Encyclopedia Ichnographica

Porticus Alexandri Severi


Porticus Alexandri Severi

Porticus Alexandri Severi «Lamprid. in Aless. Severo

Vincenzo Fasolo, "The Campo Marzio of G. B. Piranesi".

Mars (Martis)

Another of the Ichnographia's three major axes is the race course of the Equiria, the annual horse races held in honor of Mars. Piranesi delineates the course as a relatively straight path running the length of the Ichnographia's northern sector, beginning in the south at the Petronia Amnis (which is, however, incorrectly placed within the plan) and ultimately reaching the outskirts of Rome at the plan's edge. With the exception of a few private gardens on a hill overlooking the Equiria, all the structures along the course relate directly to the Equiria or to the military in general. Three long porticos, the Porticus a S.P.Q.R. Amoenitati Dicata, the Porticus Vipsania, and the Porticus Alexandri Severi, line the course, and no doubt are meant to accommodate the spectators of Rome's premier "fest". The buildings and areas related to the military include, the Officinae Balistarium (manufactory of ballista), Officinae Scorpiorum (manufactory of scorpions), the Naumachia Domitiani (a large amphitheater designed for the show of mock naval battles), three Circulus (large circular areas for military drills and exercises, and finally the Officinae Armorum and the Officinae machinarum militarium (manufactories of military arms and machines). Not only do these buildings pay respect to Mars as the god of war, but, as a cohesive group, they essentially constitute Rome's "Department of Defense".

The Equiria (the broad gold line running from the lower left corner to the upper right corner) spans the Ichnographia's northern region, and the course itself runs in an almost true north-south direction.

Alexander Severus

Alexander Severus... ...two of the buildings within the Ichnographia--Domus Alexandri Severi and Porticus Alexandri Severi--have a close connection to Mars. The Domus Alexandri Severi is part of the compound enclosing the original altar of Mars, and the Porticus is the last building along the Equiria.

...it is interesting to note that Alexander Severus had considered dedicating a temple to Jesus, and that the military under his reign suffered significant losses. ...willing to propose that Piranesi uses (the buildings of) Alexander Severus as signifying the beginning of the end. If this is so, Piranesi is especially clever because he associates the beginning of the end directly with the Campo Marzio's true beginnings. Furthermore, Alexander Severus then signifies the beginning of the pagan-Christian inversion. ...there are even inversion motifs evident in the porticus around the altar of Mars and the porticus at the end of the Equiria.

buildings of Alexander Severus

The building projects of Alexander Severus as described within the The Scriptores Historiae Augustae.

...the Porticus Alexexandri Severi is in a totally incorrect position at the end of the Equiria, however, Piranesi may be making a suggestive link between Alexander Severus and the military. The small aedicule Isidis on the Equiria across from the Porticus may also be a reference to Alexander's devotion to his mother--Isis is the premiere mother goddess.

...the baths, aqueduct and his grove all comply correctly within the Ichnographia.

...the Domus (Palace of) Alexandri Severi is mentioned in the Historiae text, but not is not described, and my theory is that Piranesi placed Alexander's (house) Palace along the Triumphal Way (in the reverse mode) because he favored Christianity and the Golden Rule. The Domus Alexandri Severi is also exactly like the description of Elagabalus' Palace near the Porta Maggiore. Could Piranesi be weaving some complicated message which refers to both the reigns of Elagabalus and Alexander (which did follow each other, and they were cousins), where Alexander successfully undid the corruption of Elagabalus and began to turn Rome toward a more Christian and morally sound city and empire?

...not yet sure, but I think Alexander Severus' name is attached to more buildings within the Ichnographia second only to Nero.

Porticus Alexandri Severi

Porticus of the Emperor Alexander Severus

The Porticus Alexandri Severi, like the Porticus Vipsania and the Naumachia Domitiani, is one of the buildings along the Ichnographia's Equiria that represents an actual ancient Roman building, however Piranesi situates the Porticus Alexandri Severi much further north than its true historical location. According to Lampridius, "Alexander also began the Basilica Alexandrina, situated between the Campus Martius and the Saepta of Agrippa, one hundred feet broad and one thousand long and so constructed that its weight rested wholly on columns; its completion, however, was prevented by his death." This ancient account places the real "Porticus Alexandri Severi" within the immediate area of the Pantheon, a location far south of Piranesi's positioning of the porticus at the northern end of the Equiria. Piranesi's design and dislocation of the Porticus Alexandri Severi bears a firm symbolic significance within the overall scheme of the Ichnographia Campi Martii, however.

