The Roman triumphal arch, which was a permanent monument erected to celebrate a transient Roman triumphal procession remained a potent form in Western architecture. Unlike those created in the republican period, the arches that were constructed during the imperial period between the 1st and 4th centuries CE were made of durable materials and are the ones that are still present today. Although designed to convey the power and glory of the emperor the reason for their construction was not consistently military victor, as one might presume. It is important to consider the triumphal procession while understanding the significance of these monuments. Of of of
The triumph, a ceremonial procession granted to Roman military commanders by the senate was traditional practice that transformed into a display of might and splendour. Initially a procession of broken weapons used to convey the defeat of a Roman enemy, the victory over Pyrrhus resolved the procession to a display of the Roman military’s prowess and strength. The more glorious the spoils, the more powerful Rome appeared. This glory was extended to the triumphator. Of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of
The Roman triumphal arch remained a source of fascination and inspiration well after the fall of the roman empire as it served as a reminder of the glories of the past and a beacon on the state power. At Lorsch abbey, the Torhalle was built to replicate a Roman triumphal arch to signify the link between the Carolingian Empire and its Roman predecessor. It wasn’t until the Rennaissance where rulers thought to build their own triumphal to equate themselves with the Roman legacy. Of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of
An early example of a triumphal arch is the Arch Of Titus. The siege of Jeruselem has begun long before Titus had come into the frame. The city was already feeling strained at civil war wreaking havoc inside the city. By the time Titus arrived the tired city only manages to break out of civil war when the Romans began building ramparts to scale and destroy the cities walls. Inspite of the valiant effort of even woman and children, the Roamsn breached the city walls and sacked the temple that the Jews were using as a fortress. The rule of leaving a temple intact was ignored as Titus ordered his army to burn the temple to the ground. Upon Titus’ arrival a triumph was immediately awarded to him, his father Vespian and brother Domitian. Although their combined deeds warranted three separate triumph, they decided to rather hold a single monumental triumph instead. Of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of
Located on a hill between the Colosseum and the forum, upon first inspection there is no doubt about the arch’s purpose. The words, “The Senate and people of Rome (dedicate this) to the deified Titus Vespasian Augustus, son of the deified Vespasian” are inscribed on a panel in the attic of the arch. A tribute to man who was a hero, an emperor and a god of Rome. The arch is the spirit of the roman triumph captured in stone. Below the attic lies a relief including the animals being led to the temple of Jupiter for sacrifice. Just below the relief, a very common symbol on the triumphal arches of Rome: the winged goddess Victory remains. Centred in the coffered intrados of the arch, a smaller relief shows Titus riding an eagle, on the cusp of becoming a god. Below these lie the two most famous relief panels that rest opposite each other on the inner walls of the arch. The panel on the South shows the loot of the first Jewish war on its way to be displayed to the Romans. It represents the immense wealth and the most sacred artefacts from Judea: the seven-branched menorah, the silver trumpets and a table of showbread all collected from the depths of the Jewish temple. On the right is the destination of the procession. In addition to the loot, the depiction shows the romans carrying three placards describing some element of the war to explain to future viewers or to stress the significance of the displayed stolen goods to the pagan Romans. The North panel shows the triumphator riding in a chariot pulled by four horses. Titus stands tall to draw emphasis. The figures below Titus are personifications of the senate as an assurance that the arch was bestowed upon Titus by the senate after the approval of the people.
Many of the principles used this arch went on to become the standard guidelines of a triumphal arch but I believe there are a few aspects that can be drawn from the arch of Titus that show why the Triumphal arch remained a potent form in Western architecture. As highlighted above the arch was a demonstration of might and conquest something that was very relevant to the ever-changing landscape present in the Western world. The need to celebrate military victory and the preservation of self-proclaimed ‘crowning achievement’ through architecture persisted all the way up to the world wars. Of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of of
The impact of the traditional triumphal arch can be seen through various examples in later years. One example of that is the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Napoleon had ambitions to make his capital the most beautiful city on the world and as a result in 1806 plans for a column dedicated to honour the ‘Grand Armee’ were confirmed. The authorisation of the completion of the pantheon also brought about that of a triumphal arch at the entry of boulevard. The aim of the arch that was to be located by the site of the former Bastille prison was so that one would pass through it upon entering the Saint-Antione district. The arc was commissioned not too long after Napoleons victory in Austerlitz as he wanted his soldiers to march home through arches of victory.
The architect, Chalgrin’s design is Neoclassical and is said to be partly inspired by the arch of Titus in Rome. But on closer inspection it is seen to resemble the arch of Septimius Severus more than any other Roman Arch. Both the arches are embellished with reliefs that depict important battles and events. Relief structures commemorating military victories of the Revolution and the First Empire were engraved on the facades of the arch’s pedestals. The other surfaces are decorated with the names of all the 558 generals and battles they died in. Underneath the arch lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where a remembrance flame in memory of the dead who were never identified during the world wars, is rekindled to mark the anniversary of the armistice between France and Germany that ended World War 1. The Arc de Triomphe was a modern adaptation of the tradition Roman arch. The purpose of it wasn’t just to celebrate one individual achievements in a battle but the acknowledge the sacrifice of multiple people that were significant to their cause.
Western architecture remained in awe of Roman triumphal arches as they represented military conquest and success. As an extension of that they began to be adapted to ceremonial processions not military in nature as well. For example, newly elected popes were processed through the streets of Rome under temporary triumphal arches built specifically for that purpose. Arches were also built for weddings when Charles Emmanueal I, the Duke of Savoy got married to Infanta Michelle of Spain. The procession under the triumphal arch established the antiquity of the House of Savoy and associated his dynasty with the imperial Roman past.
Triumphal arches were continued to be built in the modern era as statements of power or self-elevation by dictators. Adolf Hitler intended to build the world largest triumphal arch that was to be carved with the names of Germany’s 1.8 million dead in the first world war, but construction never began. In my opinion, the main reason for the triumphal arch remaining a potent form in western architecture is down to the fact that the powerful symbolism and meaning attached to the arch is something that can be relived through it. Even though the cause for building one shifted from military conquest/success to immortalise the deeds of the those who fought in the military conquest, the underlying need to preserve the story of the horror/satisfaction remained.