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Titus, in full Titus Vespasianus Augustus, original name Titus Flavius Vespasianus, (born Dec. 30, 39 ce —died Sept. 13, 81 ce ), Roman emperor (79–81), and the conqueror of Jerusalem in 70.
Who was Titus?
Titus was the Roman emperor from 79 to 81 CE. He is also known for being the conqueror of Jerusalem.
What did Titus do?
Titus commanded a Roman legion in Judaea. In 70 CE he led a campaign that culminated in the capture and destruction of Jerusalem. Titus became the Roman emperor in 79. He completed construction of the Flavian Amphitheatre, better known as the Colosseum, and opened it with ceremonies lasting more than 100 days.
What was Titus’s family like?
Titus’s father was the Roman emperor Vespasian. After Titus died in 81 CE, his brother Domitian became emperor. Titus married twice, but his first wife died, and he divorced the second soon after the birth (c. 65) of his only child, a daughter, Flavia Julia, to whom he accorded the title Augusta.
After service in Britain and Germany, Titus commanded a legion under his father, Vespasian, in Judaea (67). Following the emperor Nero’s death in June 68, Titus was energetic in promoting his father’s candidacy for the imperial crown. Licinius Mucianus, legate of Syria, whom he reconciled with Vespasian, considered that one of Vespasian’s greatest assets was to have so promising a son and heir. Immediately on being proclaimed emperor in 69, Vespasian gave Titus charge of the Jewish war, and a large-scale campaign in 70 culminated in the capture and destruction of Jerusalem in September. (The Arch of Titus , still standing at the entrance to the Roman Forum, commemorated his victory.)
The victorious troops in Palestine urged Titus to take them with him to Italy it was suspected that they acted on his prompting and that he was considering some sort of challenge to his father. But eventually he returned alone in summer 71, triumphed jointly with Vespasian, and was made commander of the Praetorian Guard. He also received tribunician power and was his father’s colleague in the censorship of 73 and in several consulships. Although Vespasian had in various ways avoided making Titus his own equal, the son became the military arm of the new principate and is described by Suetonius as particeps atque etiam tutor imperii (“sharer and even protector of the empire”). As such he incurred unpopularity, worsened by his relations with Berenice (sister of the Syrian Herod Agrippa II), who lived with him for a time in the palace and hoped to become his wife. But the Romans had memories of Cleopatra, and marriage to an Eastern queen was repugnant to public opinion. Twice he reluctantly had to dismiss her, the second time just after Vespasian’s death.
In 79 Titus suppressed a conspiracy, doubtless concerned with the succession, but, when Vespasian died on June 23, he succeeded promptly and peacefully. His relations with his brother Domitian were bad, but in other ways his short rule was unexpectedly popular in Rome. He was outstandingly good-looking, cultivated, and affable Suetonius called him “the darling of the human race.” His success was won largely by lavish expenditure, some of it purely personal largesse but some public bounty, like the assistance to Campania after Vesuvius erupted in 79 and the rebuilding of Rome after the fire in 80. He completed construction of the Flavian Amphitheatre, better known as the Colosseum, and opened it with ceremonies lasting more than 100 days. His sudden death at age 41 was supposedly hastened by Domitian, who became his successor as emperor.
Titus married twice, but his first wife died, and he divorced the second soon after the birth (c. 65) of his only child, a daughter, Flavia Julia, to whom he accorded the title Augusta. She married her cousin Flavius Sabinus, but after his death in 84 she lived openly as mistress of her uncle Domitian.
This article was most recently revised and updated by Alison Eldridge, Digital Content Manager.
Arch of Titus, Rome - History
A formal procession in celebration of victory over an enemy. The Greek word thri·am·beuʹo, meaning “lead in a triumphal procession,” occurs only twice in the Scriptures, each time in a somewhat different illustrative setting.—2Co 2:14 Col 2:15.
Triumphal Processions Among the Nations. Egypt, Assyria, and other nations commemorated their military victories with triumphal processions. In the days of the Roman republic, one of the highest honors the Senate could bestow on a conquering general was to allow him to celebrate his victory with a formal and costly procession of triumph in which no detail of pomp and glory was overlooked.
The Roman procession moved slowly along Via Triumphalis and up the winding ascent to the temple of Jupiter atop the Capitoline Hill. Musicians playing and singing songs of victory were at the front, followed by young men leading the sacrificial cattle. Then came open carts loaded with booty, and tremendous floats illustrating battle scenes or the destruction of cities and temples, and perhaps topped with a figure of the vanquished commander. The captive kings, princes, and generals taken in the war, with their children and attendants, were led along in chains, often stripped naked, to their humiliation and shame.
