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Bill Thayer

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Crispus: the Moon at her Full

The Arch of Constantine is built in the shape of a long box: the three archways pierce the long and profusely decorated N and S sides, while the E and W faces are the much simpler "ends" of the box. The 2 images below show the only bas-reliefs on the West face of the arch. (The E end is here.)

[image ALT: a small rectangular stone frieze of a battle scene. It is a relief on the Arch of Constantine in Rome.]

Contrast this skilful, animated and readable relief of a battle scene, depicting Romans battling Dacians and reused from some monument of Trajan's, with the frieze in the next photo, expressly sculpted for this arch two hundred years later — which is both busy and crudely hieratic.

[image ALT: A stone wall with a large round stone medallion showing mostly horses; under the medallion, a rather busy frieze of a procession. It is a detail of the Arch of Constantine in Rome.]

The roundel represents the Moon in her biga, or two-horse chariot; below, the frieze shows the triumph of Crispus, the son of Constantine. Just as the moon is a reflection of the sun's glory, so is Crispus that of the great Constantine.

Some of you may be wondering a bit about the title of this page. Well, the Sun, barring very brief eclipses, is always full — but the moon, once full, wanes to nothingness: which is what happened to Crispus. All in all, this relief may be considered an omen.

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Page updated: 26 Sep 01