A Tourist in Rome - Arch of the Money Changers
|Location:||Attached to the left side of the church of San Giorgio al Velabro, at Via del Velabro 19, not far from the base of the Palatine Hill, behind the Arch of Janus|
|Metro:||Circo Massimo and Bus #160, or see it on my To the Forum Boarium and Beyond Walking Tour instead|
|Time:||about 20 minutes|
|Hours:||Viewable at any time from the street, surrounded by a fence which prevents close approach|
Tucked behind the Arch of Janus, the Arch of the Money-Changers (1st, 2nd and 3rd photos below) is a small architrave attached to the side of the church of San Giorgio al Velabro. The so-called "arch" has no curves at all and is shaped like an architrave - a lintel or beam that rests on columns, or in this case, piers. It measures 20 feet in height, and the opening is 11 feet wide. Its made of brick, faced with extraordinarily ornately carved white marble, except for the base which is made of travertine. It is unfortunately behind a fence which prevented me from getting a good photo, but I admit this monument demands protection. This is well worth a 2-block side trip when visiting the Forum Boarium (Cattle Market) area.
The long inscription on the architrave, best visible in the 3rd photo below, and significantly enhanced in the 5th photo below, states that it was dedicated in 204 AD by the argentarii et negotiatores boari huius loci (the cattle merchants and bankers of the Forum Boarium) in faithful devotion to the divine will of the emperors Septimius Severus and Caracalla, his younger brother Geta, the empresses Julia Domna and Plautilla, and Plautilla's father Gaius Fulvius Plautianus. This inscription, and the friezes on the arch, are a fascinating example of damnatio memoriae, the state-condoned erasure in disgrace of a person from history, because the names of Plautianus (disgraced in 205 AD), Plautilla (exiled in 205 AD and murdered in 211 AD), and Geta (murdered in 212 AD) were subsequently erased. I think you can see in the 5th photo below that much of the 2nd line has been erased. We'll soon see that their images were also erased from the monument in addition to their names.
Hercules, the symbol of the Forum Boarium, appears to the left of the inscription, with his club and the skin of a Nemean lion. Does he look similar to the golden statue of Hercules in the Vatican Museum? A semi-nude figure holding a cornucopia, possibly representing the Roman people, appears to the right of the inscription (4th photo below). The arch's actual purpose is not known; it might have formed a monumental gate into the Forum Boarium area, or it might have been an attempt by the tradesmen of the Forum Boarium to receive special favors such as tax exemptions in return for this monument to the emperor and his family.
There are three friezes on each face of the piers except their back face. The main large frieze is in the middle, and a small frieze appears above and below. The panels lining the inside of the opening are the most interesting bits of the arch. The panel on the right (1st, 2nd and 3rd photos below) shows a sacrificial scene with Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, and Geta (one of the sons of Septimius Severus, along with Caracalla). Septimius Severus' toga is drawn up over his head in his role of Pontifex Maximus (chief priest), pouring a libation over a pine-cone and pear on an altar. After Septimius Severus' death, Caracalla and Geta were co-emperors until Caracalla siezed power and killed Geta right in front of their mother in 212 AD, after which he chiseled Geta out of the scene, accounting for the badly carved left arm of Julia Domna and the blank spot beside her. As part of this damnatio memoriae, Caracalla removed Geta from the Arch of Septimius Severus around the same time. Above the main frieze is a small panel with eagles holding up victory wreaths (best visible in the 2nd photo below), and below it is a small scene of a bull being sacrificed, best shown in the 4th photo below. Notice the sacrificial tools above the lower scene in the 4th photo below, including a libation vessel, a round patera, a helmet and a fly-whisk.
The panel on the left side shows a sacrificial scene (1st and 2nd photos below) with Caracalla making an offering at an altar, his wife Plautilla and her father Gaius Fulvius Plautianus. Caracalla had those two killed because he believed they conspired to have Septimius Severus killed, then he had them, too, chiseled out of the scene in another damnatio memoriae. Again, above the main frieze is a small panel with eagles holding up victory wreaths (barely visible in the 1st photo below), and below it is a small sacrificial scene (3rd photo below). Between the main frieze and the bottom frieze we can again see a row of sacrificial tools, best shown at the bottom of the 2nd photo below, including an axe, a round patera, an ox skull reminiscent of those shown in the interior of the Ara Pacis and a libation vessel. The sacrificial tools here, and above the bottom frieze on the right pier, are reminiscent of those displayed on the entabulature of the Temple of Vespasian and Titus.
The underside of the arch's ceiling is shown in the 1st and 2nd photos below. The decoration on the left side of the left pier is shown in the 3rd photo below. The main panel shows two Roman soldiers with two Parthian prisoners (only the legs of one of the prisoners survives). Under their feet is a frieze of sacrificial instruments (an axe is on the right), and below that frieze is one that shows cattle being driven by the boarii doing their job, providing meat for Rome. Above the main frieze four attendants carry an incense burner. Acanthus scrolls decorate the edges of the pier.
The south face of the eastern (right) pier has a vertical marble frieze (1st photo below) which depicts a Roman legionary standard, with mushrooms at the bottom leading to a castle leading to a portrait of Septimius Severus and Caracalla and an Imperial eagle at the top. The south face of the western (left) pier has an unrecognizable male figure wearing a toga, with the panel below being a badly-worn frieze (2nd photo below) of a bull being brought to sacrifice. Only a thin sliver of a glimps of the back side of the arch can be seen (3rd photo below). The bottom frieze on the back of the western pier looks to me like a suovetaurilia, as displayed on the Arch of Constantine and the back of the Plutei of Trajan, or perhaps it's just a cattle being sold at market in the Forum Boarium; it's difficult for a mere Tourist in Rome to determine exactly what the Romans were depicting 1805 years ago.