Triumphal arch of Titus (81-82 CE)_Reliefs

Name of the artist: 
Original Location/Place: 

Roman Forum

Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 

In loco. Restored by Raffaele Stern in 1817 and by Giuseppe Valadier in 1821.

The Arch of Titus is located on the Velia, namely on the eastern edge of the Roman forum, on the Via Sacra. The structure, which follows the scheme of the traditional Roman triumphal arch, is characterised by the presence of two great piers joined by an archway, which is crowned with a flat entablature, or attic. The surviving inscription is set on the western attic, but there may have been a second text also on the eastern side, which has been replaced by an inscription recording the papal restoration of the arch. The main reliefs consist of an exterior frieze that decorates the attic, various reliefs which decorated the outer western and eastern facades of the arch, two panels set within the archway, on the southern and northern sides, with a further relief panel in the top of the interior of the arch. The attic of the arch was originally crowned by more statuary, perhaps a gilded quadriga, or chariot, carrying the emperor, which is now lost. In the spandrels there are winged Victories. The sculptures of the outer faces of the two great piers were lost when the triumphal arch of Titus was incorporated into medieval defensive walls.
81 CE to 82 CE

Pentelic Marble

Width: 13.50m 
Height: 15.40m
Depth: 4.75m
Literary reference: 

Martial, On Spectacles 2

The reliefs from the fornix, the interior of the Arch of Titus, are some of the most iconic archaeological remains in the city of Rome, and certainly of the Flavian emperors. The imagery representing the triumph of Vespasian and Augustus in 71 CE, as they returned from their successful campaign in Jerusalem, has become synonymous with our understanding of that victory, and has been used to confirm details from Josephus’s account of the spoils seized from the Temple and their arrival in Rome.  
The interior southern panel of the fornix appears to show the beginning of the triumphal procession; to the right side is the Triumphal Gate, which is indicated by a vertical column and the beginning of an arch, upon which two chariot groups carrying the two triumphators can just be seen (Claridge, Rome, p. 121). Just as they did during the triumph of 71 CE, Titus’s soldiers approach this gate as part of the route from the Campus Martius to the Capitoline Hill, whose presence through the archway up ahead can just be glimpsed. The soldiers in the relief parade the spoils taken from the Temple of Jerusalem, prior to Titus’s destruction of it; the seven-branched Menorah appears at the centre of the scene, but other sacred objects are also recognisable, including the golden Table of Shewbread, and the silver trumpets, which are carried in on wooden stretchers, the fercula, borne by the soldiers (Östenberg, Staging the World, p. 111). Also visible above the heads of the soldiers are rectangular placards; these are the written tituli, wooden plaques, on which were painted the names and identities of the objects and captives that followed behind them. Ida Östenberg has noted that the far left side of this relief effectively ‘ends’ with a placard, which should be interpreted as introducing further spoils, whose procession are implied to be continuing behind. She has suggested that the third placard preceded possibly the third “renowned spoil” from the Jerusalem Temple given by Josephus, the ‘Jewish Law’ (νόμος, ho nomos), which is believed to be the book scroll that contained the Pentateuch, which is described as coming ‘last in the row of spoils’ (τελευταιοςτῶνλαφύρων, teleutaios tōn laphurōn) (Östenberg, Staging the World, p. 112-114; Josephus, Jewish War, VII.148-152). Recent work on the arch by Steven Fine and the Arch of Titus project has revealed, through the use of high-resolution digital scans, that the scene was originally probably painted; traces of yellow ochre on the arms and base of the Menorah have been discovered, perhaps in order to symbolise the gold that it was originally described to have been made of (see Fine, Schertz and Sanders, “True Colours”, p. 29-35; 60-61).  
The presence of the spoils at the beginning of the Triumph is in keeping with the order in which spoils had been presented at all other known Triumphs, but it is at odds with the description given by Josephus, who appears to indicate that they were carried at the end of the procession, and just before the triumphators themselves (Jewish War, VII.152); however, as Ida Östenberg has demonstrated, it is more likely that the historian is describing the spoils non-sequentially, and rather focused in on those that appear to be most prominent to his eyes, the Temple Treasures (Staging the World, p. 111-113). Although the attention that this part of the triumph receives might suggest that Josephus had paid the Temple Treasures undue consideration in his narrative because of his own Jewish heritage, their depiction in the relief decoration of the arch is indicative of their importance to the Roman viewer too. The Temple Treasures represented the essential aspects of the Jewish war, and demonstrated that Rome’s victory was not only over a city in revolt, but over every aspect of Jewish religious and cultural life. The spoils seized by Titus were not only the most valuable items from the Temple, but also the ones that related to the entire ethnic character of the Jews. As if to add further insult to the Jewish community, particularly of Rome, the Temple Treasures were taken to the Templum Pacis complex inaugurated by Vespasian, where they were displayed and venerated as works of ‘art’ alongside the Greek masterpieces rescued from Nero’s Domus Aurea.
