The Arch of Titus in the Circus Maximus

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Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Original Location/Place: 
Arch of Titus, Circus Maximus.
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Now lost.
81 CE
Physical Characteristics: 

A triumphal arch, located on the eastern edge of the Circus Maximus. It consisted of a large, central arch, flanked by two smaller ones, framed by a column on each side. The arch was topped by an attic, on which was placed the inscription.   


Height: 14m

Width: 17m


CIL VI, 944

The ‘Arch of Titus’ from the Circus Maximus was dedicated in 81 CE by the emperor Domitian, following the death of his brother Titus. The arch is no longer standing (although fragments of it have been found, see La Rocca, Un frammento dell’arco; Brandizzi Vittucci, L’Arco di Tito, p. 68-71), but its form has been identified through its depiction on coins from the Trajanic period, as well as in the mosaic image of the circus from Piazza Armerina in Sicily and the ‘Foligno’ relief (Humphreys, Roman Circuses, p. 104, fig. 42; p. 98). A fragment of the ‘Marble Plan’ of Rome (Forma Urbis Romae) also contains what appears to be a monumental archway in the centre of the semi-circular end of the Circus (Lugli & Garcia Barraco, Il Circo Massimo, p. 44-5, fig. 9a). The coin images of the arch suggest that it featured a single, central bay, above which is a tall attic framed with mouldings and topped by a quadriga group and charioteer (Humpreys, Roman Circuses, p. 97). However, the Piazza Armerina mosaic and the Foligno relief provide more detailed information, from which the arch can be reconstructed with three bays (one large, central bay, with a smaller one to each side), between which stand Corinthian capitals and bases (Humphreys, Roman Circuses, p. 98. For a detailed discussion of the form of the arch, see Brandizzi Vitucci, L’Arco di Tito, p. 68-71). The inscription does not feature in any of these depictions, but is known from the 8th-9th century CE manuscript, the Codex Einsiedelnsis, which records its text in full, and from which Theodor Mommsen recorded it for the CIL.
The inscription dedicates the arch to the emperor Titus, with the imperial titles awarded to him in it permitting a secure date of 81 CE for the dedication of the arch. The text of the inscription states that the arch has been dedicated to Titus because he had succeeded in subduing (even ‘taming’) the Jewish people (gentem Iudaeorum….domuit) and destroying the city of Jerusalem (urbem Hierusolymam…delevit). This lost arch of Titus was clearly intended, therefore, as a monumental commemoration of the Flavians’ victory in the Jewish War. Together with the surviving Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum, the Temple of Peace and the Colosseum, the Arch in the Circus Maximus functioned as a physical memorialisation of the martial achievement of the Flavian dynasty and the scale of destruction brought upon the capital city of Judea. The choice of location in the semi-circular, eastern end of the Circus Maximus is also worthy of note; it was close to the Colosseum – the inscription of which stated that it had been constructed through the ‘spoils of war’ (ex manubi(i)s) (link)– which supports the notion that these monumental structures worked together as one single commemoration of Flavian victory.
Much has been made of Josephus’s description of the triumph celebrated by Vespasian and Titus upon their return to Rome in 71 CE (Jewish War, VII, 123-57) as it is the most full description of a triumph from the imperial period to have survived, yet it does little to clarify the urban topography of the triumphal route and particularly where the Arch of Titus under discussion once stood (Millar, Monuments of the Jewish War, p. 101-3). Fergus Millar has attempted to reconstruct the path taken by the victorious Flavians and their soldiers, arriving at the conclusion that one of the ‘theatres’ described by Josephus, from which the Roman people watched the spectacle, was the Circus Maximus itself, and that the route of the triumphal procession circled the entire Palatine, proceeded along the eastern edge of it to the Velian Hill, from which it descended along the Via Sacra to the Forum, before culminating at the Capitoline Temple of Jupiter (Millar, Monuments of the Jewish War, p. 105-6). If this route is correct, then the two arches of Titus collectively marked the path of the triumph, emphasising his involvement in the conquest that was being celebrated. The fact that the arch in the Circus Maximus contained the longer inscription of the two monuments, and recorded more fully Titus’s imperial titles and the specific victory for which the monument was decreed also fits with the idea of the performative nature of the arch’s role in the triumph; the Circus Maximus could hold c. 150,000 spectators, so it was therefore only logical that the most full account of Titus’s successes be recorded in the location where it could be seen by the greatest number of viewers, and implicitly associated with the performance taking place before them (Humphreys, Roman Circuses, p. 126). 
