a portrait, but the members of the
imperial entourage who accompany him are idealized. As on the Gemma Augustea there is an easy mixing of
the divine and human. The subject of triumph seems to have called for this fusion of the two realms. By
making the nearest figures stand out in high relief, and contrasting these with the shallow treatment of the
figures in the background, the artist has created a sense of deep space. The sculptor also used a device to
give the feeling of atmosphere: he left much of the upper portion of the background empty, save for the
fasces of the attendants. The fact that they are held on the diagonal helps to give a sense of receding space”
(141, 143). “Victory rides with Titus in the four-horse chariot and places a wreath on his hand. Below her is a
bare-chested youth who is probably a personification of Honor (Honos). A female personification of Valor
(Virtus) leads the horses” (Kleiner, Mamiya, and Tansey 274). “The second relief does not focus attention on
any particular figures, but the great menorah (lampholder) in the center commands attention. Again, the
artist has left the upper part of the frieze largely blank, giving the effect of free space. Soldiers parade by,
carrying the menorah and other sacred objects form the Temple at Jerusalem that had recently been sacked
by the Romans. They also display placards that explain the events of the military campaigns to the crowds
lining the streets. Eventually this plunder was displayed in the Temple of Peace. The procession, at the back
end, appears, from the positions of the soldiers, to be coming towards us. The nearest figures are those
carrying the litter with the menorah on it, and those at the front of the procession appear to be marching away
from us and passing under an arch that we see projecting from the background. It must be at some distance,
because the soldiers in the front rank appear too large to go through it. The implication here is that the line
of soldiers turns before our eyes, and indeed we feel that we are spectators watching the event” (Ramage and
3. “The arch, constructed of concrete and faced with marble, is essentially a freestanding gateway pierced by a
passageway covered by a barrel vault. Originally the whole arch served as a giant base, 50 feet tall, for a statue
of a four-horse chariot and river, a typical triumphal symbol. Applied to the faces of the arch are columns in
the Composite order- capitals are formed by superimposing Ionic volutes on a Corinthian capital- supporting
an entablature. The inscription on the attic story declares that the Senate and the Roman people erected the
monument to honor Titus” (Stokstad, Art History 254). “The Arch of Titus stands at the highest point of the
Via Sacra, looking across to the Temple of the Emperor and his father, Vespasian” (Carr-Gomm 32).
“Rome’s highly disciplined army was the backbone of the Empire. During the Republic, the army consisted
of citizens who served two-year terms, but by the first century CE, the military had become a profession to
which all free men might devote twenty-five years (or more) of their lives. Since serving for this length of time
allowed a non-Roman to gain Roman citizenship for himself and his children, military service acted as a
means of Romanizing foreigners. The Roman army was the object of fear and admiration among those
familiar with Rome’s rise to power” (Fiero, First Civilizations 133). Josephus “described the superiority of the
Roman military machine, which he estimated to include more than three hundred thousand armed men.
According to Josephus, Roman soldiers performed as though they ‘had been born with weapons in their
hands’. The efficiency of the army, reported Josephus was the consequence of superior organization and
discipline” (133). “Processions, moveover, such as that depicted on the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum,
undoubtedly filed through certain of the arches on their statutory routes. But often enough all major traffic
was physically barred. The Arches of Tiberius and Septimius Severus, again in the Roman Forum, were
shielded by steps. So too was the four-way Arch of Septimius Severus which stands as an island at the
principal crossroads of Lepcis Magna in Tripolitania; street traffic circumvented it” (Wheeler 156).
4. “The earliest surviving triumphal arches date from the time of Augustus. The first recorded was built in
Rome at the beginning of the second century BC with spoils from the war against the Carthaginians. Their
recise connection with the triumphal processions with which victorious generals were honoured is unknown,
but the bronze groups that originally crowned them were of figures riding in chariots drawn by two or four
horses, as in a procession. Coins show such a group above the arch erected in the Forum Romanum in 19
BC to celebrate Augustus’s purely diplomatic victory over the Parthians- that seems to have set the pattern for
subsequent imperial arches: a rectangular block with a round-headed opening framed by pilasters and
entablature with a large panel for an inscription above. The Arch of Titus in Rome is one of the finest
examples, built of concrete faced with honey-colored marble from Mount Pentelicus in Greece. Its columns
are of the Composite order, combining Corinthian and Ionic elements, invented by Augustan architects.
