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Bill Thayer

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A Monumental Inscription

or: Read the Flattery as Relief . . .


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The southern inscription on the Arch of Constantine — or, to be technical, the holes left now that the bronze letters of the actual inscription have gone.

The duplicate inscriptions (CIL 6.1139) on the N and S faces of the Arch of Constantine set the tone for this work of propaganda, in both their monumentality and their obsequious fulsomeness. There is also a whiff of political correctness in the use of divinitatis to cover all bases: as is well known, Constantine's ambiguity in matters of religion served to unite his empire.

Two thousand years later, the Talleyrandian phrase, instinctu divinitatis mentis, still has almost everyone disagreeing as to the details, but claiming Constantine as one of their own! So, for a considerably more erudite and detailed view, in the triumphalist Roman and Catholic tradition, see Rodolfo Lanciani in Pagan and Christian Rome; and for an approach from the opposite direction, see this interesting and very detailed page (with some splendid photographs) that even analyzes the physical structure of the Arch based on a hermetic understanding of the Divine Mind.

Transcribed and expanded:

1



5
IMPERATORI CAESARI FLAVIO CONSTANTINO MAXIMO
PIO FELICI AVGVSTO SENATVS POPVLVSQVE ROMANVS
QVOD INSTINCTV DIVINITATIS MENTIS
MAGNITVDINE CVM EXERCITV SVO
TAM DE TYRANNO QVAM DE OMNI EIVS
FACTIONE VNO TEMPORE IVSTIS
REMPVBLICAM VLTVS EST ARMIS
ARCVM TRIVMPHIS INSIGNEM DICAVIT

Translated:

To the Emperor Caesar Flavius Constantine, the Greatest, Pius, Felix, Augustus:
inspired by (a) divinity, in the greatness of his mind,
he used his army to save the state by the just force of arms
from a tyrant on the one hand and every kind of factionalism on the other;
therefore the Senate and the People of Rome
have dedicated this exceptional arch to his triumphs.


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The north inscription is of an identical text (but it's much harder to photograph).

Page updated: 13 Dec 99