The importance of Witnesses
by Jamiah Mootry
[student, Rome Sketchbook course, July 2012]
To zoom in on the Arch of Constantine (312-315ad) would reveal many depictions of scenes of Constantine's conquest of Rome. On the north side, the relief of "Constantine addressing the Senate and people of Rome", one can see that he is declaring his plans for the future of Rome to the Roman people in order to have their support. Another relief on the arch, "Constantine's distribution of Largesse and Gifts", shows him as generous. The concept of instilling trust into the citizens as well as repaying those who helped toward this gain of power is still alive in modern times. Constantine seems to be repayingcthose for their efforts in helping him gain power. In comparison to the inugural speech of a U.S. President, he too would perform the same acts of making promises to his citizens while also being in debt to those who, for instance, donated money toward his campaign.
Rewards could be given out to them in the future, for example, in return for donating to campaign funds, he or she could gain recognition or funding for their business affairs. This is propaganda at it's best. The relief shows Constantine passing out gifts to all. Look at how the people stand before him in great gratitude. This type of action would indeed boost Constantine's longevity as a ruler. In the address, there are many people surrounding him and there is a figure amongst them who is passing on his speech as a translator to those who do not understand Constantine. At the time, there were latin and greek speaking citizens. This is present on the left side because one can clearly see the interaction between the people receiving Constantine's words. Furthermore, the reliefs as a whole served as reminders to the people that he would do great things for them, and by doing this he would gain a reputation amongst them. This worked in a reciprocal manner in regards to him working for his citizens and his citizens in return, praising him for it. Thus, his credibility would build due to the presence of the people as witnesses.
Constantine was the first Christian emperor, after a period of persecution under the rule of Diocletian, Severus, and so on. This shift allowed for the creation of Basilicas and churches. Within these structures were apses that held much information about them. I also found that witnesses were included in them as they were in Constantine's reliefs. For instance in the apse of Santa Pudenziana, Jesus is sitting on a throne holding open a book that states, "THE LORD IS THE PRESERVER OF THE CHURCH OF PUDENTIANAE". Flanking Christ on both sides are saints and Christ's apostles/followers. This setup is also present in the apse of Santa Cecilia where Christ is in the center and flanking him are mainly saints and the donor. His apostles are located beneath him as they are depicted as sheep. Eyes and gestures allure one to focus on God as he transmits to his followers all that he can do for them so that they would believe in Him. He promises salvation for one's soul in the afterlife.
Thanks to Jesus' disciples, his life on earth was recorded and many began to believe in Him because of the many miracles he performed. Like Constantine, this would not have been possible if not for records and oral communications. In a way, when one goes into these churches, he or she too becomes a witness in that he/she too is seeing the miracles and goodness of God. To worship means to eventually gain salvation in the Christian sense.