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 Essential Architecture-  ROME

Arch of Septimius Severus (in the Roman Forum)




Rome, Italy (close to the foot of the Capitoline Hill)




Ancient Roman Corinthian


System bearing masonry


triumphal arch, Monument
The Arch of Septimius Severus before the excavation of the Roman Forum, painted by Canaletto in 1742 (Royal Collection, UK)

The white marble Arch of Septimius Severus at the northeast end of the Roman Forum is a triumphal arch erected in 204 AD to commemorate the Parthian victories of the Emperor and his two sons Caracalla and Geta in the two campaigns against the Parthians, of 195 and 203. The three archways rest on piers, in front of which are detached Composite columns on pedestals. So much debris and silt eroded from the surrounding hills that the arch was embedded to the base of the columns (illustration, right). The damage wrought by wheeled mediaeval and early modern traffic can still be seen on the column bases, above the bas-reliefs of the socles.

The arch was raised on a travertine base originally approached by steps from the Forum's ancient level. The central archway, with a richly coffered semicircular vault, has lateral openings to the side archways, a feature copied in many Early Modern triumphal arches. A staircase in the south pier leads to the summit, on which were statues of the Emperor and his two sons, in a quadriga or four-horse chariot, accompanied by with soldiers. Winged Victories are carved in relief in the spandrels.

After the death of Septimius Severus his sons Caracalla and Geta were initially joint emperors. Caracalla had Geta assassinated in 212 CE; Geta's memorials were destroyed and all images or mentions of Geta were removed from all public buildings and monuments. Geta's image and all mention of him were removed from the arch.

The Arch stands close to the foot of the Capitoline Hill. A flight of steps originally led to the central opening, as one still does to the Arch of Trajan at Ancona. By the 4th century, erosion had raised the level of the Forum so much that a roadway was put through the Arch for the first time. During the Middle Ages, repeated flooding of the low-lying Forum washed in so much additional sediment and debris that when Canaletto painted it in 1742, only the upper half of the Arch showed above ground (illustration, above right). The well-preserved condition of the arch owes a good deal to its having been incorporated into the structure of a Christian church. When the church was refounded elsewhere, the arch remained ecclesiastical property and was not demolished for other construction.