Triumphal Arch in Orange, France

The Triumphal Arch in Orange (near Avignon) is about 22 meters high and 21 metres wide, and consists of three arches.

It is located on the ancient Via Agrippa (the Roman trade route from Lyon to Arles) and features numerous ornate carvings relating to the history of the conquests of Augustus, the Roman supremacy over the Gauls and various religious symbols.

In the nineteenth century it was called the Arch of Marius because it was assumed that it was erected in honour of the Marius victory against the Cimbri and the Teutons in 101 B.C., but today it is accepted that the arch was a dedication to the victory of Augustus at Actium (31 B.C.), and later also to the Emperor Tiberius.

The reason it was not immediately clear that the Triumphal Arch in Orange related to Augustus’ naval victory at Anctium on Antonius was probably because the emperor himself required his exploit to be relegated to the bottom of the arch – giving priority to images of subjugated Gauls (as expected, since the arch was in Gaul, which had been conquered by the Romans).

Hence the scenes of barbarians in chains, with their spoils of war suspended to the trees, are a clear reference to the conquest of Gaul by Caesar. Below this we can see the reliefs relating to naval symbolism – anchors, mermaids and sea- monsters that refers to the power of the Roman Empire (above all in the sea monsters).

The Roman arches also feature religious symbols and, in particular, the symbol of the religious power of the Emperor - as example there is a representation of a cup used in the sacrifices to get the blood of victims), that shows the religious and priestly power of the Emperor as the guarantor of the peace in the Roman Empire. The ionic frieze showing acanthus leaves also has a religious symbolism.

Recent excavations around the arch have uncovered further finds including a head of the god Bacchus, Hercules and other figures tied to mythology, and it is likely that the impressive Triumphal Arch has many more secrets yet to reveal to us – and many that we will never understand – adding more than just a tinge of mystery when you visit Orange in France.