Next came the general’s chariot, decorated in ivory and gold, wreathed with laurel, and drawn by four white horses or, on occasion, by elephants, lions, tigers, or deer. The conqueror’s children sat at his feet or rode in a separate chariot behind him. Roman consuls and magistrates followed on foot, then the lieutenants and military tribunes with the victorious army—all bedecked with garlands of laurel and gifts, and singing songs of praise to their leader. In the vanguard were the priests and their attendants bringing along the chief victim for sacrifice, a white ox.
As the procession passed through the city, the populace threw flowers before the victor’s chariot, and burning incense on temple altars perfumed the way. This sweet odor signified honors, promotion, wealth, and a more secure life for the victorious soldiers, but it signified death to the unpardoned captives who would be executed at the end of the procession. This fact throws light on Paul’s spiritual application of the illustration at 2 Corinthians 2:14-16.
Arch of Titus, Rome - History
The Arch of Titus in Rome. Photo: Courtesy of Steven Fine, the Arch of Titus Project.
How did Rome look in ancient times?
Usually when we envision ancient Rome, we imagine a world of gleaming white marble edifices and statues. This, however, is not an accurate picture. Although many Roman—and Greek—statues and monuments now appear white (or grey), they were originally brightly colored. The whiteness we see today is the result of years of weathering.
One of the most famous monuments in ancient Rome is the Arch of Titus, constructed by Roman emperor Domitian around 81 C.E. after the death of his brother and predecessor, emperor Titus. The arch celebrates Titus’s military victories during the First Jewish-Roman War (66–74 C.E.)—when the Romans infamously burned the Temple in Jerusalem. One of the arch’s panels depicts Roman soldiers carrying captured treasures from Jerusalem’s Temple, including a large menorah, through the streets of Rome.
The arch’s menorah panel. How did the Arch of Titus in ancient Rome look? The Arch of Titus Project has shown that the arch’s menorah panel was once brightly colored, but over time its colors faded, and today it appears colorless. Photo: Courtesy of Steven Fine, the Arch of Titus Project.
Today the Arch of Titus appears colorless, but how did this monument look in ancient Rome?
Using technology, an international team of scholars has digitally restored a panel from the Arch of Titus to its original color—offering us a glimpse of what ancient Rome looked like. Steven Fine of Yeshiva University, Peter J. Schertz of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and Donald H. Sanders of the Institute for the Visualization of History detail their restoration efforts in the article “True Colors: Digital Reconstruction Restores Original Brilliance to the Arch of Titus,” published in the May/June 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
Herod’s desert fortress on the mountaintop of Masada was made famous as the site of the last stand between the besieged Jewish rebels and the relentlessly advancing Romans at the conclusion of the First Jewish Revolt. In the free ebook Masada: The Dead Sea’s Desert Fortress, discover what archaeology reveals about the defenders’ identity, fortifications and arms before their ultimate sacrifice.
The team focused on the Arch of Titus’s menorah panel. After creating a 3D scan of this panel, they could see the scene in more detail than ever before, which enabled them to digitally restore portions of it—even reconstructing the table of showbread and some of the Roman victors’ heads that had been lost long ago. Next the team scanned the panel for signs of color. Traces of yellow pigment were discovered on the menorah, which confirmed that the Arch of Titus’s menorah had originally been painted yellow. These results aligned with the Jewish historian Josephus’s account of the Roman victory parade, wherein he describes the menorah as being gold.
This uncolored rendering of the 3D scan of the Arch of Titus’s menorah panel was created by UNOCAL, a scanning firm in Milan. Photo: Courtesy of Steven Fine, the Arch of Titus Project.
The team then added color to the rest of the panel—bringing the ancient scene to life. They colored the background sky blue, the tunics off-white, the overgarments reddish-purple, the wreaths green, the laurel berries purple, the sacred vessels gold, the trumpets silver, and the leather and wood brown. They colored the arch (in the far right of the panel) white, black and gold. Further, they added labels to the three signs held by the Roman victors these labels were based loosely on Josephus’s text.
This digital reconstruction shows the Arch of Titus’s menorah panel after it has been restored and colored by the Arch of Titus Project and the Institute for the Visualization of History. This offers us a glimpse of what ancient Rome looked like. Photo: © 2017 Institute for the Visualization of History, Inc.
