BMCR 2022.06.27

The Arch of Titus: from Jerusalem to Rome – and back

, The Arch of Titus: from Jerusalem to Rome – and back. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2021. Pp. xxvi, 196. ISBN 9789004447783 €110,00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

For Steven Fine, the Arch of Titus has been the subject of long study and recently the focus of an exhibition held at the Yeshiva University Museum from 14 September 2017 to 14 January 2018, both to commemorate his achievements and to illuminate its fascinating history. In connection with the exhibit, an international team of scholars provides a broad treatment of The Arch of Titus, From Jerusalem to Rome—and Back. One object from the exhibit still on display is the full-scale mock-up of the panel showing the Spoils from the Temple of Jerusalem in full color (figs. 0.2; and 11.212). Fine along with his collaborators revisits his earlier scientific examination of the actual relief, located on the interior south wall of the archway, when their findings for the Arch of Titus Project, of which Fine is the director, established unequivocally the original yellow ochre pigment of the menorah, invisible to the naked eye, in the nooks and crannies of the seven-branched candlestick (essay no. 1, pp. 234). In his description of the triumph of 71 C.E., Flavius Josephus reports on its golden aspect (Bellum Judaicum 7.148–9). The other coloration of the mock-up is a hypothetical reconstruction done with the aid of comparanda, including computer scans and “comparisons with ancient Roman frescoes” (p. 25). It would have been especially gratifying to know for certain that the two trumpets attached to the shewbread table—as shown in the Polychrome Model—were painted grey and not yellow, indicating silver rather than bronze, and thereby recalling the initial pair that Moses is said to have crafted for the Tabernacle at Sinai (Num. 10.2 and cf. Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae 3.2912).

The Arch of Titus (Arcus divi Titi) is located on the Velia at the east end of the Forum on a hill between the Palatine and the Esquiline, but despite its prominence, the arch goes unmentioned in Latin literary works from the Flavian period. Evidence from the monument itself indicates that its completion postdates the death of Titus (13 September 81)—the inscription carved onto the eastern face of the attic story refers to the divine or deified Titus (divo Tito), a title the emperor would only have received posthumously (fig. 0.3). Moreover, the panel inset at the summit of the archway shows Titus in tunic and toga being carried aloft on the back of an eagle into the heavens (fig. 1.3); the depiction of the emperor’s apotheosis can only follow his passing. Ida Östenberg investigates the purpose and function of the arch—whether for Titus’s Judaean triumph, funeral, or apotheosis—and concludes that “ancient passersby would, in my opinion, have recognized elements from all three events and understood their meaning and interdependence” (essay no. 2, p. 34). Samuele Rocca revisits the often-studied early history of the arch, as documented through the “archeological remains of Flavian Rome and the writings of Josephus,” where he summarizes proposed datings for portions of the Bellum Judaicum(essay no. 3, p. 45). Some events are dated: the consecration of Vespasian’s Temple of Peace in 75, and the deaths of Vespasian and Titus in 79 and 81, respectively. But given the uncertainties regarding publication in the ancient world, his chronology seems overly exact.[1]

The remaining essays examine intriguing moments in the monument’s later history: among them, the response of both the medieval Jewish and Christian communities, its restoration in the nineteenth century, and echoes in later creations. Rather than dwelling on the arch itself, other than to mention the word “divus” from the attic inscription, Galit Hasan-Rokem’s treatment of Titus in rabbinic literature focuses primarily on the broader anthropological implications of the famous midrashic legend of Titus’s torment by a gnat (essay no. 4). For Marie-Thérèse Champagne, “the Arch of Titus stood as a mute but powerful witness to the past,” both for Christians and Jews during the Middle Ages (essay no. 5, p. 66). Especially of interest to this audience were the spoils from the Jerusalem Temple, shown on the arch and believed to be preserved in Rome. These objects, known from the Old Testament, were easily assimilated into the Christian cult of Relics. Two triumphal arches were dedicated to Titus: no doubt an oversight, the one at the hemicycle of the Circus Maximus is described as “the second,” but clearly it was the first of the two, given that the bellicose inscription, surviving only in a manuscript of the ninth century, the Codex Einsiedlensis, makes clear that Titus is still very much alive, while his father is “the now divine Vespasian” (p. 66).[2] William Stenhouse has compiled an impressive collection of early renderings of the arch, recognizing that Renaissance copyists “tended to try to complete the remains, supplementing broken figures and filling in what they could not see, and so their views are usually better evidence for the artists’ interests and assumptions than for the state of the reliefs” (essay no. 6, p. 79). In the early modern period the arch came to serve a variety of interests, and to his well-documented collection of sources might be added Raymond Chevallier, “L’Arc de Titus au Forum Romain vu par les voyageurs, les archéologues et les historiens d’art de langue française,” in Philias charin: Miscellanea di studi classici in onore di Eugenio Manni, 6 vols. (Rome: G. Bretschneider, 1980), 2:479500. Incorporated into the outer walls of the Frangipani fortress in the later Middle Ages, the arch was restored—or more precisely, rebuilt—under the sponsorship of Pope Pius VII (r. 1800–1823), commemorated by inscription on the western face of the attic. The reconstruction from 1818 to 1823 by the architects, first Raffaello Stern (1774–1820) and afterwards Giuseppe Valadier (1762–1839), is well documented, where to the original marble passageway with its surviving relief sculptures and statuary attached to the volute-shaped keystones of the exterior arches were added outer bays of travertine, the different types of stonework thereby distinguishing old from new. Marina Caffiero places the undertaking “within the context of legal innovations regarding the guardianship of antiquities and the fine arts of Rome at the turn of the nineteenth century” (essay no. 8, p. 104).

