In spite of the name by which it is known, this well-preserved monumentit is an architraved gate erected in 204 A.D. near the Forum Boarium, to which it probably served as an entrance. The college of moneychangers and cattle dealers (the argentarii et negotiantes boarii) paid for its construction and dedicated it to Emperor Septimius Severus, his wife Julia Domna, and his son Caracalla, the ambitious and bloodthirsty future emperor. In all likelihood, the names of Fulvia Plautilla and Geta, wife and brother of Caracalla were chiseled from the honorary inscription when Caracalla got rid of both of them by having them killed.
The gate leans against the ancient church of San Giorgio al Velabro: in the 7th century its eastern pillar was in fact half incorporated into the walls of the church. With the exception of the travertine base, the structure is entirely covered with white marble slabs and is about six meters high. A rich decoration, worked in strong chiaroscuro, covers all available surfaces except the northern side: acanthus girals and military insignia on the pillars, Victories and eagles on the capitals, scenes of sacrifice, soldiers and barbarian prisoners. The main reliefs are on the inner part of the gate and depict Septimius Severus and Julia Domna on one side and Caracalla on the opposite side: again, the figures of Geta, Plautilla and perhaps her father Plautianus were erased as a result of “damnatio memoriae”, the sentence of oblivion reserved for traitors and enemies.
Due to its name that refers to the precious metal, during the Middle Ages the Arch of the Argentari was at the center of an evocative legend concerning a treasure hidden in its base. According to tradition, the holes still evident on the monument were drilled becasue of the frantic search for coins and precious gems.
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