The Arch of Titus is well known to most of us as the monument in the city of Rome commemorating the subjugation of Judea in 70 AD. What may not be so well known is that the relief sculptures that depict scenes from the victory procession were originally painted in colour. Indeed, only part of the scenes represented are sculptured while the remainder, mostly in the background, were painted.

Recently a group from the Yeshiva University Center for Israel Studies has commenced a project to identify the original colours used on the bas-reliefs[1]. Known as the Arch of Titus Digital Restoration Project, the arch was recently scanned for traces of colour on the first century AD bas-reliefs.

Two principal scenes from the victory procession are represented on the internal walls of the arch. One shows the spoils of war as they are paraded through the city of Rome, with the menorah (seven branched lampstand) clearly visible; while the other has the Emperor Titus in his chariot accompanied by the goddesses Rome and Victory.

Using a Breuckmann GmbH 3D scanner, high resolution three-dimensional scans of the menorah and other parts of the bas-reliefs were made. The data revealed traces of yellow ochre on the branches and base of the menorah, and now the team plans to scan the entire surface of the arch for ancient paint. A three-dimensional digital model of how the arch originally appeared will be constructed, which will include the surface colours. The model will become part of Rome Reborn, a three-dimensional digital model of the city of Rome at the height of its glory[2].

Overall, the arch has been well preserved. With the internal sculptures sheltered from the elements, the project team was optimistic that some of the ancient pigment remained. Ironically, the accumulation of soot and other pollutants over the centuries may have protected the pigmentation.

Regarded as a fine example of the illusionist style of sculpture, the bas-relief scenes give the impression that the figures really move[3]. The impression of movement must have been even greater when the scene was painted. While the arch celebrates Titus’ victory over Judea, it was actually constructed after his death as the inscription of dedication gives him the title divus (god), a title conferred by the Senate after an emperor had died.

Titus’s brutal suppression of the Jewish rebellion was foretold about forty years before the event by the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Olivet Prophecy, the Lord told his disciples that ‘Jerusalem compassed with armies’ (Luke 21:20) was the sign of the end of Judah’s Commonwealth. While the glory of the Roman Empire has passed away and its greatness is largely known today from the work of scholars and archaeologists, the Jews have survived and in 1948 re-established their state. The Word of God predicted not only their overthrow by Rome and exile from the land (Deut 28:49, 52, 64; Dan 8:9–12), but also their return and restoration in the latter days as the sign of Christ’s coming (Ezek 37:21–22; Luke 21:29–31).

References

[1] Noah Wiener, “Yeshiva University Project Shines a Colorful Digital Light on the Arch of Titus”, Bible and Archaeology News, June 22, 2012 http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/archaeology-today/cultural-heritage/yeshiva-university-project-shines-a-colorful-digital-light-on-the-archof-titus/

[2] “Discovering the Menorah’s Original Color” http://blogs.yu.edu/news/2012/06/22/yu-team-discovers-arch-of-titusmenorahs-original-golden-color/

[3] Leonardo B. Dal Maso. Rome of the Caesars. Florence: Bonechi, p. 46