To confirm that their reconstructions are correct, the team hopes to return to the Arch of Titus soon to scan the rest of the menorah panel for color. Learn more about this project in “True Colors: Digital Reconstruction Restores Original Brilliance to the Arch of Titus” by Steven Fine, Peter J. Schertz and Donald H. Sanders in the May/June 2017 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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ARCH OF TITUS
In the year 63 BC, the Roman General Pompey was invited to intervene in Judea’s internal power struggles. The Romans spent the next two centuries fighting an endless succession of wars in an effort to subjugate this most rebellious province in the empire. By the end of the Great Revolt, they mistakenly believed that Jewish aspirations for automony were crushed forever, and the emperor prematurely celebrated this final victory by erecting a triumphal arch in Rome. This arch bears what the most famous engraving in ancient Jewish history: the sack of the Great Temple. It is believed to be the only surviving contemporary visual record of Jerusalem and the Great Temple in the 1st century AD. The Arch of Titus is part of the Historic Center of Rome UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the mid-2nd century BC, even as the Maccabees struggled for independence from the decaying Seleucid Empire, a new power was rising in the west. After centuries of warfare and expansion in Italy, the Romans were beginning to absorb the tiny city-states and small nations that had emerged in the break-up of Alexander’s Empire in the east. From Macedonia and Greece and Asia Minor they pressed eastwards, climaxing in a titanic struggle against the Seleucids, the most powerful of Alexander’s successor states. The Seleucids, weakened by their wars with Persia and by rebellions in Judea, were defeated, leaving the rest of the east wide open to the Romans.
In 63 BC, the people of Judea were engulfed in civil war even as the Romans arrived on their doorstep. One of the two claimants to the throne, Aristobulus II, sent an envoy to Pompey asking for his aid. Pompey sent in his legions and restored order. Soon afterward, the Romans began playing off the various factions against each other, until Judea’s rulers were little more than puppets. By the time the people and leaders of Judea realized what had happened, it was too late, and Judea was a client kingdom of Rome.
However, foreign rule did not sit well with the Jews. Due to perpetual restlessness, the Romans were forced to maintain large standing armies in the province. In the end, they were forced to put down three major rebellions. The first rebellion, also known as the Great Revolt, is the one that is most horribly etched in the collective memories of all Jews. After some brief Jewish victories in 66 and 67 AD, the Romans regrouped and invaded Judea with the most powerful army the region had ever seen. General Vespasian, hand picked by Emperor Nero, systematically crushed the Jewish revolt throughout the countryside, then turned his sights on Jerusalem.
The Romans laid siege to the holy city of the Jews. Jerusalem’s defenders, the Zealots, fought back ferociously, but in vain. On Tisha B’Av the city fell. Towards the end of the fighting, the Temple of Herod was set on fire. It soon lay in ruins, along with the rest Jerusalem. In the ensuing days, the city was sacked, and its treasures hauled back to Rome as booty. To commemorate the victory, the Romans constructed a triumphal arch in honor of Emperor Titus. The Arch of Titus is one of the most complete surviving monuments of ancient Rome. It is most famous for its depiction of the sacking of the Second Temple and the theft of its great golden menorah. For nearly two-thousand years it was tradition among Jews not to walk beneath the arch. This tradition was broken in 1948, when thousands of Italian Jews marched beneath the arch in celebration of Israel’s independence.
The Arch of Titus is part of the ruins that mark what was once downtown Rome. It stands inside the Forum near to the Palatine Hill. At fifty feet in height, it is one of the largest surviving monuments of ancient Rome. Completed at the end of the 1st century AD, the arch has remained in remarkably good condition, though it did undergo substantial restoration in the 1700s. It is covered with bas-reliefs, scrollwork and engravings celebrating the great victory of Vespasian and Titus in Judea. A later engraving dating from the 19th century signifies the arch’s rededication by the Catholic Church.
The bas-relief for which the Arch of Titus is most famous depicts the looting of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. In the depiction, Roman soldiers and slaves, the latter probably Jewish, are seen tramping through the ruins of Jerusalem. The building in the background is likely the Temple. The slaves are hauling away treasures, including the giant golden menorah which once crowned the Temple. They are also carrying out the sacred trumpets as well as other unidentifiable objects. This bas-relief is famous for being the only contemporary depiction of the Second Temple in any form ever found.
