A triumphal arch is a monumental structure in the shape of an archway with one or more arched passageways, often designed to span a road. In its simplest form a triumphal arch consists of two massive piers connected by an arch, crowned with a flat entablature or attic on which a statue might be mounted or which bears commemorative inscriptions. The main structure is often decorated with carvings, sculpted reliefs and dedications. More elaborate triumphal arches may have multiple archways.
Triumphal arches are one of the most influential and distinctive types of architecture associated with ancient Rome. Thought to have been invented by the Romans, the triumphal arch was used to commemorate victorious generals or significant public events such as the founding of new colonies, the construction of a road or bridge, the death of a member of the imperial family or the accession of a new emperor.
The survival of great Roman triumphal arches such as the Arch of Titus inspired many post-Roman states and rulers, up to the present day, to erect their own arches in emulation of the Romans. Arches in the Roman style have been built in many cities around the world, most notably the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the Narva Triumphal Arch in Saint Petersburg and the Wellington Arch in London.
The white marble Arch of Septimius Severus (Italian: Arco di Settimio Severo) at the northwest end of the Roman Forum is a triumphal arch dedicated in AD 203 to commemorate the Parthian victories of Emperor Septimius Severus and his two sons, Caracalla and Geta, in the two campaigns against the Parthians of 194/195 and 197-199.
After the death of Septimius Severus, his sons Caracalla and Geta were initially joint emperors. Caracalla had Geta assassinated in 212; Geta's memorials were destroyed and all images or mentions of him were removed from public buildings and monuments. Accordingly Geta's image and inscriptions referring to him were removed from the arch.
The arch was raised on a travertine base originally approached by steps from the Forum's ancient level. The central archway, spanned by a richly coffered semicircular vault, has lateral openings to each side archway, a feature copied in many Early Modern triumphal arches. The Arch is about 68 feet in height and about 76 feet in width.
The three archways rest on piers, in front of which are detached composite columns on pedestals. Winged Victories are carved in relief in the spandrels. A staircase in the south pier leads to the top of the monument, on which were statues of the emperor and his two sons in a four-horse chariot (quadriga), accompanied by soldiers.