Urban Planning and Sculptural Display in Severan Rome: Reconstructing the Septizodium and Its Role in Dynastic Politics


Located at the foot of the Palatine Hill, the Septizodium, a monumental facade fountain, was built during the reign of the emperor L. Septimius Severus. The construction of the Septizodium was part of a larger plan of urban development aimed at creating a monumentalized district honoring the imperial family. This plan included the construction of new imperial baths, the refurbishment of aqueducts, and possibly the layout of a new road. With a three-story high columnar facade, the Septizodium once dominated a large plaza at the terminus of the Via Appia. The Septizodium has been the subject of modern scholarly debate for a little over a century. Widely ranging opinions on the monument's appearance, function, and interpretation have appeared over the years. After a brief review of some earlier studies of the Septizodium's architecture, I will attempt to reevaluate the monument within the context of Severan dynastic politics. Once the architectural form of the Septizodium is established, the discussion will move to its decoration. Comparison of the structure at Rome with other monuments, particularly those with similar facade arrangements and known sculpture programs, allows for speculation about the Septizodium's decoration. Other factors for consideration in this proposal are the monument's urban setting and its role in the dynastic politics of the emperor Severus. Understanding the architecture, urban context, and possible decoration of the Septizodium leads to the conclusion that the monument had great significance within the building program of the emperor L. Septimius Severus.


DOI: 10.3764/aja.108.4.517