Robert Ross Holloway has suggested that the inscriptions from both Arches of Titus were intended to be read together, but not simply due to their placement along the conjectured route of the triumph. He proposed that the two inscriptions should be read as funerary eulogies (elogia), which had – since the Republican period - served as monumental summaries of the orations presented at the funerals of important men (Ross Holloway, Arch of Titus, p. 188). Furthermore, a comparison can be drawn between the two inscriptions dedicated here to Titus and the famous elogia of the statues of the summi viri in the Forum of Augustus, which were composed in two parts: a small tablet that briefly identified the statue surmounting the base, with a longer inscription describing their careers and successes beneath it. If the inscriptions dedicated to Titus are understood in the same way, the short text from the Arch in the Roman Forum acted as the tablet identifying whom the monument commemorated, and implied a longer text to follow, which was fulfilled by the inscription from the Circus Maximus. (Ross Holloway, Arch of Titus, p. 190). The Circus Maximus inscription completed the biography of Titus, and described in textual form the same feats represented pictorially in the reliefs of the arch that stood in the Forum; not only did the two arches work together physically to commemorate Titus and Vespasian’s conquest, mapping out the route of their triumph, but the inscriptions communicated with each other to fulfil a longstanding tradition of funerary practice, which was intrinsically connected with the most admired and celebrated men of Rome’s history.
The final lines of the inscription are especially worthy of note; they claim that Titus’s subjugation of the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem were feats ‘either sought in vain by all generals, kings and peoples before him or untried by all’ (omnibus ante / se ducibus regibus gentibus aut frustra petitam aut / omnino intemptatam). This statement is undeniably false; Josephus’s Jewish War had been written under the patronage of Vespasian and specifically recorded the capture of Jerusalem by Pompey Magnus in 63 BCE (I, 141-54) and by Sosius in 37 BCE (I, 345-57), as well as a host of other captures described in Book VI (lines 435-7). Sosius had even celebrated a triumph in 34 BCE and constructed a temple to Apollo next to the Theatre of Marcellus with his spoils (Viscogliosi, Apollo, p. 49-54). However, although Titus’s claim to be the first to conquer the Jewish people and destroy the city of Jerusalem can be said to be false, the inscription is the first to openly celebrate the fact that these acts took place (Millar, Flavius Josephus, p. 122). Although Judea had certainly caused Rome some troubles in recent history, it was not a province closely associated with extreme civil unrest and military activity until this point, the straightforward celebration implied by the inscription suggests the importance of the victory for Vespasian and Titus; the commemoration of the events of 71 CE should be understood as a blatant act of self-assertion on the part of the new ruling dynasty, which established a clear break with the memory of Nero and left a tangible mark on the evolution of the city of Rome. The inscription records Titus as expanding the boundaries of the Roman world through the conquest of Judea, adding a new province to her dominion and subjugating a foreign people in a way that was deeply evocative of the earliest achievements of the empire under Augustus and Tiberius. The statement that these successes were won by following the plans, advice and auspices of his father (praeceptis patris consiliisque et auspiciis) is a further indication of the determination with which the Flavian dynasty was establishing itself in Rome; not only were their acts reminiscent of the greatest of the Julio-Claudian emperors, but they were presented here as having been undertaken according to the definitive attribute of Rome’s ‘golden age’: pietas. Not only did the inscription commemorating the Jewish War in the Circus Maximus serve to emphasise the military might and splendour of the Flavian emperors, but it both separated them from the negative memories of Gaius and Nero and firmly established their rule as the rightful heirs to the Augustan legacy of conquest and dominion.
Bibliographical references: 
Ciancio Rossetto, Paola, Arcus Titi (Circus Maximus), in Lexicon topographicum urbis Romae, vol. I (ed. E.M. Steinby; Roma: Edizioni Quasar, 1993), 108-109
Lehman-Hartleben, Karl, L'Arco di Tito, Bullettino della Commissone Archaeologica Comunale di Roma LXII (1934) : 89-122
Magi, Filippo, Ancora sull’Arco di Tito, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archaeologischen Instituts Roemische Abteilung 84 (1977) : 331-347
Viscogliosi, Alessandro, Apollo, aedes in Circo, in Lexicon topographicum Urbis Romae, vol. I (ed. E.M. Steinby; Roma: Edizioni Quasar, 1993), 49-54
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The Arch of Titus in the Circus Maximus
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron
Publishing date: Thu, 10/19/2017 - 16:17
Visited: Tue, 02/19/2019 - 02:33

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