Located at the foot of the Palatine hill, in the highest point of the Summa Sacra Via, in the Forum Romanum, the Arch of Titus was erected by Domitian in 81 CE, to commemorate the victories of his father Vespasian and brother Titus in the Jewish War in Judaea (70-71 CE), when the great city of Jerusalem was sacked and the vast riches of its famous temple plundered.
During 66 AD, when the Jewish Zealots started a revolt against the Roman occupation of Judea, Vespasian was sent from Rome to suppress the revolt and subsequently, when Vespasian became emperor, his son Titus took over command of the besieging troops. On 8 September 70 AD, Titus comprehensively captured the city of Jerusalem with the four legions and the Jewish revolt was completely crushed after the fall of the Masada fortress in 72 AD. Titus succeeded his father as emperor of the Roman Empire in 79 AD. However, he died just two years later, in the month of September 81 AD. In the same year, Titus's brother and successor, Domitian commissioned the construction of the Arch of Titus to posthumously honor his late brother and to commemorate the victory in the Jewish War. The arch was dedicated in 85 AD, combined with large festivities.
The imposing structure of the Arch of Titus was strategically constructed at a key position along the triumphal route through Triumphalis, which links the valley of the Flavian amphitheater, popularly known as the Coliseum, in the valley of the Forum Romanum and the Capitoline Hill. For many centuries numerous triumphal parades had passed along this channel. Thus, the place was an automatic and deliberate choice for the erection of this triumphal monument astride the glorious route.
The Arch of Titus was constructed using white Pentelic marble with golden tinges, while Luna marble was used for the attic part. Probably the letters of the ancient attic inscription on the east side of the arch were once inlaid with gilded bronze. Nevertheless, the inscription clearly indicates that the ancient monument was dedicated to the Senate and the People of Rome, to Divus Titus, son of Divus Vespasian, Vespasian Augustus. Since the word ‘divus’ was used for Titus, it is obvious that, the arch was completed only after the death of the emperor in 81 CE.
The decorative sculpture of the arch has not survived the ravages of time very well. The side panels are set on both the sides of the inner arch and measure 2.04 m high by 3.85 m long. The south panel depicts the triumphal procession of Vespasian and Titus in 71 CE, as it passes through the Porta Triumphalis to the Forum Boarium along with their men carrying the valuable items plundered from the Second Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem after the fall of the city. The booty includes a menorah, which is a seven- branched candlestick holder, used during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, silver trumpets, and perhaps even the Ark of the Covenant. a gold-covered wooden chest with lid cover described in the Book of Exodus as containing the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.
The relief panel on the opposite side features Titus on a four-horse chariot (Quadriga), with the goddess Roma standing in front and holding the bridle of one of the horses. The other two figures to the right of the chariot are personifications of the people of Rome (naked torso) and the Senate, wearing a toga.
The Arch of Titus is 15.4 m tall, 13.5 m wide and 4.75 m in depth. The inner archway is 8.3 meters in height, and 5.36 m in width. The majestic structure of the arch was erected with both fluted and flat columns. The upper left and right corners of the arch contain the personifications of victory as winged women. On the keystone, between the spandrels, stand a female figure on the east side and a male on the west side. In all probability, the attic of the arch was originally crowned by more statuary, perhaps of a gilded chariot.
The Arch of Titus was turned into a fortified tower in the eleventh century, by the Frangipani family, which damaged the panel reliefs. Unfortunately, it was one of the first buildings sustaining a modern restoration, when in 1821 Giuseppe Valadier undertook a major restoration of the surviving structure. During the process of restoration, when sections of the outer sides were rebuilt, travertine was used instead of marble, so they would be distinguishable from the original. The inscription on the west side indicates the story of the refurbishment.
Archaeological excavations in 2015 revealed that, another arch dedicated to Titus, triumphal in its nature, was erected in the valley of the Circus Maximus. Today, that arch only survives only in the form of scattered sculptural fragments and a medieval transcription of its dedicatory inscription, along with elements of its foundations.
It has been long that the Arch of Titus has become a source of creative inspiration. Inspired by its beauty, Leon Battista Alberti designed the facade of the basilica of Sant’Andrea in Mantua, Italy, after 1472. Apart from that, the influence of the Arch of Titus can also be found in many subsequent modern commemorative arches, notably the Arc de Triomphe in Paris (1806), Stanford White’s Arch in Washington Square Park in New York City (1892), the United States National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge National Historical Park designed by Paul Philippe Cret (1917), and Edwin Lutyens’ India Gate in New Delhi (1921).