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Bill Thayer

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 p43  Arcus Septimii Severi

Article on pp43‑44 of

Samuel Ball Platner (as completed and revised by Thomas Ashby):
A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome,
London: Oxford University Press, 1929.

Black-and‑white images are from Platner; any color photos are mine © William P. Thayer

Arcus Septimii Severi: * The arch erected in 203 A.D. in honour of Severus and his sons Geta and Caracalla, at the northwest corner of the forum, in front of the temple of Concord. This information is contained in the dedicatory inscription (CIL VI.1033; cf. 31230) on both sides of the attic of the arch, which is still standing. The original bronze letters of this inscription have disappeared, but their matrices remain, and it can be seen that the name of Geta was chiselled away after his murder, and the space filled up with additional titles of Severus and Caracalla. The arch is triple and built of Pentelic marble on a foundation of travertine, which was concealed by a flight of steps that formed the approach to the arch from the forum side. Later, probably in the fourth century, the level in front of the arch on this side was lowered, the flight of steps lengthened, and the top of the foundation cut away to provide for them (CR 1899, 233; Mitt. 1902, 21‑22).a The exposed corners of the foundation were then faced with marble. The arch was never traversed by a road until mediaeval times.

The arch is 23 metres high, 25 wide and 11.85 deep, the central archway being 12 metres high and 7 wide, and the side archways 7.80 high and 3 wide. Between the central and side arches are vaulted passages with coffered ceilings. On each face of the arch are four fluted columns with Composite capitals, 8.78 metres high and 0.90 metre in diameter at the base. These columns stand free from the arch on projecting pedestals, and behind them are corresponding pilasters. An entablature surrounds the arch, and above it is the lofty attic, 5.60 metres in height, within which are four chambers.

Over the side arches are narrow bands of reliefs representing the triumphs of Rome over conquered peoples, and above them four large reliefs which represent the campaigns of Severus in the East (Reinach, Rép. d. Reliefs I.258‑270; Strong, Sculpture 297‑300; SScR 303‑305). In the spandrels of the central arch are winged Victories, and in those of the side arches, river gods. On the keystones of the central arch are reliefs of Mars Victor, and on the pedestals of the columns, Roman soldiers driving captives before them. Coins of Severus (Cohen, Sev. 53, 104) and Caracalla (ib. Car. 14, 15) show that on the top of the arch was a six- or eight-horse chariot, in which stood Severus  p44 and Victory, escorted by Geta and Caracalla, and on the ends four equestrian figures; but of these statues no traces have been found.

[image ALT: A beautiful representation of a winged victory, in a flowing robe and bearing aand ancient Roman legionary standard. It is a carved stone spandrel of the central archway of the Arch of Septimius Severus in Rome.]
The N spandrel on the W side of the arch.

The excellent preservation of this monument is due in part to the fact that in the Middle Ages its southern half belonged to the neighbouring church of SS. Sergio e Bacco, and its northern half was fortified (HC 86). The erection of this arch destroyed the symmetry of this end of the forum (HC 84‑90; Thédenat 161‑162, 234‑238; LR 284‑286; Rossi, Archi trionfali, pls. 50‑57; Sangallo, Barb. 31; D'Espouy, Fragments, I.96, 97; PAS II.69, 70; DR 454‑462; RE Suppl. IV.497‑499; ASA 119, HFP 21, 22).

Thayer's Note:

a See Hülsen for a diagram of the changes involved. Hülsen's article also covers the inscription in some detail.

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Page updated: 27 Jul 02