Brandon Johnson ’19 — The vast difference between the Roman Constantine and the Christian, the man trying to appear to be the most Roman, while also attempting to appear the most devout, has shown me the duality of history. Regrettably, nothing in history is as simple or perfect as it seems at first glance — there is always some sort of hidden mirror of intent which, upon finding and peering into, offers an opposing reflection, shifting what you thought you had found.
I made such a realization today upon visiting two seperate monuments commissioned by Constantine: the Triumphal Arch of Constantine and the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. Both are very different structures, yet both still fully represent Constantine. Between these two, there is a great juxtaposition of culture and religion. The Triumphal Arch is very Roman in nature, depicting Constantine as the social point of several group scenes as well as numerous subjugated enemies, with inscriptions on the inside of the arch calling him the “liberator” and “founder.” Most interestingly, the side which most would walk through was opposite the Colossus of Apollo, a statue measuring over 100 feet, quite interestingly creating a pagan focal point for the Triumphal Arch of the famously first Christian emperor.
Another of Constantine’s famous construction projects was the Basilica of Saint Paul Outisde the Walls, a massive church. Interestingly, framing the apse of this church is another arch, which helps represent a different type of conflict: the battle between life and death. Dr. Nelson postulated that this arch, and the depiction of Christianity as some sort of battle or war between life and death, good and evil, light and dark, are potentially evidence of the fact that Constantine so corrupted the church that it was taken away from its peaceful roots.
These creations are not what you would typically believe go be associated with a great Christian figure, and the stark difference between the two surprised me. Both offer a lot to consider concerning Constantine. The most significant thing these monuments have taught me is that the past, just like the present, is three dimensional. The lens of history should not change that.