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Septimius Severus Arch at Leptis Magna


Two of these were done in his home back in Rome, while this famous arch was erected at Leptis Magna in Libya, where he was emperor. The arch does not have an exact day of erection; however, historians believe it was done during Severus’s tour of Africa in 203 CE (Cartwright 2019). The arch was unique in its construction and was constructed as a tetra pylon. The tetra pylon marked the intersection of the two most critical urban roads in the region at the time.

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Artwork and Iconography

The dome supported upper brackets in the shape of an eagle. A Corinthian column stood on all sides of the four pillars. Above the columns existed friezes that were in the form of acanthus leaves. The spaces that existed between the broken pediments were decorated with erotic and garlands (Cordovanna 2012). The arch had an attic on all four sides that were decorated with frieze relief that depicted various scenes of sacrifice, triumph, procession, and the Concordia of the imperial family.

Septimius Severus’ second wife was a daughter of a Syrian priest, Lluvia. She was later named ‘the mother of the barracks’ since she accompanied him to campaigns. Images of Cybele, Hercules and Venus were used to decorate the chariot to show victory in their many wars and the Severans dynastic intentions. The great iconography aligns a fashionable scene with the godlike, an emblematic platform used by emperors such as Trajan, as well as the association of both Roman and eastern gods.

Roman Religion Culture

The arch is a commemoration of the great military success that Severus achieved. The scenes of animal sacrifices depicted on the friezes show the thanksgiving ceremony to the gods. The act of venerating individuals that attained great success and extraordinary achievements were part of the cultural-religious practices of the Roman people (Rodriguez 2018). Traditionally, Romans venerated individuals at the god level; the erection of the arch was a sign of adoration to Septimius Severus for his military success and his emperor’s position.

How the Arch Survived Different Cultures

After the First World War, archaeologists rediscovered the ruins of the arch, and it was excavated and pieced together. It was refurbished and made whole again after piecing together all the fragments. In the modern world, the arch now acts as a cultural heritage site. UNESCO has also listed it as a world heritage site (Hussein 2020). Many people visit the now tourist attraction site, a sign of the Roman conquest of Africa.

Other Architectures Similar to the Arch of Severus in Leptis Magna

The arch of Septimius Severus Leptis Magna depicts that old classical architecture type. It shows the emerging second-century artistry and the late antiquity styles. The Roman arch of Septimius Severus is three-sided, and the figures on it are carved in high relief as opposed to the classical art style. The arch at Leptis Magna is a four-sided arch with the figures done in the classical art style (Thomas de Grummond 2015). The Roman Arch includes friezes with scenes of other major Roman triumphs.


Bertolazzi, Riccardo. 2019. “A New Statue Base of Septimius Severus from Lambaesis: The Army and the Emperor in Severan North Africa”. In From Document to History: Epigraphic Insights into the Greco-Roman World, 12th ed., 356-369. Brill. Web.

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Cartwright, Mark. 2019. “Leptis Magna”. World History Encyclopedia. Web.

Hussein, Faik. 2020. “National Tourism in Libya.” Tourism Marketing Module. Libyan International Medical University. Web.

Matthews, Kenneth. 2017. “The Town Of Leptis Magna”. In Cities in the Sand, 33-47. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Web.

Passon, Jacqueline, and Said Hamid. 2020. “A Journey through Time”. In Across the Sahara: Tracks, Trade and Cross-Cultural Exchange in Libya, 29-41. Springer, Cham. Web.

Rodriguez, Gretel. 2018. “The Dynamics of Roman Honorific Arches: Space, Design, and Reception”. Masters, The University of Texas at Austin.

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