Site Report Essay, Research Paper
Rome: Profile of a City
June 18, 2001
Name of Site/Monument:
Arch of Septimius Severus
Name of Student completing this form:
Date Form filled out:
June 18, 2001
Location of Monument:
Northwest corner of the Roman Forum near the Capitoline Hill.
b. Location in Modern Rome
Date(s) of main construction phase(s):
In 203 AD, the Arch of Septimius Severus became the first monument on the northwestern side of the Roman Forum. “This arch destroyed the symmetry of the Roman Forum. Originally the level of the ground on the side toward the Forum was so high that the pavement of the central arch was reached by four or five steps. The steps to the side arches were cut at a later date. About the middle of the fourth century, the level in front of the arch was lowered, contrary to the general rule, as is shown by the massive concrete base on which is set the pedestal of the equestrian statue of Constantius” (Platner 244).
The Arch of Septimius Severus was technically a triumphal arch, but according to Giuseppe Lugli, in his book, The Roman Forum and the Palatine, “the monument was really more commemorative than triumphal” (32). It was raised to Septimius Severus, who ruled for 18 years, and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta in commemoration of the victories they had gained over the Arabs and Parthians in Mesopotamia. It celebrated the extension of the boundaries of the empire (Lanciani 42).
Commissioned by Septimius Severus, but not finished until after his death, during Caracalla’s reign.
Dimensions of the monument:
According to Platner, “:the arch is 23 meters high, 25 meters wide and 11.85 meters deep, the central archway is 12 meters high and 7 meters wide, and the side archways are 7.80 high and 3 meters wide. On each face of the arch are four fluted Corinthian columns, 8.78 meters high and 0.90 meters 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 meters in height, within which are four chambers” (245).
“The arch three passages connected by a transverse one, a peculiarity which does not occur in any other structure of the kind. There are four composite columns on each front” (Lanciani 42). “It was at first raised above the level of the Comitium by means of a wide flight of steps, and only later was it crossed by a road that joined the Clivus Capitolinus” (Lugli 31). It was not until the Middle Ages that the road went through the center of the arch.
The arch is triple, of Pentelic marble, and stands on foundations of travertine, the upper part of which was covered with marble facing. Originally the level of the ground on the side toward the Forum was so high that the pavement of the central arch was reached by four or five steps” (Platner 244).
Decoration of building:
“The wars fought against the Arabs are depicted in four great pictures above the smaller passages, while lunettes on either side of the arches are filled with winged victories are personifications of rivers (among others, the Tigris and Euphrates). Over the top of the decorative columns are reliefs depicting Arab prisoners dragged in chains by the Romans. These reliefs already show artistic decadence. The artist, instead of executing great compositions like those of other Arches, has composed a series of pictures on a lesser scale, filled with smaller figures, so that the limitations of his ability might be less noticeable. Representations of the arch on coins and medals show it to have been surmounted by a great six-horsed chariot, bearing the images of the Emperor and his two sons, while the holes to be seen on the sides seem to have supported shields and other ornaments in bronze. The decoration of the vaulting under the arches is very interesting, with its rich and carefully sculptured coffering (Lugli 32).
To the Imperator Caesar Lucius Septimius (son of Marcus) Severus, Pius Pertinax Augustus, Father of his country, conqueror of Parthian vassals in Arabia and Adiabene, chief Pontiff, tribunician powers for the eleventh time, hailed Imperator eleven times, consul four times, proconsul: and to the Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius (son of Lucius) Antoninus Augustus Pius Felix, tribunician power for the sixth time, consul, proconsul, most excellent and valorous princes, because the commonwealth was restored and the empire of the Roman People enlarged by their outstanding virtues at home and abroad: set up by Senate and People of Rome” (Dudley 84). This inscription is on the attic. The name Geta in the fourth line has been erased because he was killed by his brother. Honorary titles have been substituted. This process is called domnatio memoriae. “The inscription is repeated on both sides of the attic” (Platner 244).
Ancient Events on Site:
Circumstances and dates of destruction:
The Arch of Septimius Severus is one of the most well preserved monuments of Ancient Rome. As depicted in the photographs, it still stands almost complete. “Its excellent preservation is due to the fact that during the Middle Ages it was enclosed by the Church of SS. Sergius and Bacchus to the South and by fortifications to the North” (Lugli 34). According to Claridge, at some point in time, a sculptor set up shop in the central passageway, etching profiles on the walls. This accounts for some of the damage.
Re-uses in modern times:
During the Middle Ages, it enclosed the Church of SS. Sergius and Bacchus. Also, during the Middle Ages, it was used as a fortification for the city. In the photographs, you can see chunks of the attic missing. This was a good way to protect the city because you could get soldiers into the attic, and they could shoot arrows out of the holes in the attic, while receiving protection from the Arch.
Medieval and later sources:
Claridge, Amanda. Rome: Oxford Archaelogical Guides. Oxford University
Press: New York. 1998.
Dudley, Donald. Urbs Roma: A Source Book of Classical Texts on the City and its
Monuments. Phaidon Press: Aberdeen. 1967.
Lanciani, Rodolfo. The Roman Forvm. Frank & Co.: Rome. 1910.
Lugli, Giuseppe. The Roman Forum and the Palatine. Giovanni Bardi: Rome. 1959.
Platner, Samuel Ball. The Topography and Monuments of Ancient Rome.
Norwood Press: Boston. 1904.