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Lepcis Magna: Arch of Septimius Severus (3)


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).  
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Arch of Septimius Severus

This is the Arch of Septimius Severus in Lepcis Magna seen from the city itself. The road is the cardo, which appears to have been lowered a bit to to ensure that the arch really dominated the street.

This part of the monument is the northeast face, which is decorated with "frieze B". It represents the emperor's pietas, his exemplary religious behavior. This was very important, because as the empire's pontifex maximus (high priest), Septimius Severus was responsible for the pax deorum, "peace with the gods", which ensured that the harvests were plentiful, the rivers kept their course, the earth did not move, and rain fell when it had to. Severus had little patience with dissidents. During his stay in Lepcis Magna in 203, a young Christian named Perpetua was tortured to death in Carthage.

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"Frieze B" is now in the National Archaeological Museum in Tripoli. This part shows the imperial family (from left to right, Julia Domna, a long-haired Geta, a headless representation of the Empire, the emperor himself, Caracalla, and the emperor's brother Geta, attending the sacrifice of a bull, presided by the praetorian prefect, Plautianus.
The reliefs on the piers match the frieze: again, we see the emperor in a religious act, presiding a sacrifice. The representation is split into two registers: the imperial family in the upper register, the sacrifice itself in the lower.
This photo shows how this sculpture was placed inside the arch. The road is the Cardo again, and the milestone from where distances where measured is also visible. In the distance, you can discern the Arch of Trajan.
The original relief is in the Museum of Lepcis Magna. Here you see the upper part: the emperor, presiding the sacrifice. Behind him are Hercules, one of the two protective deities of Lepcis (the other was Liber Pater), Caracalla. In the background, you can see a very large temple.
The lower register shows an altar and the arrival of two bulls, who are about to be slaughtered.
If someone arrived in Lepcis Magna from the southeast, he might have seen the arch like this. As you can see, to the left and right of the road (the Decumanus), the site has remained unexcavated, and we may hope that one day, missing parts of the Arch of Septimius Severus will be recovered.
This part of the relief, "frieze C", was not of the highest quality (the figures are too long) and is also badly damaged -only four pieces have been recovered so far- but it apparently celebrated the emperor's military prowess again, virtus. Here we have some mounted senators, knights, or soldiers in civil dress (cf. a similar representation on "frieze A"). The bold man in front cannot be a soldier: he is too old.
On this scene Julia Domna can be recognized (to the left) accompanied by the war god Mars, to the right. From the empress' presence, we may deduce that elsewhere on this frieze, the emperor himself was represented.
Prisoners of war with a trophy.
A Roman soldier, standing next to the goddess Roma. A trophy in the background.

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© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2007
Revision: 27 May 2007
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