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p473 Septizonium

Article on pp473‑475 of

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


Septizonium: known only from the statement in Suetonius (Tit. 1) that Titus was born prope Septizonium aedibus sordidis. It was probably somewhat similar to the Septizonium of Severus, although very much smaller, and it has been located generally on the Esquiline but without sufficient reason (FUR 37; Gilb. III.354; Richter 158).

Septizonium: a building erected by Septimius Severus at the extreme south-east corner of the Palatine hill (Hist. Aug. Sev. 19: opera publica praecipua eius extant Septizonium et thermae Severianae; 24: cum Septizonium fecerit nihil aliud cogitavit quam ut ex Africa venientibus suum opus occurreret: nisi absente eo per praefectum urbis medium simulacrum eius esset locatum, aditum Palatinis aedibus, id est regium atrium, ab ea parte facere voluisse perhibetur. quod etiam post Alexander cum vellet facere, ab haruspicibus dicitur esse prohibitus, cum hoc sciscitans non litasset; cf. Hist. Aug. Geta 7; Chron. 147; Hieron. ad a. Abr. 2216: Severo imperante thermae Severianae apud Antiochiam et Romam factae et Septizonium exstructum; Cassiod.: Septizodium instructum est; Not. Reg. X: Septizonium divi Severi). The inscription (CIL VI.1032, 31229) records the dedication in 203 A.D.; and the building is undoubtedly referred to by Amm. Marc. in 355 (15.7.3: cum plebs excita calore quo consuevit . . . ad Septemzodium convenisset celebrum locum ubi operis ambitiosi nymfaeum Marcus condidit imperator) when the mention of Marcus instead of Severus is due to the fact that the name Marcus appears first in the dedicatory inscription. According to the Vita, therefore, Severus intended this building to serve as a monumental façade at this corner of the hill, visible to all who approached by the via Appia, and also as an entrance to the imperial precinct. The latter purpose could not be carried out because the prefect of the city set up the statue of the emperor in the central niche. Ammianus (loc. cit.) implies that the building was in fact a nymphaeum of imposing size and appearance; and a septizonium at Lambaesis had an 'aqueductus et nymphaei opus' attached to it (CIL VIII.2657).

p474 The whole of the latter part of the passage in Hist. Aug. Sev. 24: nisi absente eo per praefectum urbis medium simulacrum eius esset locatum, aditum Palatinis aedibus, id est regium atrium, ab ea parte facere voluisse perhibetur, has recently been taken by v. Domaszewski (SHA 1916, 7.A, 5‑7; 1918, 13.A, 48), like that in id. Get. 7 (cf. Sepulcrum Severi) to be an interpolation; and this is why Hülsen in his latest restoration (published by Rushforth in the Legacy of Rome, fig. 35, opp. p399) has omitted the statue of Severus which had previously been inserted in the central niche. The very existence of a main approach to the Palatine on this side at this period seems highly doubtful.

Dombart, however, retains it in his restoration, and inclines to refer to it the second colossus named in Not. Brev. He differs from Hülsen mainly (a) in placing the columns in the niches closer to their back walls, (b) in giving half domes to the niches.1 The design of the front (an ornamental façade with three large niches, and three orders of columns) owed much to the type of permanent stage decoration (scaenae frons) which is seen in the back walls of the stages of various provincial theatres of the Roman period; and it is not without parallels, of which the nymphaea (expressly so called in inscriptions) of Miletus and Side are the most striking. There appears indeed to be no doubt that it was actually decorated with fountains; and it also seems clear that the interior, which would have served no useful purpose, was not originally accessible except by means of ladders. There is no evidence for an external staircase at the back. Dombart (p96) has misquoted Demontosius, Gallus Romae Hospes, 25.

A very difficult problem is presented by the name and its meaning. The form septizodium is first found in the Pseudo-Dositheus (about 207 A.D.) and in an inscription, CIL VIII (Suppl.) 14372 (about 210 A.D.), but is probably to be treated as incorrect and may therefore be disregarded (Schürer, Zeitschr. f. d. neutestamentliche Wissenschaft VI. (1905), 29 ff., 63 ff.). Unsuccessful attempts have been made to interpret septizonium in a literal sense, and to see in it a building which is capable of division, whether horizontally or vertically, into seven sections or belts. There is no doubt, however, that the building only had three stories. The reference to the seven planets (Maass, Tagesgötter 106‑117) may, however, be accepted even so, if the meaning of ζώνη and ἑπτάζωνος be kept in mind (Dombart in RE II. A. 1582, who is inclined to suppose that the building was actually decorated with emblems representing the seven planetary divinities of the seven days of the week, and who also emphasises the importance of the number seven in connection with the Ziggurats of Babylonia; cf. his article in Jahrb. d. Inst. XXXIV (1919), 40‑64).

p475 The mediaeval corruptions of the name are many — septem viae,2 septem solia (divided into maius and minus, referring to the east and west ends), while the name scuola di Vergilio came from the fact that mediaeval scholars found in the septodium the trivium et quadrivium liberalium artium. The church of S. Lucia de Septem solio is first mentioned in Eins. (11.5; 13.28; HCh 305); another church, S. Leone de Septem Soliis stood opposite to it, on the slopes of the Caelian (HCh 297‑298). The mediaeval history of the building, which served as a fortress, is interesting (Stevenson, BC 1888, 292‑298; Bartoli, BA 1909, 253‑269; LS IV.137‑139). Its destruction was completed by 14th September, 1588 (ASRSP 1910, 305).

The east angle of the building itself was preserved until the pontificate of Sixtus Vº who ordered its destruction, and the use of its materials for his own buildings. We learn from the records of its demolition that many columns, etc., of rare marbles had been employed in its construction, which probably came from various different sources. The columns of the three orders were all composite. We are therefore thrown back on the Forma Urbis (fr. 34) and the numerous Renaissance representations of the building for information about it; and hence there has been much discussion about its details, though its general form may be taken as certain (cf. the restorations of Dombart and Hülsen cited).

An interesting confirmation of Hülsen's reconstruction (here he is followed by Dombart) at the posterior angles (a wall instead of a fourth column) is given by a picture by Macrino d'Alba (dated 1496). See AA 1923‑24, 41.

See Hülsen, Das Septizonium des Severus (46 Berlin. Winckelmannsprogramm 1886); id. Zeitschr. Gesch. Archit. 1911, 1‑24; LS II.51‑54; RL 1909, 540‑551; Mitt. 1910, 56‑73; DuP 110‑113; Dombart, Palatinische Septizonium zu Rom, Munich 1922; RE II. A. 1578‑1586; FUR, frgt. 38 — No. 34 does not belong (see DAP 2.xi.107); HFP 75, 76.


The Authors' Notes:

1 As Hülsen points out, a great part of the inscription would, if it had run round niches of this kind, have been illegible; and he therefore prefers to make them rectangular, putting small curved niches at the angles.

2 i.e. ἐπτὰ ὁδοί, which shows that in Rome the common form in late times was not Septizonium, but Septodium.


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