Damnatio Memoriae: The Arch of Septimius Severus

The Arch of Septimius Severus © David Gill

The Arch of Septimius Severus stands at the west end of the Roman forum. The inscriptions that appears on both sides of the arch remind us of how individuals can be erased from history. The original text would have been in bronze letters attached to the marble.

The inscription refers to the emperor Septimius Severus (in line 1) and his son Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (Caracalla) in line 3. The titles of Severus as well as his son allow the inscription to be dated to AD 203.

The Arch of Septimius Severus © David Gill
The Arch of Septimius Severus © David Gill
The Arch of Septimius Severus © David Gill

The fourth line currently reads: Optimis Fortissimisque Principibus (‘excellent and strongest princes’). The holes on line 4 show that the inscription originally read (Claridge): P. Septimio L. fil. Getae Nobiliss(imo) Caesari. Line 4 was preceded at the end of line 3 with et (as line 3 is preceded by an et at the end of line 2).

The arch was originally dedicated to Septimius Severus, Caracalla (M. Aurelius Antoninus) as Augustus and P. Septimius Geta as Caesar. In AD 212 Geta was murdered by his brother Caracalla: and Caracalla then proceeded to erase the memory of Geta from public monuments.

Author: David Gill

David Gill is Honorary Research Fellow at UEA; Professor of Archaeological Heritage.

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