Arch of Titus

This Wikipage is part of the series "Roman Antiquity: Triumphal Arches on the Via Sacra" . Other parts of this series are:

The Arch of Severus Triumphal Processions The Tradition of the Arch before the Flavian Dynasty The Rhetorical Power of Triumphal Arches

The Arch of Titus (Latin: Arcus Titi [2]) was built by the emperor Domitian in 82 AD in honour of his brother and predecessor, the emperor Titus, commemorating his campaign against a big Jewish rebellion, which ended in the victorious siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.

The Arch of Titus[9]

1. Background
2. The Arch
3. Depictions on the Arch
4. Inscriptions on the Arch
5. Problems the Arch solves
6. Sources
7. See also


The Roman Republic had ended when Augustus defeated his opponent Marcus Antonius and became sole ruler in 27 BC. Rome became a monarchy again in all but name. Augustus was better at hiding his power than his adoptive father, Caesar, who was murdered for becoming too much a king, a dreaded word in Rome, ever since the start of the republic [5]. Officialy Augustus was Princeps Senatus, first among the senators. Augustus created a system of adoptive succession. The dynasty of these successors is known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

The last of this dynasty was Nero. Sources describe him as being tyrannical and extravagant, though those sources should be read with great care. After the Great Fire in Rome in 64 AD, Nero started a construction project to rebuild the city, mostly in bricks. He also built a huge palace with a colossal statue of himself. The costs were enormous. He also persecuted Christians, blaming them for the Great Fire. He became more unpopular and a big conspiracy was discovered in 65 AD. Many senators were executed for their part in the conspiracy. [6]

In the east the Jews tried to fight themselves free from Roman rule in what became known as the First Jewish-Roman War, or the Great Revolt lasting from 66-73 AD. Initially the revolt was successful and a Roman counter attack was defeated. Nero then appointed Titus Flavius Vespasianus (Vespasian) as leader of the counter attack to suppress the rebellion, and his son of the same name (known as Titus) joined him. In a brutal campaign the rebels were eventually cornered in Jerusalem. [7]

Bust of Titus Flavius Vespasianus (Vespasian) in the
Capitoline Museums, Rome
Bust of Titus Flavius Vespasianus (Titus) in the
Capitoline Museums, Rome

Whilst Vespasian and Titus were fighting in the east, a lot happened in the rest of the Empire. In 68 the Roman governor of a part of Gaul, Vindex, rebelled against Nero. The governor of a part of Spain, Galba, also rebelled against Nero and declared himself emperor. Vindex was defeated, but when the Praetorian prefect joined with Galba, Nero fled Rome. The senate also abandoned Nero and he committed suicide on the ninth of June 68. Thus ended the Julio-Claudian dynasty. [7]

Galba entered Rome with one legion and was welcomed as emperor. But he quickly lost support. What followed became known as the Year of the Four Emperors. The commander of the Germanic legions, Vitellius was declared emperor by his troops. In Rome, Otho and the Praetorian Guard, murdered Galba and Otho was declared emperor. Vitellius had experienced legions under his command, and Otho tried to negotiate a peace with him. Vitellius refused and his forces defeated Otho, who committed suicide in the aftermath of the battle. [7]

That was not the end of civil trouble. Vitellius wasted a lot of money and was a cruel ruler. The legions in the east and Egypt declared Vespasian emperor, whilst Vespasian was still laying siege to Jerusalem. He went west to defeat Vitellius, leaving Titus in command of the siege. More provinces supported Vespasian and Vitellius was killed. He was declared emperor by the senate on the 21st of December, 69. Jerusalem fell in 70 AD, after very hard fighting. Jerusalem had multiple walls and each had to be breached. During the eventual conquest the Temple of Jerusalem caught fire and was destroyed [7]. Though the rebellion was broken after the fall of Jerusalem, the Jewish kept up resistance until 73 AD, but Titus left for Rome after the siege of Jerusalem. In 71 AD, Titus held a triumph in Rome, which is depicted on the arch [7].

Thus there was a new dynasty, the Flavian dynasty. The Flavians had however become emperor during a civil war, which meant their rule was still fragile. As part of their propaganda, they destroyed the memory of Nero and took down his massive palace. The triumph of Titus, the arch of Titus and the Colosseum were part of a program to show their power to the people, to consolidate their rule. Construction of the Colosseum started in 70 AD and it was completed in 80 AD. Vespasian died in 79 AD and Titus succeeded his father as emperor. And after his death in 81 AD, his brother Domitian became emperor, but with Domitian's death the Flavian dynasty ended.

The Arch

See also "The tradition of the arch before the Flavian dynasty"

The arch of Titus was finished in 82 AD, during the reign of his brother Domitian, but it might have been started by Titus himself. It is located on the highest point of the Via Sacra [1], south-east of the Forum Romanum and close to the Colloseum. North of it the Temple of Venus and Roma can be found [2]. The arch has one bay, with four semi-colums on each side, detailed relief sculpture and inscriptions on the east and west sides. It is 15.4 meters high, 13.5 meters wide and 4.75 meters deep [2]. It has a composite capital, one of the first of its kind and invented by Augustan architects [3]. The original material used was pantelic marble [2]. Based on traditions of arches it can also be expected that there were statues on top of the arch. Though the arch still looks to be in good shape, it is important to consider that it was renovated by Pope Pius VII in 1821 [3], who even added an inscription. The restored parts can be distinguished from the original parts by their lighter colour due to the use of travertine [4].It is certainly possible that there was more detail on the arch, but that it was lost in the period between its construction and the renovation.

