A walk through the ruins of the glorious empire’s centre: a voyage to discover those monuments built for celebration.
(by A. Hunter Wright, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)
We now come to the last of the arches on this commemorative itinerary: the Arch of Septimius Severus.
The Senate dedicated this work to Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta, to celebrate the victory over the Parthians, achieved after two gruelling military campaigns.
The arch was located in the Forum and, together with the Arch of Tiberius and the portico of Gaius and Lucius Caesar, constituted one of the four monumental entrances to the historic forensic square not passable by chariots (some steps under the arches prevented passage). Its good preservation lies in the fact that in medieval times the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus at the Roman Forum had been leaning against it, protecting it from destruction. Afterwards, in the early 16th century, the church together with other buildings was demolished.
As previously mentioned, the numerous carved decorative elements that adorned the triumphal arches were intended to reconstruct scenes of glory, booty riches, and moments of battle. This arch is rich in depictions and inscriptions and offers many historians and scholars the opportunity to obtain information and join pieces of history thanks to its reliefs. At the base of each column can be seen prisoners of war, distinguished by their sad expressions and hands tied behind their backs. The two elongated rectangular panels just above the side arches represent the loot transported on wagons. Above them are depictions of war scenes conducted by Septimius Severus against the enemy populations of Parthians and Arabs. In addition, the arch bore statues on top of the structure depicting a golden bronze chariot driven by the emperor and drawn by six horses.
As a reminder of Roman grandeur, the side arches’ spandrels feature the enemy populations’ four rivers, which were not only a symbol of the empire’s greatness but also a way of emphasising Rome’s strength to its citizens.
So many arches were built to celebrate military victories but also represented engineering and political achievements. The ruins and remains of earlier arches were construction stimuli for new examples. The symbol of this type of monument remained over the centuries and millennia, a reminder of glory and power enough to find many replicas in later eras. Today, walking down the main streets of European destinations, one can admire these arches, which in some ways represent the next generation of their Roman ancestors. Today, these three arches in the centre of Rome stand as an imperial symbol. They incredibly survive to this day to recount those ancient deeds with which they are adorned.