An “arch” in Rome with a “damnatio memoriae”

Arco degli ArgentariThe “Arco degli Argentari” is a structure with architrave (so it isn’t a real arch), which stands just next to the portico of the Church of San Giorgio al Velabro. The area is plenty of remains which manage to bring our minds in very ancient times, when Rome was just born, when the kings tried to improve the city with many public services, as the market of Foro Boario. It was the symbol of a Rome which wanted to open new ways in the world.

For this reason it isn’t a case if the “Arco degli Argentari” is a gift of the “bankers and the merchants of Rome”, offered to the Imperial family of Settimio Severo, in the first years of the III century AD. The “Arco degli Argentari” in fact was used as one of the entrance of the Foro Boario, the place in which the donors worked. Monuments as arches or something similar were very common in Rome, mainly if the receiving was the Emperor: in this way it was easier received some favours

damnatio memorie arts in romeWhat is important to say it isn’t just the fine and rich marble decorations, with the figures and reliefs which completely cover the surface, but what there isn’t…in fact close to the figures of the Imperial family, as Caracalla or Settimio Severo, we could observe a sort of empty space, a relief not so well preserved that looks like to be destroyed. And in fact it was destroyed, in order to cancel the figure. This is a clear example of “damnatio memoriae“, a roman tradition which was used against the enemies of Rome or the men who wasn’t able to have civil behaviours. Nero, for

Ritratto di Caracalla, inv. S 464
Ritratto di Caracalla

example, was convicted, after his death, with the “damnatio memoriae”. For this reason today it’very difficult find something depicting the emperor. Moreover, that cancelled figure represents Geta, the Caracalla’s brother. Geta was the Settimio Severo’s heir, because it was his first son, while Caracalla was the secondo one. But in a period full of murdereds and blood, Carcalla killed his brother accusing him of treason. And the punishment for this crime was a “damnatio memoriae”.

But probably, Caracalla just wanted to eliminate an aspirant to the throne…