The Roman Forum is located just southeast of the center of the modern city of Rome, and is easily accessible on foot or by public transportation. The entire Roman Forum, including the Arch of Titus, has been preserved as an open-air museum. It is open every from 9:00am until one hour before sunset. Admission to the site is Eu11.00. Web: www.capitolium.org (official website)
A Jewish community has existed in Rome since the 1st Century BC. Strangely, despite the fact that Rome was home to the Roman Catholic Church, the Jews survived in Rome far longer than they did in many other more tolerant places. The greatest legacy of the early Roman Jews is the Catacombs of the Villa Torlonia. So named because an entrance was discovered in the residence of the Torlonia family, these underground crypts extend out over a wide area. They are one of the few, and certainly the largest, Jewish catacombs ever discovered. Another famous such site being the Jewish Catacombs of Venosain southern Italy. In 1986 the Great Synagogue of Rome was the site of one the greatest moments in Jewish-Catholic relations, when Pope John Paul II became the first Pope since Roman times to enter a synagogue, where he publicly prayed with Rabbi Elio Toaff.
Arch of Titus, Rome - History
"The Arch of Titus, Rome, was erected after the emperor's death, to commemorate chiefly the capture of Jerusalem. It has a single opening flanked on each outer face by attached columns with early examples of the Composite capital. On the coffered soffit of the arch and the wall faces below it are reliefs of the emperor and spoils from the Temple in Jerusalem. The outside faces of the piers are exemplary nineteenth-century restorations undertaken as far back as 1821 after demolition of the fortification in which the arch had been incorporated in the Middle Ages. They make good what had been destroyed, without any attempt at deceit."
Sir Banister Fletcher. A History of Architecture . p243, 246.
In the western section of the Roman Forum.
Robert Adam. Classical Architecture . London: Penguin Books, 1990. ISBN 0-670-82613-8. NA260.A26 1990. section drawing, fig d, p152. plan drawing, fig d, p152. elevation drawing, fig d, p152.
Fritz Baumgart. A History of Architectural Styles . New York: Praeger Publishers, 1970. NA204.B3513. LC 70-110283. elevation drawing, f44, p48. Bildarchiv Foto, Marburg.
James Stevens Curl. Classical Architecture: an introduction to its vocabulary and essentials, with a select glossary of terms . New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1992. ISBN 0-442-30896-5. NA260.C87. exterior photo of Arch showing columnar and trabeated form merged with the arcuated principle, f2.68, p52.
Sir Banister Fletcher. A History of Architecture . London: The Butterworth Group, 1987. ISBN 0-408-01587-X. LC 86-31761. NA200.F63 1987. detail drawing of keystone, fig a, p245. discussion p243, 246. The classic text of architectural history. Expanded 1996 edition available at Amazon.com
Dennis Sharp, ed. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Architects and Architecture . New York: Whitney Library of Design, an imprint of Watson-Guptil Publications, 1991. ISBN 0-8230-2539-X. photo, p181.
Doreen Yarwood. The Architecture of Europe . New York: Hastings House, 1974. ISBN 0-8038-0364-8. LC 73-11105. NA950.Y37. perspective drawing, f157, p70. detail drawing in elevation of composite order, f97, p43.
Arch of Titus history
Though only Emperor for 2 years, Titus had fought many campaigns under his father, Emperor Vespasian. The Arch of Titus commemorates his deification, as well as his victory in the Jewish War, which lasted from 66 AD until the fall of Masada in 73 AD.
The panels decorating the arch show the triumphal procession celebrated when the Romans captured and destroyed the city and Temple of Jerusalem. Resultantly, the arch also had meaning beyond the Roman period. Despite its celebration of the defeat over the Jews, the structure also became a symbol of the Jewish diaspora. A menorah pictured on the arch acted as a template for the emblem of the state of Israel.
Additionally, the Arch of Titus provided a model for many arches built after the 16th century, most famously the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
During the Middle Ages, the royal Frangipani family added another level to the vault and converted the arch into a fortified tower. Pope Paul IV made the Arch of Titus a place of the oath of submission during his papacy (between 1555 and 1559).
The History of the Arch of Titus
Emperor Domitian was Roman Emperor from 81 to 96 AD and was the last ruler of the Flavian dynasty which had included his father Vespasian and elder brother Titus. He continued the restoration work of his predecessors and family, and also strengthened the economy by revaluing the Roman coinage. The first project of his 15-year reign was commissioning a tribute to his brother Titus to commemorate his success in the Jewish War. This tribute was named the Arch of Titus. Based on the style and sculptural details of the arch, scholars believe Domitian favoured architect Rabirius for the task who also designed the massive Flavian Palace on Palatine Hill and the Alban Villa at present day Castel Gandolfo. Located on the highest point of the Via Sacra, Domitian created the Arch along the busiest street of ancient Rome to depict how important this past emperor and victory was. Throughout time the arch has remained a longstanding structure, even surviving the fall of Rome in the 5th century. However, the arch underwent a repair in 1817 due to the slow deterioration of the exterior columns and outer decoration.
