Well, let’s make a long story short . . .
In the 3rd century A.C.E. the Roman empire suffered from civil war. To exaggerate a little, every Roman general wanted to become the ONE emperor. Throughput the century more than 28 people claimed the status of the emperor.
In 286, Diocletian came on top of everyone and became the sole emperor of the Roman empire. However, he soon made a bitter realization . . . The Roman empire was soooo large . . From the UK to the West all the way to modern day Syria to the East. Well . . , with no flights and no internet you can imagine that running the empire efficiently was a little bit too much for one person alone. Diocletian, however, had a plan: Why not divide the empire to smaller geographical regions and appoint “small” emperors (rulers) to each one to help me govern?
Thus, the tetrarchy was born and at the beginning, at least, it was fairly successful. Galerius defeated the Persians in the East, Constantius crushed the British userper Allectus in the West, Maximian put the Gauls in order and Diocletian put down the revolt of Domitianus in Egypt and for a while everything was in order.
Peaceful times, though, don’t last long and soon (in 306) Diocletian retired to Split (Croatia) and build his empirial building there. Galerius was promoted from Ceasar (small emperor for simplicity) to Augustus (big emperor) and competed with Diocletian to build bigger, taller and more luxurius empirial nuildings in Thessaloniki using the wealth he brought from Persia.
On the other side of the empire, Constantine, (the later great) succeeded his father and self-proclaimed himself Augustus. In the years to come, Constantine had to fight a number of battles against his political opponents but eventually he became the rulers of the Western provinces of the Roman empire. In 311, Galerius died a gruesome death (probably bowel cancer) and by 324 he deafeated Licinius (who in the meantime had become the sole emperor of the East) and became the ONE and Only emperor until his death in 337.
Now . . , what do all this have to do with the missing faces in the arch of Thessaloniki? Well . . , perhaps, Everything . . . Let me explain . . .
Diocletian realized that the empire was falling apart. To unite the empire, he needed a common denominator; a value followed by everyone; an idea to bring people together; a god to be universally worshipped . . . in other words he needed someone to be a role model . . .
That role model became HIMSELF! To this end, an era of persecutions took place. Diocletian and Galerius were openly antichristian and the persecution of the latter picked during their era. Two decades later, however, with Diocletian and Galerius both out of the picture and with Constantine gaining momentum another god came forth to become this uniting factor
– The Christian God!
Whether Constantine was truly a Christian in his heart or whether Christianity was part of a political campaign to unite the empire is a debate for another day. For now, let’s focus on the gate. You can imagine, by now, that the faces of four pagan, Christian-persecution-emperors celebrating a successful Roman empire would be a little too much for the Christian emperor.
In the light of this information, it stands to reason that Constantine (who stayed in Thessaloniki for one to 12 months depending what historian you believe) ordered the damnation of the memory of his pagan predecessors (even that of his father) from the gate.
Now whether this is a conspiracy theory or an actual historical fact, it’s up to you to decide. Make your own research or hire a local licensed guide to fill in the gaps.
Thank you for taking the time to read through these line. For more stories check out more of my posts here. If you enjoy this blog and you want to help us continue writing interesting stories to help you explore the city like a local, a small donation would be a great way to show us your support. In the meantime, stay curious and keep exploring!
* For a 3D representation of the Arch click here