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The hand missing its index finger from a monumental bronze statue of Constantine.

Giant Finger of Emperor Constantine Found At Last


Experts at the Louvre Museum in Paris have made a rather important but strange discovery.  They have discovered that an apparent bronze toe, is in fact a finger, and it belongs to a famous statue of the Roman Emperor Constantine. The identification of the finger is helping to add to our knowledge of the famous colossal bronze statue of Emperor Constantine in the Capitoline Museum in Rome, one of the most world-renowned of all statues from Antiquity.

Emperor Constantine: the man who changed Rome

Emperor Constantine was perhaps one of the most important but somewhat controversial men in Roman history. He was a ferocious general and under his leadership, he re-unified the Roman Empire and ended the experiment of Diocletian rule by four Co-Emperors.

Constantine is perhaps best known for legalizing Christianity in Rome after he received a vision the night before the great Battle of Milvian Bridge (323 AD).  The Emperor was also a great builder and he laid the foundation for the city of Constantinople and in doing so, laid the foundations for the Byzantine Empire, a power in the Mediterranean for over a thousand years. He also established a new dynasty, the Constantinian, which ruled the Roman World until 364 AD.

Colossal marble head of Emperor Constantine the Great, Roman, 4th century, located in the Capitoline Museums in Rome. (CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Colossal marble head of Emperor Constantine the Great, Roman, 4 th century, located in the Capitoline Museums in Rome. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The Bronze Finger of the Emperor

The Art Newspaper reported that the newly identified finger belongs to the famous bronze statue of Constantine that once stood in Ancient Rome at an unknown location. It has long since been torn down, but extensive fragments of the masterpiece are kept in the Capitolini in Rome. They were donated by a Pope in 1471 with other great works from Ancient Rome such as the famous She-Wolf. The head of the giant bronze of Constantine is almost intact and it is believed to give a good likeness of Constantine I, but some experts claim that the statue represents his grandson Constantine II.

The newly identified finger, that was once mistaken for a toe, is 38 cm in length. How the finger arrived at the Louvre from Rome is something of a mystery. It was first catalogued in 1860 and probably belonged to the ‘collection of the Italian Marquis Giampietro Campana’, according to the Archaeology Magazine. The object was not registered for many years and it was only in 1913 that it received a reference number and was presumably mislabelled as a toe. No-one suspected that it belonged to the famous bronze statue of Emperor Constantine in Rome.

The discovery that the finger was not a toe was due to the work of Aurelia Azema. She began ‘to study the object for her doctorate on ancient welding techniques for the manufacture of large bronze statues’. Azema noticed that the length of the object was probably too long for a toe.  She then related the length of the finger to the dimensions of the statue of Constantine, which was an impressive 12 meters tall (39.3 feet).  The researcher argued that the bronze object was a missing index figure from the statue of the renowned Emperor.

The head, hand and sphere from the colossal bronze statue of Constantine I in the Capitoline Museums in Rome (Andy Montgomery / flickr)

The head, hand and sphere from the colossal bronze statue of Constantine I in the Capitoline Museums in Rome (Andy Montgomery / flickr)

To definitively prove that the object belongs to the bronze of the Emperor, it was decided to see if a replica of the finger would fit with the existing fragments of the Capitoline’s statue. In the Louvre’s laboratory, an expert employed a 3D modeling process to produce a replica of the finger. After a replica of the bronze finger was created it was taken to the Capitoline Museum in Rome, by a team of scientists and curators from the Louvre. The replica was an exact fit with the bronze fragments. This proved the thesis of Azema beyond any doubt.

The discovery of the index finger is encouraging experts to re-evaluate the bronze statue. It is helping them to better understand the original statute. Perhaps most importantly it might lead to other researchers looking for fragments of the bronze colossus of the Emperor who transformed the Roman Empire in the 4 th century AD. However, questions about the statue will endure such as the exact original location of the bronze figure.

Top image: The hand missing its index finger from a monumental bronze statue of Constantine. Photo ©José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / CC by SA 4.0.

By Edward Whelan



Charles Bowles's picture

Very inaccurate...

Charles Bowles

Gary Manners's picture

I have changed the article to read, ‘legalized Christianity in Rome’. Does that sound more accurate? (If not quite the entire story).


Charles Bowles's picture

So you are saying that Constantine did not officially make Christianity Romes eligion, well that is very interesting.  I have also read that Constantine was not really a Christian.  The people who write articles are usually racially bias as well as liars in regards to most of the articles I have read on this site….I have to ask why was the original statue made of BRONZE, and why is it that the first partiallt eroded statue head has a white powdered look with thin lips, but the second photo of the dark bronze statue head indicate thick top and bottom lips.   Also, why does some so call experts say that the statue is not that of Constantine I, but rather is that of his grandson, known as Constantine II, and also, it has not been determined where the  origimnal Bronze statue was located.  There are paintings on U-TUBE which shows CONSTANTINE as a light skin Black man, and is sister as a Black female SAINT (forget name)….

Charles Bowles

Why do reputable scholars and history lovers continue repeating the "Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Rome" line, when he most certainty he did not?

Constantine, together with his co-emporer Licinius merely outlawed state-sanctioned persecution of religious belief. In the protocols of Milan, they wrote that, to ensure reverence for Divinity, we "grant to Christians and to all men freedom to follow whatever religion each one chooses."

This of course was a historical first. But it only lasted 12 years. That's a whole other story.

But it wasn't until 381 - over 4 decades after Constantine's death - that Emperor Theodosius declared "Catholic Christianity" Rome's state religion, all others be damned.

Additionally, it is crutial to note that the new policy enacted by Theodosius, who had, as emperor, recently become a Catholic (converting from paganism), made it illegal to be a non-conformist follower of Christ. All who did not accept "Catholic Christianity" would suffer God's wrath, by which he meant his.

I realize the aforementioned fiction is repeated ad naseum, even by those who should known better. So I hope I haven't made anyone feel stupid by correcting it, including the author of this article. Since "God is love," and he doesn't want that, my sincere apologies if I've caused any offense to anyone.

I love history (and truth), so thanks for the opportunity to vent :)

Ed Whelan's picture


My name is Edward Whelan and I graduated with a PhD in history in 2008. Between 2010-2012 I worked in the Limerick City Archives. I have written a book and several peer reviewed journal articles. At present I am a... Read More

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