The Golden Menorah on the Arch of Titus
You’ve probably seen this already (it’s been a hectic last week of school), but we need to get it on the record. The latest investigations into seeing the colours which originally adorned ancient monuments have detected that the menorah on the Arch of Titus was originally painted yellow (as probably could be anticipated). Just to be a bit different from others’ posts, here’s the coverage from the University of Virginia:
In this part of Titus’ triumphal procession (from the Arch of Titus in Rome), the treasures of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem are being displayed to the Roman people. Hence the Menorah. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Historians and archaeologists have studied the ruins of the Roman Forum for centuries, employing the tools on hand to add to the knowledge of this center of Roman public life that hosted elections, triumphal processions, speeches, trials, shops and gladiatorial spectacles.
The latest research suggests these structures, which we know as white marble, may have been brightly painted.
Bernard Frischer, a classics and art history professor in the University of Virginia’s College of Arts & Sciences, led a team of experts who used cutting-edge technology to find traces of yellow pigment on a bas-relief of a menorah on the forum’s Arch of Titus. In its heyday, the yellow pigment would have appeared gold from a distance.
Frischer said the menorah has historical significance. “The menorah on the relief is extremely important to Jews, since it shows the menorah from the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which Titus captured and sacked in A.D. 70.”
Exposed to the elements for centuries, today no traces of pigment are visible to the naked eye. The arch was cleaned and restored in the 1820s. “For all we knew, any surviving pigment had been scraped off the marble, as has happened all too often in the past with other monuments and statues,” Frischer said. A 1999 study “found plenty of discoloration owing to pollution, but no traces of ancient pigment.”
Frischer, co-director for technology of the “Arch of Titus Restoration Project,” headed by Steven Fine at Yeshiva University in New York, brought together experts for a pilot project – to use 21st-century technology to seek any remaining traces of pigment.
“This entailed the use of two different technologies with which I am very familiar from earlier projects,” Frischer said.
The consultants used non-invasive, 3-D optical data capture and ultra-violet visual spectrometry to determine the chemistry of the pigment deposits. Frischer called on the expertise of Unocad of Vincenza, Italy for the 3-D capture using the Breuckmann smartSCAN for its precise optical measurements, and Heinrich Piening, a conservator with the State of Bavaria Department for the Conservation of Castles, Gardens and Lakes in Germany and a pioneer in ultra-violet visual spectrometry, for analysis.
“UV-VIS spectrometry is still a relatively new technique in Roman archaeology,” Frischer said.
Frischer has applied cutting-edge technologies in creating 3-D digital models for polychromy restoration of Roman figures, such as the Virginia Museum of Art’s statue of Caligula, on behalf of the Virtual World Heritage Laboratory, [link: http://vwhl.clas.virginia.edu/] which he founded in July 2009. The laboratory is administered by the classics department and hosted by the art department.
The Arch of Titus project findings will also add another dimension to his lab’s virtual “Rome Reborn” [link: http://www.romereborn.virginia.edu/] project, a digital recreation of Rome as it appeared in A.D. 320. Frischer directs that ongoing effort, which was created by an international team of experts and launched in 2007.
Following final studies of the arch, Frischer will use the data to oversee two 3-D digital recreations for the Arch of Titus Restoration Project.
“In the first, or ‘state model,’ we will add just the color that is attested by Dr. Piening’s studies,” he said. “In the second, or ‘restoration model,’ we will go beyond the spotty evidence that survives to restore color all over the arch, inspired both by the actual traces and by analogous examples of painted Roman imperial monuments.
“What has been learned thus far can encourage even ‘minimalists’ like myself to dare to restore color even to monuments that have not yet been studied. After all, the ancient color palette was limited, and we are starting to see conventions emerge in the use of color. And one thing we do know is that white marble – whether on a public building or on a statue – was rarely, if ever, left unpainted.”
From Ancient Greece until the 21st century, the arts and sciences have moved in tandem in an implicit and unconscious way, Frischer said.
“Today, the unity of art, science and technology is rapidly becoming a conscious theme as we embrace interdisciplinarity and unity of knowledge derived from concurring conclusions from a variety of disciplines in which the knowledge and expertise of different, seemingly unrelated fields such as archaeology, history, chemistry and physics can converge to give a better understanding of both the human and natural worlds. I see the Arch of Titus project as a good case in point.”
