Arcus Septimii Severi

Richardson, L. jr

Arcus Septimii Severi (Figs. 19, 40, 41): an arch in the Forum Romanum at the northwest end of the Sacra Via, in front of, but not on axis with, the Aedes Concordiae. The inscription on both sides of the attic (CIL 6.1033 = ILS 425; cf. CIL 6.31230) states that the arch was erected by the senate in A.D. 203 to Septimius Serverus, Caracalla, and Geta in honor of conquests in the East. Later the name of Geta in the fourth line was chiseled away, and further honorific titles for Septimius and Caracalla were added in its place. The bronze letters have been robbed out, but the matrices for them survive, and the holes for clamps permit restoration of the original text in the fourth line. The arch is a triple-fonix arch of Pentelic marble on a base of travertine, which was concealed by short flights of steps leading up to the arch on the forum side. In the middle of the fourth century, the level of the forum in this area was lowered and much longer stairs were installed, but apparently in antiquity no road ever ran through the arch. Over all, the arch measures aproximately 25 m wide, 23 m high, and 11.35 m deep. The central arch is 12 m high and 7 m wide; the side arches are 7.80 m high and 3 m wide. The side arches communicate with the central passage by vaulted passages; these, as well as the other passages, have coffered ceilings.

The openings are framed by fluted columns in front of pilasters with composite capitals that carry a deep entablature that breaks out from the face of the arch over them and runs around all four faces. The high plinths on which the columns are raised arc embellisihed on the three exposed faces with reliefs showing soldiers leading captive barbarians. The spandrels are filled with river gods over the side arches and Victorias carrying trophies above figures of the seasons over the central arch. The keystones have reliefs of divinities. Just above the keystones of the side arches runs a narrow frieze showing parts of a triumphal procession, prisoners presented to the goddess Roma, groups of soldiers, carts loaded with the spoils, and allegorical figures representing provinces. Above this are four great panels showing panoramas of the campaigns in multiple registers woven together irregularly to produce a vivid confusion. These are the great glory of the arch, masterpieces of design.

The inscription fills the whole of the face of the deep attic, within which there are four vaulted chambers accessible by a stair in the southwest pier with a concealed door in the south end at the height of the springing of the side arches. The arch is shown on coins of Septimius and Caracalla surmounted by a six-or eight-horse chariot carrying Septimius Serverus and Victoria and led by Caracalla and Geta (?). This group is flanked by equestrian figures facing toward the ends (Caracalla and Geta?). All trace of these has disappeared (B. M. Coins, Rom. Emp. 5.216n.320; RIC 4.124 no. 259).

L. Franchi, "Ricerche sull' arte di età severiana a Roma" (StMisc 4, Rome 1964), 20-32; R. Brilliant, The Arch of Septimius Serverus in the Roman Forum (MAAR 29, Rome 1967); Nash 1.126-30; RendPontAcc 55-56 (1982-84): 299-313 (R. Nardi); Roma, archeologia nel centro (1985), 1.34-40 (R. Masini et al.), 41-55 (R. Nardi).

© The Johns Hopkins University Press