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Rome: Arch of Severus 1


The western face of the Arch of Septimius Severus. Photo Marco Prins. Arch of Septimius Severus: triumphal arch on the Forum Romanum.

The Arch of Septimius Severus is arguably the most impressive monument on the Forum Romanum. Although the statues on the top of the arch are now lost, the reliefs have lost their painting, and two reliefs are almost illegible, the monument as a whole is very well-preserved. A satellite photo can be found here.

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Bust of Septimius Severus. Archaeological Museum, Thessaloniki (Greece). Photo Marco Prins.
Septimius Severus (this is a bust from the Archaeological Museum in Thessaloniki) came to power in 193. On 31 December 192, Commodus had been assassinated and succeeded by the old general Pertinax, who had in turn been lynched by soldiers on 28 March. The imperial guard had sold the monarchy to another general, Didius Julianus. On hearing the news, the conspirators who had put Pertinax on the throne, decided to act again. Severus, the governor of Pannonia, gained the support of the army of the Danube and marched on Rome. Julianus was executed on 1 June, and the Senate recognized Severus.

Coin showing the arch of Septimius Severus.
This was not the end of the matter, however. In the west, Clodius Albinus had been proclaimed emperor; in the east, Pescennius Niger. Severus acted swiftly. He secured his back by signing a treaty with Albinus, and attacked Pescennius, who was dethroned in April 194. The victor of the civil war still needed the prestige of a real victory in a foreign war, and therefore attacked the Parthian empire, which had supported Pescennius Niger. As a reward for this foreign victory (in 195), the Senate awarded him a triumphal entry into the city and an arch, which is shown on this gold piece.
 (!!)
Drawing of the eastern face of the Arch of Septimius Severus, by Luigi Rossini.
Severus politely declined the honor when he returned in 196. He would look like a victor in a civil war. The next year, he attacked his former ally Clodius Albinus, and returned to the east, where he continued the war with three new legions: I Parthica, II Parthica, and III Parthica. Now, he captured the Parthian capital Ctesiphon (198). Again, Severus received the honor of triumphal entry, but this time, he was forced to refuse because he suffered from gout. This drawing shows the eastern face of the arch of Septimius Severus, by Luigi Rossini (1790-1857).

This is the western face of the Arch of Septimius Severus, seen from the building known as Tabularium at the Capitol hill.  The monument is almost 21 meters high, has a width of more than 23 meters, and is made of Proconessian white marble from the Sea of Marmara, which was very much en vogue during the reign of Septimius Severus.
Again the western side of the Arch.
Imp Caes Lucio Septimio M fil Severo Pio Pertinaci Aug PP Parthico Arabico et
Parthico Adiabenico Pontific Maximo Tribunic Potest XI Imp XI cos III procos et
Imp Caes M Aurelio L fil Antonino Aug Pio Felici Tribunic Potest VI Cos Procos P P
optimis fortissimisque prinicipibus
ob rem publicam restitutam imperiumque populi romani propogatum
insignibus virtutibus eorum domi forisque S P Q R

The eastern side of the Arch of Septimius Severus, which faces the Curia Julia (building of the Senate) and the Forum Romanum itself. According to Herodian (History of the Roman Empire, 2.9.5-6) and Cassius Dio, (Roman History, 75.3), Severus had dreamt that he had climbed the horse of Pertinax on this spot. Therefore, the arch was erected over here. There was also an equestian statue.
A Victoria goddess carrying a trophy.
A small detail: soldiers who need a wagon to carry away all the loot from Seleucia, one of the Parthian cities captured in the campaign of 197-198.
Captive Parthians. They are not shown with fetters and chains, as was usual, because their towns were now part of the Roman empire and they had become Romans.
This Parthian is chained. Yet, it is not a normal military representation, because the man who brings him away is a civilian.

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Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2003
Revision: 13 Dec. 2008
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other