The central portion of the Porticus Alexandri Severi subdivides into three equal sections, the outer two portions of which comprise open colonnades split in half by walls along the longitudinal axis, while the middle portion comprises a triple colonnade enclosed by walls. Both ends of the porticus compise a vestibule type space that surrounds the inverted aspes of the open collonades.

The feature that most distinguishes the Porticus Alexandri Severi from the other two porticus along the Equiria is its linear singularity -- where the Porticus a S.P.Q.R. Amoenitati Dicata and the Porticus Vipsania both incorporate dual sets of colonnades, the Porticus Alexandri Severi comprises a single set of colonnades which are partially split by a wall down the long axis of porticus. The design of the Porticus Alexandri Severi is not without its explicit dual character, however, because its plan signals inversion, specifically the diametrical transition from column to wall and from outside to inside. Moreover, the motif of inversion is further manifest with the inside-out apses at either end of the colonnades. The Porticus Alexandri Severi is thus a serious component of the Ichnographia Campi Martii's overall inversion theme that narrates through delineation the conversion of ancient Rome from paganism to Christianity.

The emperor Alexander Severus at one point wished to include Jesus Christ among the pantheon of Roman gods, however, Alexander was advised against the Christian inclusion because of the quick realization that almost everyone in Rome would then openly become a Christian, and subsequently completely undermine Rome's pagan priesthood and aristocratic powerbase. Evidently, by the first half of the third century, Christianity was already Rome's predominant faith, and given that Alexander's wish occurred close to a hundred years prior to the emperor Constantine's allowance and erection of Christian tombs and basilicas within Rome, the noneventuality of Alexander's desire is nonetheless a pivotal point that signals the beginning of paganism's end. It is thus not for nothing that Piranesi, rather than position the Porticus Alexandri Severi correctly at the beginning of the Equiria, chooses to place Alexander's porticus at the Equiria's end.

Alexander Severus

a Roman emperor, A.D. 222-235.

Alexander Severus is one of four Roman emperors from the third century associated with buildings and specific sites delineated within the Ichnographia Campus Martius. Caracalla, Geta, and Gordian III are the other third century emperors named in the Ichnographia, however the number of building attributions apropos Alexander Severus substantially outnumber those of these emperors, and, Alexander Severus is indeed second only to the emperor Nero in the number of structures and places within the Ichnographia that bear his name. It is historically true that ample building activity in the Campus Martius occurred during Alexander Severus' reign, and, with one notable exception, Piranesi positions the Alexander Servian constructions with acceptable correctness within his large plan -- the placement of the Thermae Alexandri Severi, Nemus Alexandri Severi, and the Aqua Alexandrina (the Baths, Grove, and Aqueduct of Alexander Severus respectively) in the area west of the Thermae Agrippa and nearby the Thermae Neronianae coincides with corresponding verifiable archeological locations. Piranesi's positioning of the Porticus Alexandri Severi, on the other hand, at the end of the Equiria, far to the north of the Campus Martius, deviates grossly from its traditional location near the Saepta Julia.

The only questionable building that Piranesi attributes to Alexander Severus within the Ichnographia, which may or may not have actually been within the Campus Martius, is the Domus Alexandri Severi.


The three porticus along the Equiria, the Porticus a S.P.Q.R. Amoentitati Dicata, the Porticus Vipsania, and the Porticus Alexandri Severi respectively from south to north, are great linear plans with extensive colonnades opening directly onto the Equiria, and therefore it is easy to imagine how these covered galleries could hold hundreds, if not thousands, of Equiria spectators. Furthermore, the names of the three porticus themselves carry patriotic connotations. Porticus a S.P.Q.R. Amoenitati Dicata literally means a colonnade dedicated to the pleasure of the senate and people of Rome, and is thus a fitting structure for placement alongside the Equiria's starting point. The Porticus Vipsania is one of several porticus built by M. Vipsanius Agrippa, who, as son-in-law of Augustus, was greatly instrumental in the first "building boom" of the Campus Martius. It must be noted, however, that Piranesi dislocates the Porticus Vipsania, like the Equiria, from its presumable site to a more northern position. The Porticus Alexandri Severi, at the northern end of the Equiria, is named for Alexander Severus, the third century emperor who, according to Lampridius, was much beloved by the Roman troops, and, during his military campaigns, "was more concerned for the soldier's welfare than for his own." There was indeed a Porticus Alexandri Severi within the Campus Martius, but again Piranesi dislocates its position to accentuate the specific civic and military parti of his own Equiria design.

left: Porticus a S.P.Q.R. Amoenitati Dicata - 1845 feet long
center: Porticus Vipsania - 1255 feet long
right: Porticus Alexandri Severi - 1821 feet long

Naumachia Domitiani

Porticus Vipsania



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