Two articles address the menorah: Steven Fine discusses Moses Mendelssohn, who in his Book of the Paths of Peace (Sefer Netivot ha-Shalom), published 178083, compared the image on the Arch of Titus with rabbinic accounts in order to assess its historicity (essay no. 7). Another by Yitzchak Schwartz deals both with imitations of the arch itself and replicas of the menorah found in numerous religious establishments, especially the pair of menorot donated by Arthur Ochs, publisher of the New York Times, to the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City in a spirit of “progressive ecumenism” between Reform Judaism and Protestantism (essay no. 10, p. 132). Three other essays treat how various contemporaries saw the arch in their own day, whether during the 1800s, following World War II, or today. Nineteenth-century vedutisti and early photographers were especially active, reflecting—as Jacob Wisse points out—”the vibrant context in which artists from France and other countries were active in Rome” (essay no. 9, p. 120). He concentrates his attention on one rendering of the arch by the German painter Franz von Lenbach (fig. 9.7) and another by three American artists, George Peter Alexander Healy, Frederic Edwin Church, and Jervis McEntee, who include their own portraits in the lower righthand corner of the painting now at the Newark Museum of Art (fig. 9.8). Steven Fine and his son Yaakov reflect on Jewish customs of doubtful origin involving passage through the arch, and trace a growing interest in it over the past centuries as a Jewish “place of memory” (essay no. 11, p. 145). After WWII it became a symbol of the endurance of the Jewish people, including a place for demonstrations following the foundation of the State of Israel. The postscript, “The Arch of Titus in the COVID Moment,” brings the monument and specifically the Temple menorah into the present (essay no. 12). Not to be overlooked, the checklist accompanying the exhibition offers a catalogue of items included on display (essay no. 13). The publication is a compelling survey of the Arch of Titus through the centuries and a worthy tribute to both Fine and this exceptional survival from the ancient world.

Table of Contents

Figures (pp. xii–xv)
Lenders to the Exhibition (p. xvi)
Foreword. Ari Berman (p. xvii)
Preface. Steven Fine and Jacob Wisse (pp. xviii–xxi)
Contributors (p. xxii)
Introduction: Searching for Butterflies under the Arch of Titus. Steven Fine (pp. 1–8)
1. The Spoils of Jerusalem in Color: The Making of a Polychrome Model. Steven Fine, Donald H. Sanders, and Peter J. M. Schertz (pp. 932)
2. The Arch of Titus: Triumph, Funeral, and Apotheosis in Ancient Rome. Ida Östenberg (pp. 33–42)
3. Flavius Josephus and the Arch of Titus: Commemorating the Jewish War in Word and Stone. Samuele Rocca (pp. 43–54)
4. A Narrative Triumph: The Rabbis Write Back to the Empire. Galit Hasan-Rokem (pp. 55–62)
5. Pagan Rome in the Service of the Church: Christian Perceptions of the Arch of Titus in the Middle Ages. Marie-Thérèse Champagne (pp. 63–74)
6. Early Modern Visitors to the Arch of Titus. William Stenhouse (pp. 75–94)
7. Moses Mendelssohn on the Arch of Titus Menorah. Steven Fine (pp. 95–102)
8. Valadier at the Arch of Titus: Papal Reconstruction and Archeological Restoration under Pius VII. Marina Caffiero (pp. 103–14)
9. “Without Leaving Home”: Artists as Real and Virtual Pilgrims to the Arch of Titus. Jacob Wisse (pp. 115–28)
10. The Arch of Titus in New York: The Menorahs at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Yitzchak Schwartz (pp. 129–40)
11. “Titus, You’re Gone, but We’re Still Here, Am Yisrael Chai”: Modern Jewish Pilgrimage to the Arch of Titus. Steven Fine, with Yaakov Fine (pp. 141–70)
12. Postscript: The Arch of Titus in the COVID Moment. Steven Fine (pp. 171–8)
13. Exhibition Script and Object Checklist. Steven Fine, Jacob Wisse, and Jill Joshowitz (pp. 179–93)
Index (pp. 194–6)


[1] Cf. Steven H. Wander, “Flavius Josephus and the Frieze of the Spoils from the Temple in Jerusalem on the Arch of Titus,” Word & Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Inquiry, 38:3 (2022): forthcoming.

[2] Caroline Barron, “The (Lost) Arch of Titus: The Visibility and Prominence of Victory in Flavian Rome,” in K.Berthelot (ed.), Reconsidering Roman Power. Roman, Greek, Jewish and Christian Perceptions and Reactions (Rome: Publications de l’École française de Rome, 2020), pp. 138155, especially 139: The Arch of Titus “was not the only arch dedicated to Titus in the city; a monumental triumphal arch was dedicated earlier, in 81 CE, at the eastern end of the Circus Maximus.”