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Rome: Arch of Severus 2


Arch of Septimius Severus: triumphal arch on the Forum Romanum; the first part of this article can be found here.

The most important parts of the Arch of Septimius Severus are the four reliefs, which measure almost 4 x 5 meters and show scenes of the wars against the Parthian empire. Like the relief on the Column of Trajan, the story has to be read from bottom to top. This picture shows a reconstruction (at the Museo nazionale della civiltą romana, Rome) of the first part, on the eastern face of the arch, left. The real relief is too damaged. We can see preparations for war, a battle scene, and the liberation of Rome's ally Nisibis in 195, which had been attacked by the Parthians when the Romans were involved in a civil war. The enemy leader flees to the right. A drawing can be seen here.

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Because the right-hand side of the eastern face of the arch is too damaged, we will have to use the construction at the Museo nazionale della civiltą romana again. It shows the revolt of a Roman ally, Edessa, the capital of Osrhoene. The town is attacked with siege engines (bottom) and king Abgar VIII surrenders (central scene). In the upper register, we see how Septimius Severus announces the annexation of Osrhoene and Nisibis. A drawing can be seen here.
Moving to the Capitol side, we get a better view of the reliefs, which show the second Parthian campaign (197-198). On the left-hand side, we see how the Romans attack Seleucia, an important city on the Tigris. The Parthian soldiers flee towards the left and right. The upper part shows how the citizens surrender.
Septimius Severus captures Seleucia; copy from the Museo nazionale della civiltą romana (Rome, Italy) of a relief on the Arch of Septimius Severus, Rome. Photo Marco Prins. This is the construction at the Museo nazionale della civiltą romana again; the drawing can be found here.
On the right-hand side of the side facing the Capitol, we see the last battle of the war: the siege and sack of Ctesiphon, the Parthian capital. A siege engine is employed (bottom left) and the city surrenders (right). In the upper register, we see how Septimius Severus declares that his oldest son Caracalla will be his co-ruler and that his younger son Geta will be crown prince.
This declaration of Ctesiphon was on 28 January 198, exactly hundred years after the accession of the emperor Trajan, who had been unable to defeat the Parthians and occupy Mesopotamia. Severus wanted everybody to remember that he had succeeded where Trajan had failed. This picture shows for the last time the construction at the Museo nazionale della civiltą romana; the drawing can be found here.

One element is missing from the relief: on his return from Ctesiphon, Severus tried to capture Hatra, but failed.

Another Arch of Septimius Severus was erected in Lepcis Magna; another article is here; and here is a satellite photo.

© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2003
Revision: 13 Dec. 2008
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