The project itself is directed by Stephen Fine and is run ‘out of’ the Center for Israel Studies at Yeshiva University … and of course, the project does have a website (plenty of photos and other info there, of course)
Reclaiming a Symbol: The Arch of Titus
When the Arch of Titus was built in 82 CE by then Roman Emperor Domitian it was seen as the symbol of an empire united a reminder to both Romans and Roman subjects that Rome was still the most powerful empire of its time. For Jews it was a symbol of disaster, a reminder of one of the lowest points in Jewish history – the destruction of the Temple of Herod and the sacking of Jerusalem. It was meant as a reminder of how supposed Jewish self-loathing, inability to cooperate, and inherent weakness meant that Jews would always play a subservient role to greater powers. Today, that symbol has been almost entirely reversed and is unrecognizable to what it once was. That past is as old and worn as the relic itself and instead now serves as a monument for a much brighter future.
10 years before the completion of the Arch, the Jewish military commander turned slave, turned Roman citizen, Josephus Flavius, wrote how the Romans bringing the menorah, the sacramental table, and the other treasures depicted on the face of the Arch of Titus was, in their minds, the end of Gods existence in Jerusalem and the bringing of the Jewish God in to Rome. The practice of evocatio deorum, or the calling out of the gods[i], was a long practiced Roman ritual in which the sieging Roman army would promise the god or gods of the city in which they were attacking a larger and more grander temple in which to rest in Rome. Thus, according to both Jews and Romans, God had forsaken the Jews in favor of a much more powerful and worthy race of people since, according to Hellenistic tradition, the idea of bringing a god to Rome was done through the use of physical objects. Noteworthy is that the menorah, sacramental table, and torah are being carried by Roman soldiers with the wreaths of victory on their heads while Titus, ascends to heaven in a chariot to become a god himself.
In The Jewish War by Josephus Flavius (who, before becoming a Roman interpreter and historian had once fought as a commander of Jewish forces against Titus’s father Vespasian) the Arch of Titus was not meant to depict the war for how it actually was – a hard fought desperately won suppression of a rebellious province. The Romans, reeling after 69 CE or the Year of the Four Emperors, needed to maintain the image of an empire powerful, capable, and most importantly, united. The Arch of Titus represented to the Romans and the world not the reality of the war, but rather how they wanted the war to be seen. A simple and straightforward war against a foreign enemy that was in fact an eight year long rebellion and a five month siege of Jerusalem requiring four legions against, not a foreign army but a group of religious zealots in a Roman province[ii]. An interesting note from, The Jewish War, was that Josephus Flavius omits any mention of Roman soldiers in the procession of triumphators returning to Rome, as if Rome wanted to hide the amount of men and resources required to defeat the Jewish army. With the Arch serving as the primary reminder of the war, and with the spoils going on to fund numerous projects during the Flavian dynasty (the largest of which being the Coliseum which sits directly in front of the arch) the Roman view of Jews being bizarre, weak, and lazy became a generally accepted caricature throughout all of Europe. This perception, though it is unclear, most likely permeated its way in to Jewish society and intellectual thought, and this ‘outsider’ perception may have eventually affected how many ancient Jews began to see themselves.
Jewish self-perception was not the only thing affected after the fall of the Temple of Herod and the construction of the Arch of Titus. Hellenistic culture involved the use of a symbol to convey gods and religion and, in following of this tradition, Jews began carving the menorah on synagogues and gravestones. This was done both a show of their national unity and as a symbol of hope of the renewal of the temple in Jerusalem. Some of the oldest symbols appeared in synagogues and gravestones from as early as the 2 nd and 3 rd centuries, the oldest from a lead seal found in a synagogue in Stobi from the 2 nd century which today sits on display in the National Museum in Belgrade[iii]. The significance of the seven-branched Menorah only intensified during the rise of Christianity within the Roman Empire to be used as a distinctive symbol from the cross. Interestingly, the Islamic star and crescent is also a result of the mixing of a Middle Eastern civilization with Hellenistic tradition. Originally the symbol of the city of Byzantium (later Constantine and currently Istanbul) it was picked to honor the goddess Diana. When the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 they chose it as the symbol for their new empire and as a show of power and superiority to the Christian West.
When Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire, they interpreted the Arch of Titus to mean that Christianity had superseded Judaism in the eyes of God particularly with what they interpreted from the Arch of Titus to be not the sacramental table, but the Ark of the Covenant being brought to Rome. Emperor Domitian had the arch built on Via Sacra, or “The Sacred Way” which was believed to be the center of the universe. When the Church of St. John of Lateran was built nearby it was considered to be the sanctum sanctorum, the holiest of holies. In addition, many Christians felt reminded of Mark 13 in the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus predicted the fall of the temple in Jerusalem as punishment by God against the non-believers. This prophecy, later history, was seen as historical proof by many Christians of the divinity of Christ and as continued punishment for their disbelief, Jews in Rome were forced to stand piously underneath the Arch during all sermons given by the Pope himself, and as a reminder of their submission to Western power.