The interior northern panel depicts Titus being carried into Rome on the quadriga during the triumph. A winged Victory crowns him with a laurel wreath and the helmeted figure of Roma leads the quadriga, with the procession of the lictores, or bodyguards, carrying the sacrificial axes, the fasces, just preceding her. The semi-nude male next to Titus may be identified as the Genius of the Roman people, with the togate figure standing alongside him representative of the Genius of the Senate (Claridge, Rome, p. 122). The inclusion of ‘divine’ figures in the relief “reinforces the power and significance of the event,” whilst also elevating Titus – who stood amongst them – to an equal status (Tuck, “Imperial Image-Making,” p. 115). The divinity of Titus is further indicated by his presence in the central interior relief within the apex of the archway, showing his apotheosis to the heavens on the back of an eagle. Although the presentation of the Triumph would appear to suggest that this was a triumphal arch, the inclusion of the apotheosis scene and the attribution of Titus as divus in the inscription indicate that it was entirely funerary; the arch was erected to celebrate his divinisation and to honour Titus’s memory, which was inextricably bound up with his successes in Judea.
Little remains of it now due to the arch’s incorporation into a medieval fortification wall in the 12th century CE and its restoration in the 19th century, but traces of the exterior reliefs have revealed that the theme of Vespasian and Titus’s triumph continued on the outside of the arch, where the frieze around the attic entablature again depicted the procession, this time in full. Although carved on a miniature scale, its high relief renders the surviving detail visible, and on the spandrels below trophies and laurel wreathes are carved with flying Victories with globes beneath their feet, and who carry banners (Claridge, Rome, p. 122-123).  
The apparent combination of both triumphal and funerary themes on the Arch of Titus has led Jaś Elsner to question whether or not the exterior frieze from the attic of the structure actually depicted the triumphal procession of 71 CE, or Titus’s funeral procession a decade later, or indeed both. He has suggested that viewers were intended to move from the eastern side of the arch, which presented the inscription, to the small frieze and the Victories as a kind of “prefatory statement” of the triumph – indicated by the Victories – and the apotheosis, indicated by divus in the inscription. As the viewer passed under the arch, they discovered the larger relief panels at eye level, the figures of which moved with the viewer’s own pace, so that “the arch…offer[ed] a complex visual extrapolation of the victory and apotheosis motifs of the front in larger and more directly visible images, which directly enclose[d] viewers through the architectural structure and immerse[d] them in its argument” (Elsner, “Introduction,” p. 12). The Arch of Titus was, then, a deliberately expressive monument which aimed at impressing its audience through the replication of themes of victory and of divinisation; Titus was depicted on the reliefs as a true general who had brought military spoils into Rome that symbolised the political, cultural, and religious destruction of the Jews, and who was accordingly rewarded with the status of God. The placement of the arch at the edge of the Roman Forum was also deliberate; from the Velia the arch communicated with the Arch of Titus that was dedicated on the Circus Maximus shortly before his death through their position along the triumphal route to the Palatine. Both arches were within sight of the Colosseum, whose inscription again proclaimed the Flavian victory in Judea as the act that had made its construction possible (see Millar, “Last Year in Jerusalem,” p. 120-125 for further discussion): the connection between the monuments was undeniable, and the significance of Titus’s victory in Jerusalem inextricable from his position as general, emperor or deity.
Bibliographical references: 
Elsner, Jas, Introduction, in Art and rhetoric in Roman culture (ed. M. Meyer, J. Elsner; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), p. 1-34
Kleiner, Diane E.E., Roman Sculpture (New Haven (Conn.): Yale University Press, 1984)
Strong, Donald, Roman Art (The Yale University Press - Pelican History of Art; Harmondsworth : Yale University Press - Penguin, 1992)
Tuck, Steven, Imperial Image-Making, in A Companion to the Flavian Age of Rome (ed. A. Zissos; Chichester; Malden: John Wiley and Sons, 2016), p. 109-128

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Triumphal arch of Titus (81-82 CE)_Reliefs
Author(s) of this publication: Caroline Barron, Samuele Rocca
Publishing date: Mon, 01/15/2018 - 14:00
Visited: Fri, 03/23/2018 - 19:52

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