Depictions on the Arch

See also "The tradition of the arch before the Flavian dynasty" and "Triumphal processions"

On the walls, inside the bay, detailed relief sculpture can be found. The north side depicts the triumph Titus held in honor of the Judean campaign. The south side depicts the spoils taken from Jerusalem and the temple. On both sides the spandrels are decorated with figures of Victoria holding trophies, with in the center a small statue of the emperor.

The southern relief focuses on the spoils taken back from Jerusalem. The scene shows the emperor with his soldiers, entering Rome for the triumph [2]. The Menorah, a symbol of the Jewish religion, is held high, making it very clear that this arch is built for the Judean campaign. Moreover, the Table of the Showbreads and the silver trumpets from the Temple of Jerusalem are displayed as symbols for the defeat of the Jews [1]. Signs with names of conquered people and cities are carried by some soldiers in the background [2]. Those soldiers represent all the soldiers who had marched in the triumphal procession. They move towards the entrance of Rome, through the Porta Triumphalis [2].

Inside wall of the Arch of Titus. Depicted are Romans taking their spoils from Jerusalem.

The focus on the northern relief is clearly on the emperor Titus riding his chariot. Taking a closer look one can recognise the goddess Roma leading them [2]. She is representative for his empire that led him to success. He is also accompanied by Victoria. She flies above him and serves as a symbol for his victory. His chariot is surrounded by his lictors, recognisable by their fasces [2]. Behind him two more persons follow. A young man represents the Roman people and the older man, wearing a toga, represents the senate [2]. Their position indicates support and appreciation of the emperor.

Inside wall of the Arch of Titus. Depicted is Titus in his chariot during a triumphal procession

The vault of the bay is also richly decorated, in a similar fashion as the Arch of the Sergii. In the very center of the vault there's a depiction of Titus flying on the back of an eagle [2]. It displays the process of becoming divine, called apotheosis. Though other emperors before him also became divine, this is the first example of such a symbol on an arch.

Vault of the arch of Titus. In the center the apotheosis symbol is visible

Inscriptions on the Arch

On one side is still the original inscription about Titus, but on the other there is only an inscription made by Pope Pius VII. If there used to be a different inscription on that spot is unknown.

The inscription of Titus is the following:


This means: "The Roman Senate and People (dedicate this) to the divine Titus Vespasianus Augustus, son of the divine Vespasian" [2].

The inscription of Pope Pius VII is the following:


This means, "(This) monument, remarkable in terms of both religion and art, had weakened from age: Pius the Seventh, Supreme Pontif, by new works on the model of the ancient exemplar ordered it reinforced and preserved. In the year of his sacred rulership the 24th" [4].

A detailed description and analysis of the restorations and adjustments made after the original construction of the arch are outside the scope of this article.

Problems the Arch solves

See also The Rhetorical Power of Triumphal Arches

The Flavian dynasty had the problem of being a new dynasty. The Flavian emperors had to impress the people. The arch celebrated a victory over foreign enemies, which was usually well received by Romans. In fact successful foreign wars were key in showing the power of an emperor [8]. Celebrating a victory in a civil war was seen as unacceptable by many Romans. Caesar for example, held a triumph for his victory over the Pompeians in Africa, but officially announced it as a victory over the Numidian King who fought together with the Pompeians [5]. Thus they had to show their power, without offending the people by celebrating a victory over Romans. Though Judea was part of the Empire, it rebelled against Rome. The Romans had a policy of acting quickly in the case of rebellions, since not reacting would lead to the rebellion becoming bigger, or even spreading to other parts of the empire [5]. Thus the arch reminds the people that Vespasian and Titus protected the empire by their strong response. It also reminds the people of the military capacities of the emperor. A strong emperor was much less likely to face challenges to his rule [8]. Thus the arch decreased the chance that others would follow the example of the Flavians, who after all became emperor by fighting a civil war. For Domitian the arch had the added effect of connecting himself with his brother's victory and Romans had a deep belief in family traits [5], thus strengthening his own rule.

The arch is in combination with the Colosseum and other construction projects by the Flavians an ancient form of propaganda, showing the Roman people who has the power in Rome.


  3. Ward-Perkins: Roman Imperial Architecture
  5. A Goldsworthy. Caesar: The life of a Colossus. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd, 2006.
  7. A Goldsworthy. In the name of Rome. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd, 2003.
  8. A Goldsworthy. The Fall of the West. The slow death of the Roman Superpower. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd, 2009

See also

This Wikipage is part of the series "Roman Antiquity: Triumphal Arches on the Via Sacra" . Other parts of this series are:

The Arch of Severus Triumphal Processions The Tradition of the Arch before the Flavian Dynasty The Rhetorical Power of Triumphal Arches