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Arch of Septimius Severus

Arch of Septimius Severus

A well-preserved triple arch erected in A.D. 203 in honor of Emperor Septimius Severus and his sons Geta and Caracalla, at the northwest corner of the Forum Romanum, in front of the Temple of Concord. Four large reliefs (two on the Forum side, two facing the Capitoline) recount Severus' victories against the Parthians. When Caracalla assumed the throne and had his younger brother killed in A.D. 212, he also arranged for Geta's name to be erased from the dedicatory inscription.

Arcus Septimii Severi

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 43-44.

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). The exposed corners of the foundation were then faced with marble. The arch was never traversed by a road until mediaeval times.

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Additional source material

  • Ancient Library Sources (from Peter Aicher, Rome Alive: A Source Guide to the Ancient City, vol. 1, Bolchazy-Carducci: 2004) [Works cited]

    45. Arch of Septimius Severus. Commentary.

    The Arch of Septimius Severus, one of the best preserved structures in the Forum, was awarded by the Senate in AD 203 to commemorate the Parthian victories of the emperor Severus and his sons Caracalla and Geta. The wars of this campaign, including the capture of Ctesiphon, the Parthian capital on the Tigris, are chronicled by the four massive relief panels above the side arches, and winged Victories blowing trumpets decorate the spandrels of the central archway. The Arch was the first major commission in the Forum since Hadrian's Temple to Venus and Rome eighty years earlier, and besides glorifying the Emperor's military deeds it staked Severus's claim to a dynasty with the prominent inclusion of the Emperor's sons, Caracalla and Geta, in the inscription.

    One of the most interesting features of this monument is the obliteration of Geta's name from the inscription that fills the attic. Severus had first chosen Caracalla, his elder son, as heir to the throne but later named Geta to be a co-ruler with Caracalla. Upon his father's death in AD 211, Caracalla put an end to the long-standing feud between the two brothers by murdering Geta. He then subjected his brother's name to a damnatio memoriae, the “erasure of memory (or record),” involving the destruction of the person's statues and images, and the erasure of his name from inscriptions. Going back to republican times, the practice was also applied to emperors, including Domitian (hence the inclusion of Suetonius's passage on Domitian in this section, 45.3).

    The “son of Marcus” as part of Severus's title and the name “Marcus Aurelius” as part of Caracalla's are the result of Severus's self-proclaimed “posthumous” adoption by the long-dead Marcus Aurelius.


    45. Arch of Septimius Severus. Sources.

    45.1.

    IMP (eratori) CAES(ari) LUCIO SEPTIMIO M(arci) FIL(io) SEVERO PIO PERTINACI AUG(usto) PATRI PATRIAE PARTHICO ARABICO ET / PARTHICO ADIABENICO PONTIFIC(i) MAXIMO TRIBUNIC(ia) POTEST(ate) XI IMP(eratori) XI CO(n)S(uli) III PROCO(n)S(uli) ET / IMP(eratori) CAES(ari) M(arco) AURELIO L(ucii) FIL(io) ANTONINO AUG(usto) PIO FELICI TRIBUNIC(ia) POTEST(ate) VI CO(n)S(uli) PROCO(n)S(uli) [P(atri) P(atriae) / OPTIMIS FORTISSIMISQUE PRINCIPIBUS / OB REM PUBLICAM RESTITUTAM IMPERIUMQUE POPULI ROMANI PROPAGATUM / INSIGNIBUS VIRTUTIBUS EORUM DOMI FORISQUE S(enatus) P(opulus)Q(ue) R(omanus)

    To the Imperator Caesar Lucius Septimius, son of Marcus, Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus [=Septimius Severus], father of his country, conqueror of the Parthians in Arabia and Assyria, Pontifex Maximus, with Tribunician powers 11 times, triumphing general 11 times, consul 3 times, and proconsul; and to the Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius, son of Lucius, Antoninus Augustus Pius Felix [=Caracalla], with tribunician powers 6 times, consul, proconsul, father of his country—**the best and bravest of princes**—on account of the republic restored and the empire of the Roman people increased by their outstanding virtues at home and abroad, the Senate and the Roman people dedicate this arch.

    ** This phrase was substituted for one that probably read: P(ublio) SEPTIMIO L(ucii) F(ilio) GETAE NOB(ilissimo) CAES(ari), preceded by ET at the end of the third line: “and to Publius Septimius, son of Lucius, Geta, most noble Caesar [=Geta]...”

    ILS 425 = CIL 6.1033


    45.2.

    When the senators granted Severus a triumph for the victory over Parthia, he had to refuse because he suffered from arthritis and was unable to stand up in the chariot for the procession.

    Imperial Lives, Severus 16.6


    45.3.

    [In AD 96, when hearing that the Emperor Domitian had been murdered], the Senate was so overjoyed that they jostled one another to get into the Senate House, where they gave themselves over to a verbal mutilation of the dead man's reputation, venting their hatred in the most insulting and bitter language imaginable. They even had ladders brought in to tear down objects adorned with Domitian's likeness. They watched as these were shattered on the ground, and then decreed that all of his inscriptions should be erased and all record of the man expunged.

    Suetonius, Domitian 23


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