Reconstructing Constantine

by | May 22, 2024 | Curriculum, Deep-ish Dive | 0 comments

Saskia Cort, a Swedish influencer, instructed her Instagram followers to ask their male partners and friends how often they thought about the Roman empire.

It turned that out that lots of men thought about the Roman empire several times a week.

This week will be no different as today marks the 1687th anniversary of the Emperor Constantine’s death.

For those of you who don’t think often about the Roman Empire, Constantine is arguably one of the most important emperors in Rome’s history. (And we talk about this quite a lot in our World Religions course…)

Born in 272 AD in Naissus (which is now part of Serbia), he began his career as a distinguished soldier under emperors Diocletian and Galerius. After his father’s death in 306, Constantine was acclaimed as augustus (emperor) by his army at Eboracum (present day York, England). However, he could not officially claim that title without a fight.

Before his key victory over his rival Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 CE, it is believed by Christians that the new augustus had a vision. According to the early Christian author Eusebius of Caesarea, Constantine was marching at midday when “he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heavens, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, In Hoc Signo Vinces” (“In this sign thou shalt conquer”) Though Eusebius is vague about when and where these events took place, he describes the sign as Chi (Χ) traversed by Rho (Ρ) representing the first two letters of the Greek word ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Christos, lit. “Messiah”).

Did Constantine convert at this point – or never?  It is not clear.  However, with his issuing of the Edict of Milan the following year, Christianity became an officially recognized and tolerated religion in the Roman Empire. In subsequent years, Constantine would make moves that would earn him the title of Rome’s “First Christian Emperor.” 

Now here’s another Rome-related thing to think about… and it includes 3D printing!  (This is often how it goes in World Religions.  We’re talking about something that happened in the 4th or 10th or 12th century, and there’s a wild present day connection…) 

To mark Constantine’s reign, the “Colossus of Constantine” was erected in the western capital. Originally 11 metres (or so) tall, it was later broken up and pillaged for bronze. In 1486, surviving fragments were found at the Basilica of Maxentius near the Colosseum. They were initially mistaken for a statue of Emperor Commodus. It was only at the end of the 1800s that the fragments were identified as being part of the Colossus of Constantine. These pieces –  Constantine’s head, right arm, wrist, right hand, right knee, right shin, right foot and left foot – are on display in the courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori at the Capitoline Museum in Rome. And they are MASSIVE!

In March 2022, the Factum Foundation sent a team to Rome to scan the fragments.  They spent three days scanning and months more modelling them in 3D. They eventually positioned the pieces on a digital body, using similar cult statues as reference, including the colossal first-century CE statue of Jupiter in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the large plaster copy of the statue of Emperor Claudius, portrayed as Jupiter, in the Ara Pacis Museum in Rome.

Then, reconstruction of the Colossus began, using a mixture of resin and polyurethane, marble powder, gold leaf and plaster to render the marble and bronze surfaces, with an easily assembled and removable internal aluminium support. You can see how below.

In February of this year, the 13 metre tall facsimile of the Colossus arrived in Rome. And it, like the original fragments, is MASSIVE.

So, if you are thinking about the Roman Empire (which, by now, you undoubtedly are – and we, in World Religions, have been since Week 3), and you are thinking of taking a trip in the near future, go have a look at Constantine in his (imagined) original glory in the garden of Villa Caffarelli of the Capitoline Museum at least until 2025. Until then, we will use the best tools the internet can provide to have a look at the Colossus from here.

But if you go, please send pics!

This article shares INSIGHTS into the types of topics we teach in our online high school courses.

Have we peaked your curiosity to learn more about our virtual school?

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