York bust of Roman emperor goes on show in Colosseum

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ONE of York’s most famous Roman artefacts has been taken to Italy to go on display in the iconic Colosseum.

The marble head of Constantine, which is usually on show at the Yorkshire Museum, is one of the prized exhibits on show at Rome’s huge amphitheatre.

The exhibition, Constantino 313AD, marks the 1,700 anniversary of the Edict of Milan which made Christianity lawful for the first time in the Roman world.

The curator of archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum, Natalie McCaul, said: “It is fantastic that one of York’s most famous Roman objects is now on show in what many see as the iconic Roman landmark. Thousands of visitors will see it which can only be good for raising the profile of York’s Roman history and the city’s importance in telling the story of Emperor Constantine.”

Constantine is credited with a period of religious tolerance which allowed Christianity to develop from an underground cult to a mainstream religion that went on to spread across the globe.

The marble sculpture of Constantine’s head was found in York and may be the earliest portrait of him, perhaps carved shortly after he was proclaimed emperor. Roughly twice life-size, it is from a statue of Constantine which probably stood in a prominent position in the Roman fortress in York.

The Edict of Milan saw Constantine I, the emperor controlling the western side of the Roman Empire, and Licinius, who was controlling the Balkans, agree not to punish Christians, after centuries of persecution.

The landmark decision led to a period of religious tolerance and great political and cultural innovation.

When he died in 337, Constantine had ruled for more than 30 years, during which time he reunited the divided Roman Empire, re-organised the army and restored the civil powers of government and the Senate. He also created Constantinople as the “New Rome” for the empire on the site of the Greek city of Byzantium, now the capital of Turkey, Istanbul.

The sculpture will feature alongside more than 200 other objects, including loans from the Capitoline Museums in Rome, the National Gallery of Washington and the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna. The exhibition runs from April 10 to September 15. The marble head of Constantine will be back on show in York from the end of September.