severus triumph arch

reading the inscription: septimus severus arch

In hindsight, as it usually seemed to be, the highlight, the most memorable moment of my Rome, was the inscription.

We were just passing through and hadn’t realized the triumph arch was going to be right there. RIGHT there. But there it was. Massive. Like everything in Rome, grandiose beyond comprehension.

in front of the massive severus triumph arch

“I want you to try to read what it says.” Giacomo said.

I looked up at the arch. That was a lot of Latin. I sighed.

“You might be expecting too much from me.” I said, and turned away for the moment, readying to take photos.

“I’ve come to expect no less.” he replied.

Maybe it was the inherent belief and confidence he had placed in me at that moment, but my desire for more (MORE, MORE!) pushed me right back towards the arch when I was finished taking photos.

James was waiting patiently. He knew I couldn’t resist the opportunity.

The inscription towered over me.

I’m not gonna lie, I didn’t get all of it (though I blame part of this on the giant hole that took out some words on three lines) but I got most of the words. And Giacomo would chime in with the story every few words I read to give me context. Latin inscriptions are really a whole bunch of kerfuffle words distracting from the verb and the point usually hanging out at the end of the sentence. But I got it. And when I finished, I had only one thing to say:

“Ok, so…what does it say?”

In hindsight, maybe I got less than I thought I did, but that feeling of accomplishment, the exhaustia of using all my mental power to attempt to comprehend a nearly 2,000 year old inscription written in a language I only looked at for a few hours a few weeks ago – one of the best moments of my life.


Oh, and basically what it said was :

To the Emperor Lucius Septimius Severus, Son of Marcus, Pius, Pertinacious, Augustus, Pater Patriae (Father of the Fatherland – Head of State), Victor in Arabia and
Victor in Adiabenico (Persia), Pontifex Maximus (Chief of Religion), having held the tribunician power 11 times, emperor 11 times, Consul 3 times, Proconsul,
and Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Caracalla), Son of Lucius, Antoninus, Augustus Pius, Felix (lucky), having held the tribunician power 6 times, Consul, Proconsul, Pater Patriae,
Highest and Strongest Prince,
for having restored the Empire of the people of Rome,
by their visible strengths at home and abroad, the Senate and People of Rome [made this]

Geekyy fun fact: Originally it mentioned both the emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons Caracalla and Geta. The name of Geta was removed in 213AD, when he was killed by Caracalla after the death of Septimius Severus. A condanatio memoriae was issued, and all images or mentions of Geta were to be removed from all public buildings and monuments.

The holes used to attach the bronze letters allow a reconstruction of the original inscription, which had the fifth line changed. Originally it read: “P. Septimio L. fil Getae nobilissi(mo)”; translated: “to the most noble son of Lucius Septimius, Publius Septimius Geta.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *