Medieval Studies

"The Senate and the Sun: Inspiration for the Arch of Constantine," Noel E. Lenski, University of Colorado at Boulder

Mon, November 5, 2012 | DFA 2.204

5:00 PM - 6:30 PM

The arch of Constantine has long puzzled scholars trying to trace the religious development of the first Christian emperor. Dedicated just three years after his victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, the arch shows no trace of the Christian inspiration said to have led to Constantine's victory by Eusebius and Lactantius. I argued in a 2008 article (Journal of Late Antiquity 1: 204-57) that the arch's inscription represents not a Christian but a pagan interpretation of the victory put forward by the Roman Senate. This paper will add further refinements to this earlier argument based on the arch's iconography. It will examine the many representations of the sun god on the monument to show that the arch's designers wished to credit Constantine's success to the intervention of Sol Invictus. It will then examine the role assigned to the Senate itself on the arch's reliefs and particularly in the two Constantinian friezes on the arch's northern side. The prominent place of senators seems designed to co-opt Constantine into the Roman Senate and its ideology and thereby to ensure his acceptance of its version of the events surrounding the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.

Sponsored by: Late Antiquity Workshop and Middle Eastern Studies

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