Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine - History and Facts | History Hit

Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine

Rome, Lazio, Italy

The Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine was an Ancient Roman meeting house, the remains of which stand in the Roman Forum.

Peta Stamper

24 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine

The last civic basilica to be built in Rome, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine remains the largest structure in the Roman Forum, Rome. With its unsupported 3 colossal arches and vaults still standing along with part of its roof, the basilica is considered a triumph of Roman engineering.

Initial construction of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine started under the Roman Emperor Maxentius in 308 AD and was completed by Constantine in approximately 312-3 AD. Contrary to the religious connotations of its name, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine would, like other Roman basilicas, have served as a meeting house and judicial or administrative centre.

Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine history

In ancient Rome, basilicas were public buildings with multiple social and administrative functions – a combination of a court-house, council chamber and meeting hall. In the niches lining the walls, there were often statues of the gods, overseeing the political matters of the day.

Construction of the monumental basilica began under emperor Maxentius in 308 AD. However, before it could be completed, civil war erupted between Maxentius and the other emperors of the tetrarchy: Constantine I and Licinius. Maxentius was defeated by Constantine I at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in October 312, and while Constantine still had not yet eliminated Licinius (which he would in 324), he completed construction of the basilica.

The basilica was white and stood on a 100 by 65 metre concrete platform surrounded by 8 massive marble columns, and unlike other basilicas had supporting arches. The innovative engineering of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine inspired building projects for centuries afterwards, including New York’s Penn Station.

The basilica came to be known by Romans as the Basilica Nova, to set it apart from others in the forum, such as Basilica Julia. Under Constantine and his successors, the building took on more of a Christian association, and because it had fewer pagan associations than Roman temples, was used as a template for later churches.

Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine today

Today, although only a shell of the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine’s northern aisle remains, the structure is a splendid testament to the Roman empire. Unfortunately, most of the building was destroyed during the 9th century as the result of an earthquake.

Nonetheless, visitors to the Roman Forum can walk alongside the basilica to gain a full appreciation of its size, before stepping underneath the colossal arches overlooked by the patterned ceilings. Although, the best place to view the basilica is perhaps from the edge of the Palatine Hill, where you can get a sense of its size compared to its surroundings.

Getting to the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine

Located in Rome’s ancient centre and easily found on foot, to reach the basilica catch Metro line B to stop Colosseo, a couple of minutes walk away. Otherwise buses 75, 81, 87, 673, 175 and 204 stop at Colosseo, as does the number 3 tram.

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