Roman Emperor Constantine returns to the Yorkshire Museum after year in Colosseum

by Emily Beeson | 18 September 2013

Returning from the Colosseum, the head of Constantine the Roman Emperor is back in York after a year in Italy.

A photo of a white marble sculpture of a Roman emperor's head against black
A Roman return for Constantine in York© Yorkshire Museum
A marble head of the ruler, who was crowned in York, is back at the Yorkshire Museum following its spell in Rome’s famed amphitheatre, as well as a stint in Milan.

The head, thought to be part of a statue of the emperor which stood in front of York’s fortress, was shown in Italy as part of an exhibition, Constantino 313AD.

This exhibition marked the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan, the historic decree that legalised and embraced Christianity in the Roman world.

Constantine’s head joined more than 200 other Roman artefacts while in Italy. Many were loaned from the Capitoline Museums in Rome, the National Gallery of Washington and the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna.

“It is great to have one of our star objects back in York after being on loan at the iconic Roman landmark," says Natalie McCaul, the museum’s curator of archaeology.

"For it to be included in such a prestigious exhibition has been fantastic - it will have hopefully have raised the profile of York as a Roman city to thousands of people from all over the world.”

It was in early 4th century York, known as Eboracum during the Roman Empire, that Constantine was proclaimed emperor by his troops, following the death of his father, the emperor Constantius.

His disdain for the prosecution of Christians in Rome, prompting him to initiate the construction of St Peter's at the heart of the Vatican City, has made Constantine a well-known historical figure.

Constantine died in AD 337, having ruled for more than 30 years. He reunited the divided Roman Empire, restored the civil powers of government and the Senate and created Constantinople, the New Rome - now Istanbul.  

His sculpted likeness was originally discovered in York, and is thought to be perhaps the earliest portrait of the emperor, created shortly after his coronation in the city.

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