Some of the most iconic symbols of the Roman Empire that have survived into the modern world today are the arches that Romans erected to commemorate military victories and glorify individual emperors. The story of how arches came to be used throughout the Roman world in such a way is one that involves the evolution of the military and its leaders into the political forces that came to dominate the state, and those arches, along with the triumphs that came to be associated with many of them, were key parts in the process of exhibiting the might of both Rome. At the same time, they were meant to mark the individual achievements of Rome’s rulers, making them an enormous and expensive PR exercise that steadily grew over the years.
At its most basic, and in its earliest incarnation, the arch was a celebration of achievement and, as such, was part of a whole series of methods used by the Romans to record, reward, and publicize success. However, as the imperial period progressed, the arch came to symbolize much more and became exclusively associated with imperial might through the building of Triumphal Arches. The story of those arches is inextricably linked to the promotion of Rome as the greatest of all powers, and of its leaders as the most worthy and able of all commanders.
The building process of arches was long and protracted, but it typically served the empire well. Indeed, the success of this physical statement can perhaps be best measured by the number of similar arches erected around the world centuries after the end of the Roman Empire, including the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the Narva Triumphal Arch in Saint Petersburg, the Wellington Arch in London, and the India Gate in Delhi.