As for the artifacts that were taken from the temple – reports differ to their eventual fates. According to Procopius, a Byzantine scholar who is considered the last of the major historians of the ancient Western world, the Visigoths had taken the menorah and the ark from Rome to Carthage. After the sack of Carthage by General Belisarius, the menorah became apart of Emperor Justinian’s spoils, and was carried through the streets of Constantinople much as it had been by the Roman triumphators 500 years earlier. The artifacts were placed in the Haiga Sophia in 535 and upon completion in 537, with the artifacts inside, Procopius writes that Emperor Justinian believed he had rebuilt a grader and far superior temple in Constantine and upon seeing the newly completed Haiga Sophia exclaimed, “Solomon, I have outdone thee!” Unfortunately for him the bringing of the artifacts to Constantinople in 535 coincided with an extreme cooling event of the northern hemisphere causing crop failures, famine, and the first recorded historical event of Bubonic Plague. Justinian, afraid he had angered God by hoarding the treasures, had them sent back to Jerusalem. Here many theories are posited about what could have happened to them it’s possible they were destroyed by the Persian invasion of the city in 614. Some legends suggest that the Knights Templar had brought them back to Rome where they exist today or that they are buried underneath the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. By the 19 th century public outcries were made to drain the Tiber River in an effort to look for them, none of which gained enough traction to make any sort of an impact. Or, as was shown in the 1981 movie Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, it’s actually sitting in a giant government warehouse somewhere in the United States. At this point that guess is as good as any. It’s more likely that the gold has been melted down and reused countless times, and as professor of Jewish History Steven Fine likes to remind people, a piece of it could be sitting on your third index finger in the form of a wedding ring.
The Arch, which served as a shameful reminder to the Jewish people, didn’t begin to change and transform in the Jewish mind until the late 16 th century due large in part, to an offhanded remark by Gedaliah Ibn Yahya, a Jewish historian during the Italian Renaissance, who wrote in his 1587 book Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah (The Chain of Tradition):
“They built in Rome a large monument of carved stone, called an arch, as an eternal commemoration of his might. They illustrated on this monument the image of the Temple vessels and the captive men…”
The notion of the menorah bearers being captive Jews rather than victorious Roman soldiers eventually seems to have been an accepted idea, even amongst Protestants at the beginning of the 19 th century. The London newspaper The Gentleman’s Weekly and Historical Chronicle and the Oxford English Prize Poem by J.T. White The Arch of Titus both make reference to Jews being depicted on the arch in 1822 and 1824 respectively. In the new United States of America, a country known at the time for well-funded and publicly supported conversionary missionary projects in the Middle East, a pamphlet called Rachel and Her Father at the Triumphal Arch of Titus was produced to help missionaries convert Jews to Christianity claiming as well of Jews being depicted on the Arch. The first modern Jewish source asserting that the Arch of Titus depicted Jews was produced in 1889 by Giuseppe Prospero Revere in “il Arco de Tito,” in it, Revere seems to assume that the figures being Jewish was a widely known and accepted belief. The most important and authoritative of Jewish authors to make his claim was Rabbi Moses Gaster in the London publication Israel: The Jewish Magazine in 1900. Rabbi Gaster was both a Zionist scholar and a major Cultural Zionist leader and his claims of Jews being depicted on the Arch of Titus were taken very seriously within Zionist circles. This was the first step in claiming the Arch of Titus as a Jewish motif rather than a Roman or Christian one. In Israel this sparked interest in a new school of art known as Bezalel, which tried to combine various elements of Islamic design, European tradition, and biblical themes to create a new and distinctive set of Jewish art. One of the main focuses of Bezalel art was the menorah, specifically the one carved in the Arch of Titus. In Professor Steven Fine’s book, The Menorah, Dr. Fine writes,
“Just as the French had taken the Arch of Titus to Paris in the form of the Arc de Triomphe, Pius VII had rebuilt the arch to express the renewal of papal control of Rome in 1821, and the Americans had conveyed it to Brooklyn to celebrate the victory of the Union over the Confederacy (1889-1892), the Jews were now taking control of this central “Jewish” monument.”
