Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other

Lepcis Magna: Arch of Septimius Severus (2)


Lepcis Magna: Phoenician colony, later part of the Carthaginian empire, the kingdom of Massinissa, and the Roman empire. Its most famous son was the emperor Septimius Severus (193-211).
 
History Texts Photos

Arch of Septimius Severus

The northeast face of the Arch of Septimius Severus in Lepcis Magna was directed to Oea, the great rival city of Lepcis (modern Tripoli). The theme of this part of the monument is military virtus: the makers wanted to stress Septimius Severus' qualities as a general. And indeed, he was a great conqueror, who had added Mesopotamia to the Empire.
Ancient-Warfare.com, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Several large fragments have survived of what is called "frieze A". Here we see a group of mounted men, dressed in the toga. They must be important people, perhaps senators or knights, or the elite of Lepcis Magna. Alternatively, they are soldiers in civil dress - after all, the two men in the background carry military standards. This is high quality work.

Like the other original reliefs on this webpage, this part of the frieze can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Tripoli.

The central scene of this frieze: the emperor and his two sons Caracalla and Geta in his triumphal chariot, entering his hometown. On the chariot itself you can see a Victory and Tyche (Fortune) crowning the two protective gods of Lepcis Magna, Liber Pater and Hercules. Among the faceless people in the background, we can perhaps discern Plautianus and Publius Septimius Geta again. The young man cannot be identified.
Their caps show that these prisoners of war are Parthians. In the background, we can see the lighthouse of Lepcis Magna, which proves that this frieze represents an actual procession, even though it is a bit strange to see Parthians captives (taken prisoner in 194-198) in the context of the emperor's visit in 202/203.
The arch must have boasted a long inscription, but we can find it on none of the four faces, except for these words. The first one, divo "to the deified", and the third one, divae (which has the same meaning but refers to a woman) suggests that the arch was dedicated to the emperor and his wife after their deaths in 211 and 217, which is a bit strange.
And of course, the northwestern face has its Victories as well.

As we have already seen, the Arch of Septimius Severus was built over the crossroads of the Cardo and Decumanus. Essentially, it is a cupola -although a very low one- placed on a groin vault.

To make the transition of the vault to the cupola smooth and beautiful, the pendentives were decorated with imperial eagles.
On the piers, reliefs are shown that match the faces. So, if "frieze A" is dedicated to the emperor's martial prowess, the reliefs on the piers have the same theme: war. Unfortunately, this part of the monument is not only poorly made by a second-class sculptor, but is also badly damaged. Some art historians believe this is a copy of a scene from the Arch of Septimius Severus on the Roman Forum, and perhaps there is indeed some similarity to the left-hand relief of the eastern face of the Roman arch, which represent the liberation of Rome's ally Nisibis in 195 (more...). However, both reliefs are very damaged, and we had better not jump to conclusions.

>> to part three >>

History Texts Photos
© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2007
Revision: 27 May 2007
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other