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Monday, November 26, 2012

Arch of Titus; The Story Behind the Destruction

This arch, dramatically situated at the highest point of the Via Sacra, is one of the most celebrated monuments in the Forum Romanum. The oldest surviving arch in Rome, it is the simplest, has only one opening, and is perhaps most well-proportioned of the arches still standing. It was built to commemorate the immensely popular emperor Titus, who died suddenly during a plague A.D. 81, after only a two year reign, and to celebrate his victory in Jerusalem. Domitian, the younger, not-so-popular brother of Titus, had the arch constructed to honor Titus' popularity, and possibly to take advantage of it for himself; it was dedicated in A.D. 85 with great pomp. There are several interesting relief sculptures on the arch, including depictions of the apotheosis of Titus (which is why the arch inscription refers to Divus Titus), and the spoils of the Jerusalem Temple carried in triumphal procession. The menorah and the table of show bread carried by Roman soldiers are thought to represent the procession at the dedication of the arch. The Arch of Titus, constructed of concrete and faced with marble, is essentially a free-standing gateway whose passage is covered by a barrel vault. The arch served as a giant based, 50 feet tall, for a lost bronze statue of the emperor in a four-horse chariot, a typical triumphal symbol. Applied to the faces of the arch are columns in the Composite order supporting an entablature. The inscription on the uppermost, or attic, story declares that the Senate and the Roman people erected the monument to honor Titus. Titus' capture of Jerusalem ended a fierce campaign to crush a revolt of the Jews in Palestine. The Romans sacked and destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem, carried off its sacred treasures, then displayed them in a triumphal procession in Rome. A relief on the inside walls of the arch, capturing the drama of the occasion, depicts Titus' soldiers flaunting this booty as they carry it through the streets of Rome. The soldiers are headed toward the right and through an arch, turned obliquely to project into the viewers' own space, thus allowing living spectators a sense of the press of a boisterous, disorderly crowd. They might expect at any moment to hear soldiers and onlookers shouting and chanting.
The mood of the procession depicted in this relief contrasts with the relaxed but formal solemnity of the procession portrayed on the Ara Pacis. Like the sculptors of the Ara Pacis, the sculptors of the Arch of Titus showed the spatial relationships among figures, varying depth of the relief by rendering nearer elements in higher relief than those more distant. A menorah, or seven-branched lampholder, from the Temple of Jerusalem, dominated the scene; the sculptors rendered it as if seen from the low point of view of a spectator at the event.

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