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  • Ward Sanford

The Arch of Titus Records Roman Victory in Judea

Updated: Apr 23



The Arch of Titus stands in the center of Rome not far from the Colosseum. It was erected and completed about the same time the latter was finished, about 81 CE, during the reign of the Emperor Titus Flavius, who had just succeeded his father Vespasian. The Arch commemorates the Roman victory of the Jews in the war that lasted between 66 and 73 CE. Bas relief sculptures on the inside walls of the arch depict the events. On the north side is Titus riding victorious in a chariot being crowned by the goddess Nike. On the south side is a parade of victors carrying spoils from the Temple in Jerusalem. These items include a large golden table, silver trumpets, and most conspicuously in the center a seven-candle golden menorah taken from the Temple. The monument has been a symbol of defeat for the Jews over all these centuries. However today many visit the Arch to say things such as “Titus you are gone, but the people of Israel live on!”


In the Arch of Titus is this bas relief of Romans carrying the spoils of war, including the Jewish Menorah.


Josephus described the parade as he saw it:


The spoils in general were borne in promiscuous heaps; but conspicuous above all stood those captured in the temple at Jerusalem. These consisted of a golden table, many talents in weight, and a lampstand, likewise made of gold, but constructed on a different pattern than those which we use in ordinary life. Affixed to a pedestal was a central shaft, from which there extended slender branches, arranged trident-fashion, a wrought lamp being attached to the extremity of each branch, of these there were seven, indicating the honor paid to that number among the Jews. After these, and last of all the spoils, was carried a copy of the Jewish Law. They followed a large party carrying images of victory, all made of ivory and gold. Behind them drove Vespasian, followed by Titus; while Domitian rode beside them, in magnificent apparel and mounted on a steed that was in itself a sight.” The Jewish War VII: 148-153, Thackeray translation.


More recently, research by Steven Fine, Peter Schertz and Donald Sanders has been revealing that the original relief was very likely painted in bright colors. Today after nearly twenty centuries all color is gone, at least visible to the naked eye. But the three were able to extract some pigments of golden yellow from the lampstand. And with examples from other reliefs of the same time period they were able to make educated guesses to what the other colors were likely to have been. They recreated the panel in these colors, which can be seen in their article in Biblical Archaeology Review in the May/June issue of 2017. The artist painting below is based on their conjectured colorization.


Painting, by Amy Moreno, of what the Titus Arch bas relief likely looked like in the first century.


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