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Bill Thayer

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Loyalty to the Régime is Good For Business
(If Only the Régime Wouldn't Change so Often)

You can enlarge the inscription to complete readability by clicking here (315K).

[image ALT: a handsomely cut inscription surrounded by a solid border]
Transcribed and expanded:
1

2
3

4

5
6
IMPERATORI · CAESARI · LVCIO · SEPTIMIO · SEVERO · PIO · PERTINACI · AVGVSTO · ARABIC· ADIABENIC· PARTHICO · MAXIMO · FORTISSIMO · FELICISSIMO ·
PONTIFICI · MAXIMO · TRIBVNICIA · POTESTATE · XII · IMPERATORI · XI CONSVLI III PATRI · PATRIAE · ET
IMPERATORI · CAESARI · MARCO · AVRELIO · ANTONINO · PIO · FELICI · AVGVSTO · TRIBVNICIA · POTESTATE · VII · CONSVLI · III · PATRI · PATRIAE · PROCONSVLI · FORTISSIMO · FELICISSIMOQVE · PRINCIPI · ET ·
IVLIAE · AVGVSTAE · MATRI · AVGVSTI · NOSTRI · ET · CASTRORVM · ET · SENATVS · ET · PATRIAE · ET · IMPERATORIS · CAESARIS · MARCI · AVRELI · ANTONINI · PII · FELICIS · AVGVSTI·
P A R T H I C I  M A X I M I  B R I T A N N I C I  M A X I M I 
ARGENTARI · ET · NEGOTIANTES · BOARI · HVIVS LOCI QVI INVEHENT DEVOTI · NVMINI · EORVM ·
Translated:

To the Emperor Caesar, Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax, Augustus, conqueror of the Arabs, the Adiabeni and the Parthians, the strongest, the happiest, <rah rah, sis‑boom‑bah> 2 Pontifex Maximus, vested 12 times with the tribunician power, proclaimed imperator 11 times, consul 3 times, Father of the Fatherland, and 3 to the Emperor Caesar, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix, Augustus, vested 7 times with the tribunician power, consul 3 times, Father of the Fatherland, proconsul, the strongest and the happiest prince, and 4 to Julia Augusta, mother of our emperor and of the camps and of the senate and of the Fatherland, and of the emperor Caesar M. Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix, Augustus, 5 conqueror of the Parthians and the Britons 6 the bankers and cattle merchants of this place who bring [their goods and business here], as a sign of their attachment to their divine majesty.

Brief Notes:

The date is the easy part, because the principal dedicatee can be no one else than Septimius Severus; and his 12th tribunician power ran from 10 Dec A.D. 203 to 9 Dec 204.

Once that is established, we can unmask someone detestable hiding under the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius Felix: this is the man we call Caracalla, from his soldiers' nickname — a  caracalla was a kind of hooded cloak. His mother, so prominently mentioned in this inscription, was the celebrated Julia Domna; a strong woman famous for her beauty and her intelligence both.

All is not as well as it appears in this inscription, though. A fourth person is conspicuously absent, Julia Domna's other son, Geta. Within a few months of his father's death, Caracalla, having inherited the empire with his brother, had him murdered in their mother's arms. Geta's names and portraits were then chiselled off every monument in the empire, including this one, built just eight years before. Less conspicuous the absence of Caracalla's wife Plautilla: he murdered her by way of practice in 205 (portrait, inscription: chisel, chisel). Not all the damage to this monument is due to the wear and tear of time.

Platner (in his article on the arch) believes that this inscription was "modified" twice. He had better access than I did; I couldn't tell, but line 5 is very stretched out, and surely conceals an erasure.


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Page updated: 18 Feb 00