In 315 AD Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus arrived in Rome to see a six-story monument commemorating his victory over Maxentius, his rival, brother-in-law, and former co-emporer. The triple arch monument, now one of the world’s top tourist-photo spots, isn’t described or even mentioned in any ancient literature; the first modern reference to it is its appearance in 16th century etchings by Du Prac. Many detailed investigations of the structure show that it is more or less as it was erected 1700 years ago. The slightly odd part of that is the fact that most of the artwork on the arch was made for emperors who reigned a century or two before Constantine. That oddity makes the reliefs on the arch even more interesting to historians. These decorative and narrative reliefs are a bit of a puzzle, since they’ve obviously been carved, moved, recarved, and remounted. Problem is, the interesting ones are up mounted up high. Worse yet, you can’t get close to the base of the north side of the arch, so it’s tough to study their details. Many scholars of ancient Rome have an intense interest in the stories about Marcus Aurelius, Trajan, and Hadrian in the artwork on the arch. I’m one of them, and I have a long lens.
Technically speaking, it’s illegal to use tripods in Italian state historical parks. I’ve seen people using them around the arch and the nearby Colosseum at night without being hassled, but then I’ve been threatened with arrest for opening one in Pompeii. I chose to shoot the arch without one. Midday test shots showed ugly shadows so I shot at sundown, without a tripod, from a distance far enough back that I wasn’t looking up too steeply at the marble panels along the attic of the arch. I hand-held a 400mm lens on my 5D Mark II and concentrated on painting horizontal stripes across all four sides of the monument with the camera. It worked well, except a couple of frames were less than perfect due to camera movement or missed focus. I got greedy on ISO and didn’t want to go above 400.
I stitched the photos together using PTGui Pro, downsized it to about a gigapixel, and chopped the resulting images up with some C# code for consumption by the Silverlight deep zoom player or the Seadragon Ajax toolkit, which is what I’m using to display the zoomable Arch of Constantine with a point-of-interest overlay here. You can click a POI title in the list on the right side of the screen to zoom to that specific point in the image.
Look closely at the liberalitas panel and zoom in on the area just to the right of Constantine’s chair (where Marcus Aurelius originally sat before his head was replaced with that of Constantine) and you can see remnants of the foot of a now-missing person who once sat next to Marcus Aurelius/Constantine. That person was no doubt Commodus, the bad boy of Gladiator played by Joaquin Phoenix, who was assassinated and declared a public enemy by the senate, at which time his image was erased from most public monuments. Modern imaging technology and the murder of Commodus – what could be better.