Winged figures of Victory, descended from those of Greece, hover in the spandrels. But the Roman
preoccupation with actuality asserts itself in the reliefs on either side of the passageway. These represent the
triumph that Titus shared with his father Vespasian in AD 71, when, to celebrate the suppression of a Jewish
revolt, treasures looted from the temple in Jerusalem were paraded through Rome. Even in their damaged
state these reliefs coney an astonishingly vivid illusion of space and movement- the men and horses eternally
accompany whoever passes through the arch. Titus had died (AD 81) before the work was completed, and
his apotheosis is shown in the center of the vault, borne up to heaven on the back of an eagle. In the attic an
inscription in very finely cut, originally gilded letters reads: ‘The Roman Senate and People to Deified Tius,
Vespasian Augustus, son of Deified Vespasian’. Romans placed enormous importance on such monumental
inscriptions. They were the first to discover their artistic possibilities. Clear and simple lettering, in which the
form of every letter and the equally important spacing between them was made to conform to the laws of
architectural structure, thereby enhancing the authority and dignity of the words, was one of the greatest
Roman inventions” ( Honour and Fleming 204-205).
Josephus and the Jewish Rebellion
1. “After securing the imperial throne, Vespasian turned his attention to ending the Jewish rebellion. Judea
had been a Roman province since AD 6. Although Jews had been granted certain privileges, including
exemption from military service and from participation in the imperial cult, there was deep unrest in Judea.
Jews resented the rule of foreigners as an offense to their religion. Open revolt flared in AD 66, when rebels
drove a Roman garrison from Jerusalem. Fighting spread quickly through Judea and spilled over to Syria and
Egypt” (Wren 1: 133). “In AD 67 Vespasian was appointed by Nero to direct the reconquest of Judea. His
military campaign, however, was interrupted, first by the outbreak of civil war after the suicide of Nero and
then by his need to consolidate his position as emperor. In AD 70 Vespasian, an emperor, sent his eldest
son, Titus, to Judea to finish putting down the rebellion. Faced by the strong walls and towers that defended
Jerusalem, Titus laid siege to the city. Finally unable to withstand the Roman assaults, Jerusalem was
conquered. The city was destroyed, the temple was burned, and the Jewish Rebellion was smashed” (133134).
2. “The same events are described by the Jewish historian Josephus. Josephus (c. AD 37- c. 93) was a soldier,
a statesman, a historian, and a priest. Born in Jerusalem in an aristocratic family, he was educated in the
Jewish religious law and became a Pharisee. In AD 64 he visited Rome on a diplomatic mission to obtain the
release of Jewish prisoners. Upon his return to Rome, he was appointed governor of Galilee by the
Sanhedrin, the great council of Jews in Jerusalem. In AD 66 he joined the Jewish revolt and organized the
defense of the city of Jotapata. Captured by the Romans, Josephus won the favor of Vespasian by
prophesying that he would one day become emperor; when the prediction proved true, Josephus was
released. During the siege of Jerusalem, he changed sides and served Titus as an interpreter. Hated by the
Jews as a traitor, Josephus accompanied Titus to Rome, where he became a roman citizen and received a
pension” (134). “In c. AD 78 Josephus published an official account of the Jewish rebellion, entitled The
Jewish War, based upon his own observations and recollections” (134).
Works Cited:
Carr-Gomm, Sarah. Art in Focus: Rome. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1995.
Fiero, Gloria K. The Humanistic Tradition, Book 1: The First Civilizations and the Classical Legacy , 4 ed.
New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.
Honour, Hugh, and John Fleming. The Visual Arts: A History. 7 ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson
Prentice-Hall, 2005.
Kleiner, Fred S., Christin J. Mamiya, and Richard G. Tansey. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, 11 ed. Fort
Worth: Harcourt College Publishers, 2001.
Ramage, Nancy H. and Andrew. Roman Art. 2 ed. London: Laurence King, 1995.
Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1999.
Wheeler, Mortimer. Roman Art and Architecture. London: Thames and Hudson, 1964.
Wren, Linnea H., ed. Perspectives on Western Art. Vol. 1. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.