ca. 210 AD


  • The Forum in ca. 210 AD. View from the south-east.
  • The Forum in ca. 210 AD. View from the east.
  • The Forum in ca. 210 AD. View from the north-east.
  • The Forum in ca. 210 AD. View from the north-west.
  • The Forum in ca. 210 AD. View from the west.
  • The Forum in ca. 210 AD. View from the south.
  • The Forum in ca. 210 AD. Topographical overview.
  • The Forum in ca. 210 AD. View from above.

The start of the reign of Septimius Severus and his family in 193 A.D. opened a new and exciting chapter in the history of the Forum Romanum. While hardly any architectural alterations were made to the Forum under the preceding Antonine Dynasty (96 – 192 A.D.) (see Antonine) and the Forum was successively transformed into a space in which the architecture reflected the past rather than the present, the new Severan Dynasty showed a rekindled interest in the Forum: The present was to be represented even more impressively on the Forum and enter into a lively dialogue with the highly visible past.

In contrast to the Adoptive Emperors, the Severi aimed to achieve a form of Imperial representation on the Forum that was emphatically linked to the structures of preceding dynasties. Obviously, this struck them as an opportune strategy with which they could underpin the legitimacy of their claim to power – and thus, maybe, to compensate for deficiencies that hampered their claim (a structurally similar reaction can also be observed during the Flavian Dynasty, with their architectural changes to the Forum; see Flavian).

The architectural alterations that were made to the Forum under the Severan Dynasty, especially during the reign of Septimius Severus (193 – 211 A.D.), were substantial. These changes encompassed different areas within the topography of the Forum and were similarly comprehensive to those once ordered by Augustus (see Augustan II). However, the construction activities of the Severi were fundamentally different to those of Augustus: Under Augustus the Forum was completely rebuilt, with new buildings and monuments forcing the past out of the physiognomy of the Forum, where it was degraded to memorial sites. The Severi, on the other hand, sought to open up a different and more explicit dialogue with the past. Accordingly, their construction policy on the Forum was dictated by two strategies: First, they restored older buildings and redecorated the Forum, consciously staging their “preservationist” attitude towards the past; Simultaneously, they erected new, impressive monuments, which represented the glorious present in a similarly monumental vein as the restored past and established a dialogue with it.

The following structures were restored: The Flavian Temple of Vespasian was restored under Septimius Severus and Caracalla, which was proudly proclaimed on an inscription on the temple. However, as the Flavian temple does not exhibit any radical alterations, it is safe to assume that the restoration measures were not all that extensive – it is possible that this served ideological rather than restorative purposes. Further restoration measures, which were also executed on a smaller scale, concerned the adjacent Augustan Temple of Concordia. The Temple of Vesta, which was strongly damaged in a fire, was rebuilt at the behest of the Emperor’s wife, Julia Domna. The stairs leading up to the neighboring Temple of the Dioscuri were also remodeled under the Severi. Further restoration measures concerned the Rostra Augusti, in the area of the Comitium with its sites commemorating the mythical early period of Rome, as well as the pavement of the open Forum space under Augustus: although a new pavement was laid, however the slabs containing the original, Augustan foundation inscription laid by the praetor Surdinus were carefully conserved and relaid. It is obvious that the Severi tried to establish a connection with different prior epochs of Roman history through their restoration measures and their conscious staging of their “preservationist” attitude towards the past. Thus, they were able to represent themselves as the custodians of and worthy heirs to the glorious past of Rome and its Imperial dynasties.