The most significant piece of artwork to emerge from both this new Zionist cultural thought and Bezalel art was the menorah cap medallion worn by soldiers of the Jewish Legion during the First World War[iv]. The menorah pin had the contemporary design of the menorah from the arch, the only difference being that it had been infused with the Zionist attitude prevalent during that day by having the word kadima meaning forward, or, to the east, was written on every pin. Once the British disbanded the Jewish Legion in 1921, many of it’s members would go on to become some of the State of Israel’s most prominent and important figures including future President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, and future Prime Minister Levi Eshkol (who later suggested building an arch in Israel similar to the one in Rome) and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. The main proponent of having the unit symbol being the Arch of Titus menorah, Ze’ev Jabotinsky went on to found the Revisionist Youth Movement and chose the same menorah to be the symbol. In Israel, Jewish towns, villages, and kibbutzim began decorating the tops of water towers, schools, and meeting halls with the seven-candled menorah. Even in the diaspora, Jewish masonry lodges and synagogues began returning to the image from antiquity and secular Jewish homes often broadcasted their Jewishness and support for the Jewish state with a seven-candled menorah in the window. The menorah, once a symbol of the loss of Jerusalem, was now becoming the symbol of a nation about to be reborn and many Jews looked at the Arch of Titus as a symbolic challenger to that rebirth. A problem to be overcome. During World War II, weeks before the allies took Rome, the Hebrew newspaper of the Jewish Batalion of the British army, la-Hayyal, issued a pamphlet to Jewish soldiers declaring:
Historians find that there is no ethnic connection between ancient Rome and modern Italy, between Nero and Mussolini. Yet many Jews continue to see contemporary Rome as the symbol of the same kingdom that killed our freedom and destroyed our Temple. The Arch of Titus stands there still today…This modern Rome that sought to renew the war of ancient Rome against Jerusalem, to continue the thread that was first spun in the days of Pompeii and Titus, now is nothing before the Allies, and in these armies are many, many, Jews. History gets its revenge.”
During the postwar period, the arch became a place for Jewish and Zionist protest and celebration. In 1946, 2000 Jews demonstrated against crackdowns by the British towards the Revisionist Irgun militia in Palestine as a response to the King David Hotel bombings. Several months later of that same year, Irgun militias bombed the British embassy in Rome and many supporters called on the Irgun to also destroy the Arch of Titus to mark the end of Jewish subjugation by the West. The most powerful moment under the arch since its completion occurred in 1948, when hundreds of Holocaust survivors, carrying signs of support for the new state of Israel, waiting to make aliyah, walked backwards underneath the arch symbolizing the return of the Jewish people to their once exiled homeland. When attempting to determine a national symbol, and in spite of many of Israel’s socialist left wing protests, David Ben Gurion chose the menorah as a way to unite the Irgun and Haganah forces and prevent civil war. In the years after the creation of the state, the seven-candled menorah, the exact same one that had been carved on the Arch of Titus nearly 2000 years ago, became the symbol of the seal of Israel. Unlike the pin worn by the Jewish legion however, there was no kadima written on the seal, instead just the world Israel.
The Arch of Titus and provoked a massive transformation in Jewish culture, a constant reminder of the greatest catastrophe to occur in Jewish history before the Holocaust. The Arch, and later the menorah, became a symbol of power for the Romans, the Christians, and later to Western culture as a whole who used the Arch of Titus as a way to showcase their own power and unification. But the last and most unexpected people to reclaim the Arch of Titus as a symbol of their own power and unity were the Jews. The Arch of Titus serves as a reminder of how history is often in the eye of the beholder. It is both a beautiful and ancient piece of art, one whose meaning had been adopted and changed throughout history. As of today it truly does seem that history has come in full circle since the 2,000 years since the Arch of Titus was built. For Jews, what was once a reminder of loss is now a symbol of what has been achieved.
[i] Gabriella Gustafsson, Evocatio Deorum : Historical and Mythical Interpretations of Ritualised Conquests in the Expansion of Ancient Rome, (Uppsala: Uppsala University Library, 2000)
[ii] Schmidt, Emily. “The Flavian Triumph and the Arch of Titus: The Jewish God in Flavian Rome.” Beyond Borders: Selected Proceedings of the 2010 Ancient Borderlands International Graduate Student Conference, 31 Mar. 2010.
[iii] Tešić-Radovanović, Danijela, and Branka Gugolj. “The Menorah as a Symbol of Jewish Identity in the Diaspora and an Expression of Aspiration for Renewing the Jerusalem Temple.” Migrations in Visual Art, Jelena Erdeljan (Ed) University of Belgrade, Faculty of Arts Martin Germ (Ed) University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts Ivana Prijatelj Pavičić (Ed) University of Split Marina Vicelja Matijašić (Ed) University of Rijeka, 2018.