Septizonium Severi


Figure 1. Septizonium entry from de Rossi, Ritratto di Roma Antica, 1654 (source:
Figure 2. Ligorio’s reconstructions of the Septizonium Vetus (left) and the Septizonium Severi (right).
Figure 3. Bronze sestertius commemorating the deification of Antoninus Pius minted by Marcus Aurelius, 161 C.E. The obverse bears the portrait of Divus Antoninus and the reverse an image of the funerary pyre with the legend CONSECRATIO SC. New York, American Numismatic Society, 1944.100.48314, 29.25 g, 35 mm (source: ANS
Aureus of Geta as emperor


Septizonium Severi


see also Septizonium Vetus for the Severan nymphaeum at the southeastern corner of the Palatine Hill (map plate 7)

Funus Getae accuratius fuisse dicitur quam eius qui fratri videretur occisus. Inlatusque est maiorum sepulchro, hoc est Severi, quod est in Appia Via euntibus ad portam dextra, specie Septizonii exstructum, quod sibi ille vivus ornaverat.

The funeral of Geta was too splendid, it is said, for a man supposed to have been killed by his brother [Caracalla]. He was laid in the tomb of his ancestors, of [Septimius] Severus, that is, on the Via Appia at the right as you go to the gate; it was constructed after the manner of the Septizonium, which Severus during his life had embellished for himself. (Historia Augusta, Geta, 7.1-2, trans. D. Magie)

When the emperor Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 C.E.) died in Feburary of 211 C.E., he named his sons Caracalla (r. 198-217 C.E.) and Geta as co-emperors. This arrangement, however, did not last long. On December 26, 211 C.E., Caracalla had his younger brother murdered and condemned his memory in the most thorough case of memory sanctions known from Roman history. These sanctions, referred to as damnatio memoriae by modern scholars, included the destruction of Geta’s images and the erasure of his name from inscriptions and other public documents among other actions (Varner [2004] 156, 168). The Historia Augusta, the dubious 4th or 5th century collection of imperial biographies quoted above (read more at, states that Geta was interred in a tomb built by his father on the Via Appia. Given that much of what occupied Renaissance and Early Modern antiquarians was the mining of ancient texts for information about the urban fabric of ancient Rome, Pirro Ligorio and his colleagues naturally sought out this supposed tomb of the Severans.

According to the 1654 publication of Filippo de Rossi’s Ritratto di Roma Antica, there were two structures with the name Septizonium, as shown in Figure 1 (access the entire volume here). The new Septizonium was the monumental nymphaeum built by Septimius Severus (r. 193-211 C.E.) at the southeastern corner of the Palatine Hill in the early 3rd century C.E. The remains of the Severan structure were visible until the demolition project of 1588-1589 initiated by Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590). The other Septizonium, which de Rossi calls the Settizonio vecchio or old Septizonium, has two possible identifications. First, there was a tradition connected with the church dedicated to Saints Nereus and Achilleus on the Via Appia near the Baths of Caracalla/Thermae Antoninianae (map plate 8). There was a tradition that this church was erected on the spot where Saint Peter, fleeing from prison in Rome, lost the bandage covering the leg wound caused by his fetters. Thus the church was also known under its titular name Fasciola, little bandage. As de Rossi says, the bandage episode occurred at or near the Settisolio (seven tubs), another name for the Septizonium. He goes on to say that some associate this old Septizonium with a passage at the beginning of Suetonius’ Life of the Deified Titus, which says that the Flavian emperor was born in a house near the Septizonium, that is the Settizonio vecchio. Since Suetonius wrote in the early 2nd century C.E., there was some edifice called a Septizonium at that time; however, we have no further information regarding its location nor its appearance (Pisani Sartorio [1999] 268).

The illustration that accompanies de Rossi’s text in Figure 1 clearly demonstrates a relationship with the two reconstructed Septizonia found on Ligorio’s map (Figure 2). Note, however, that the names are reversed. What Ligorio calls the Septizonium Vetus (Old Septizonium), de Rossi calls the Settizonio di Severo (Septizonium of Severus); what Ligorio calls the Septizonium Severi (Septizonium of Severus), de Rossi calls the Settizonio vecchio (Old Septizonium).

As with the Septizonium Vetus, Ligorio has taken the numerical root sept and created a seven-tiered structure. He has included colonnades, numerous statues, and a crowning temple surmounted by a quadriga group. A quadriga is a four-horse chariot, and this type of sculpture was often used to connote victory. A second quadriga group is located above the main street-level door. In de Rossi’s illustration, some of the statuary has been removed and the topmost quadriga group replaced with a standing figure holding a staff. The curious wedding cake-like form of Ligorio’s Septizonium Severi is perhaps related to the notion that the Septizonium acted as a tomb for the Severan family. Ligorio’s manuscripts in Torino contain an entry for the Mausoleum of Hadrian (map plate 9) illustrating a coin very similar to that shown in Figure 3. Ligorio interpreted the tiered image on the reverse of the coin as the tomb of the emperor; he was, however, incorrect. What the coins depicts is the ustrinum, the funerary pyre that symbolized the deification of the emperor (Burns [1988] 28-9). As he has done with other structures like the circuses, Ligorio has taken the image from the coin as a stand-in type for an imperial mausoleum. If Ligorio was thinking of the second Septizonium as the tomb of Severus, then it follows that he would have applied the multi-tier concept to his reconstruction of the Septizonium Severi as with the Mausoleum of Hadrian and the Mausoleum of Augustus (map plate 5).

We know now that the Severan tomb referred to in the Historia Augusta likely did not exist and may be the result of a problem in the manuscripts. Septimius Severus, his wife Julia Domna, and their sons Caracalla and Geta were buried in the Mausoleum of Hadrian as befit their adoption into the Antonine family (Papi [1999] 298).


K. E. Cupello


Sources Available from the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL) at Emory University

  • Donati, A., Roma vetus ac recens, 3rd ed. (Rome 1725) 338-39.   [available online]
  • Gamucci, B., Le antichità della citta di Roma raccolte sotto brevita da diversi antichi & moderni scrittori, 2nd ed. (Venice 1580) 81-4.   [available online]
  • Roisecco, G., Roma antica, e moderna, vol. 1 (Rome 1750) 447-48.   [available online]
  • Roisecco, G., Roma antica, e moderna, vol. 3 (Rome 1750) 129.   [available online]

Other Rare Book Sources

  • de Rossi, F., Ritratto di Roma antica (Rome 1654) 218-19.   [available online]

Secondary Sources

  • Burns, H., “Pirro Ligorio’s Reconstruction of Ancient Rome,” in R. W. Gaston ed., Pirro Ligorio: Artist and Antiquarian (Villa I Tatti. The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies 10, Florence 1988) 19-92.
  • Papi, E., “Sepulchrum: Severi,” in LTUR, vol. 4 (Rome 1999) 298.
  • Pisani Sartorio, G., “Septizonium (1),” in LTUR, vol. 4 (Rome 1999) 268-69.
  • Varner, E. R., Mutilation and Transformation: Damnatio Memoriae and Roman Imperial Portraiture (Leiden 2004).


July 30, 2014


K. E. Cupello, “Septizonium Severi,” Views of Rome, accessed March 17, 2018,