Big Man on Campus (Martius): Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great may be known for his monumental arch, but he also left some very large footprints in Rome. Well, at least some very large feet — as well as heads, hands, a shin and kneecap, and a muscular bicep…

Constantine’s gigantic finger points the way up

Rome once boasted not one, but two enormous statues of the emperor, one made of marble, the other of bronze. The marble version once stood in the massive Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine in the Roman Forum.

Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine

At one end of the basilica, in the apse, the emperor was depicted seated on a throne. The head, arms, hands, and feet were made of marble. The rest of the statue (his clothing) would have been constructed of wood, perhaps covered with bronze, over a brick foundation.

The statue would have been imposing, around 12 meters high. The feet alone were 2 meters long, the head even larger. Constantine could have used a better hairdresser — it looks like he has a “bowl haircut” — but his face is elegant and chiseled, with a strong jaw and an imperial gaze.

The head of Constantine with his strong features and distinctive, if unappealing, haircut

But there was yet a second colossal Constantine in Rome, this one made of bronze. You can readily see how similar the bronze head is to the marble one (although this time he’s let his hair grow longer in back, a bit of a mullet).

The bronze head, with the similar hair, eyes, and his strong jaw
Bronze hand, amazing how lifelike it is — you can see the veins!

Today, both statues are part of the magnificent collection of the Capitoline Museums. This year, a finger of the bronze colossus, from the Louvre in Paris, was reunited with the statue, which is displayed within the Capitoline Museums.

As you can see from the top photo, the marble bits are displayed in the courtyard of the museums. Legend has it they were placed there by Michelangelo (who designed the Capitoline buildings and piazza).

Top photo courtesy of CCCP.