In addition, the Severi wanted to establish an impressive representation of their own dynasty on the Forum. They achieved this in a particularly spectacular fashion through the construction of the monumental Arch of Septimius Severus. It was erected in 203 A.D., in honor of Septimius Severus and his sons, in a highly prominent part of the Forum, north of the Rostra Augusti, bordering the old Comitium, and it outshone all the other honorific arches on the Forum due to its impressive scale and decoration (whether previous arch monuments had to be removed in order to erect the Arch of Septimius Severus remains unclear; see Actian Arch). The arch commemorates nothing less than the victory over the Parthians and the restoration of state power after the confusions of civil war. There are some indications that the Arch of Septimius Severus was not the only impressive monument which the Severi built on the west side of the Forum for purposes of political representation. The strong alterations made to the substructures of the Rostra Augusti in order to heavily reinforce the overall structure, indicate that a massive monument must have stood on the speaker’s platform, which must have been nearly as long as the platform itself. It is plausible to identify this monument as a predecessor to the five honorary columns erected here in the Tetrarchic period (according to this thesis, the Tetrarchic monument can be seen as a reconstruction or occupation of a previous Severan monument, see Rostra Augusti). These five honorary columns, which towered over the restored Rostra Augusti during the reign of the Severi, acted as the visual extension of the Arch of Septimius Severus (it is possible that the columns, due to their height, converged with the columns of the Arch of Septimius Severus). Thus, the Arch of Septimius Severus and possibly also the five Severan honorary columns visually completed the Forum on its west side and put the Severan present right in the forefront of the Forum’s appearance. Setting the stage thusly, the Severi were able to confidently establish a dialogue with previous dynasties that were also represented on the Forum and engage in this exchange on an equal footing, indeed maybe even to surpass their predecessors.

Within a very short amount of time (about two decades) the Forum Romanum was revived as a first-class space of Imperial representation. Besides the past, which was represented in the form of Augustus and the Flavians, now too the Severi became part of the physiognomy of the Forum. This committed and ambitious attempt to represent Imperial power on the Forum was taken up by the rulers of the Tetrarchy, who forcefully reintegrated the present into the physiognomy of the Forum (see Tetrarchic).



Printed Version

Cited as: Muth, Susanne. „Severan“, digitales forum romanum, (downloaded on the day/month/year)

Selected Bibliograpy

A. R. Birley, Septimius Severus. The African Emperor. 5. Auflage (New Haven – London 2000) 163-164.

A. Cooley, Septimius Severus. The Augustan Emperor, in: S. Swain, S. Harrison u. J. Elsner (Hg.), Severan Culture (Cambridge/Mass. 2007) 385-397, bes. 393-395.

A. Daguet-Gagey, Les opera publica a Rome (180-305 ap. J.-C.) (Paris 1997) 44-49, 55-63, 73-76, 79-83, 86-89, 264-283.

K. St. Freyberger, Das Forum Romanum. Spiegel der Stadtgeschichte des antiken Rom (Mainz 2009) 80, 92.

C. Gorrie, The Severan Building Programme and the Secular Games, Athenaeum 90, 2002, 461-481.

T. Hölscher, Das Forum Romanum, die monumentale Geschichte Roms, in: E. Stein-Hölkeskamp – K.J. Hölkeskamp (Hrsg.), Erinnerungsorte der Antike. Die römische Welt (München 2006) 100-122, bes. 117-118.

F. Kolb, Rom. Die Geschichte der Stadt in der Antike (München 1995) 646-647.

S. Muth, Der Dialog von Gegenwart und Vergangenheit am Forum Romanum in Rom – oder: wie spätantik ist das spätantike Forum?, in: Therese Fuhrer (Hrsg.), Rom und Mailand in der Spätantike : Die Repräsentation des städtischen Raumes in Literatur, Architektur und Kunst. Tagung Berlin 7.-9- Mai 2009 (2012) 263-282, bes. 275-276.

D. Palombi, Roma. La città imperiale prima dei Severi, in: N. Sojc, A. Winterling u. U. Wulf-Rheidt (Hrsg.), Palast und Stadt im severischen Rom (Stuttgart 2013) 23-60.

I. Rollé Ditzler, Senat und Severer in Rom – Formen medialer Präsenz, in: S. Faust – F. Leitmeir (Hrsg.), Repräsentationsformen in severischer Zeit (München 2011) 220252, bes. 229-234.

N. Sojc, Der severische Palast im urbanen Kontext, in: : N. Sojc, A. Winterling u. U. Wulf-Rheidt (Hrsg.), Palast und Stadt im severischen Rom (Stuttgart 2013) 213-230, bes. 217-221.

P. Zanker, Forum Romanum. Die Neugestaltung durch Augustus (Tübingen 1972) 27-28.