Severan (Cendere) Bridge

Location: 

GPS coordinates: 37.932858, 38.608501
Severan (Cendere) Bridge
Severan (Cendere) Bridge

Description: 

Septimius Severus Bridge, located just off the road leading from Kahta to the famous Mount Nemrut, poses an exciting challenge for those people who would like to know something new and well documented about this structure. It would seem that this bridge no longer hides any secrets, as it was thoroughly photographed and described, and has a whole article devoted to it on Wikipedia. However, let's try to look at this building and its history in a more inquisitive way.

The bridge is frequently called the Bridge of Septimius Severus - the Roman emperor, during whose reign (193 - 211 CE) the present structure was erected. Most probably, it replaced an earlier bridge, built during the reign of Emperor Vespasian, i.e. in the years 69-79 CE. Modern maps and signposts often refer to this bridge as Cendere Köprüsü, meaning the bridge over the river Cendere. Older sources refer to the structure as Chabinas Bridge. Both of these names - Cendere and Chabinas - derive from the river, above which the building stands - the Cendere Stream, a tributary of Kâtha River (ancient Nymphaios). The name Cendere is contemporary, while the ancient sources, including the inscriptions placed on the bridge itself, speak of the river Chabinas. There is also another Turkish name for this river - Bölam Su - which means the Divided Waters.

The earlier bridge over the river Cendere had been built during the reign of Vespasian. However, there is no detailed information about this building, and even the time of its construction is uncertain. Assigning this bridge to Vespasian is based on the fact that it was under his rule that the Kingdom of Commagene was incorporated directly into the borders of the Roman Empire. Vespasian decided on this move because he had heard the rumours of the planned rebellion of the last king of Commagene, Antiochus IV, against Rome. He was supposed to co-operate with the Partisans. The quick intervention of Roman troops deprived Antiochus of the throne, but he lived until an old age in peace and wealth, courtesy of the Roman budget. The loss of independence by Commagene is recalled by the Roman historian Suetonius in The Twelve Caesars: "[Vespasian] made provinces of Achaia, Lycia, Rhodes, Byzantium and Samos, taking away their freedom, and likewise of Trachian Cilicia and Commagene, which up to that time had been ruled by kings."

Emperor Vespasian, from Capitoline Museum

However, the bridge that we can now admire during a tour around Mount Nemrut dates back to the reign of a much later emperor - Septimius Severus. It is confirmed by the inscriptions on this bridge. Again, there are doubts about the exact date of its construction, or its extensive repair. They result from the contradictions in reading and understanding these inscriptions that are more widely discussed by J. Leaning in the article "The Date of the Repair of the Bridge over the River Chabina: L. Alfenus Senecio and L. Marius Perpetuus in Syria Coele."

Inscription on Severan Bridge, version 1

These inscriptions were first read and interpreted by the French researchers - Louis Jalabert and René Mouterde - in 1929. Here is their version published in the book "Inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie":

Imp(erator) Caes(ar) L(ucius) Septi/mius Severus Pius / Pertinax Aug(ustus) Ara/bic(us) Adiab(enicus) Parthic(us) / princ[e]ps felic(um) pon/tif(ex) max(imus) trib(unicia) pot(estate) / XII imp(erator) VIII co(n)s(ul) II / proco(n)s(ul) et Imp(erator) Caes(ar) / M(arcus) Aurel(ius) Antoni/nus Aug(ustus) Augusti / n(ostri) fil(ius) proco(n)s(ul) imp(erator) III / et P(ublius) Septimius [[Ge]]/[[ta]] Caes(aris) fil(ius) et fra/ter Augg(ustorum) nn(ostrorum) / pontem chabi/nae fluvi a so/lo restituerunt / et transitum / reddiderunt / sub Alfenum Senecionem / leg(atum) Augg(ustorum) pr(o) pr(aetore) curante Ma/rio perpetuo leg(ato) Augg(ustorum) leg(ionis) / XVI F(laviae) F(irmae) [CIL 03, 06709]

According to J. B. Leaning, the main ambiguity concerning the date of the bridge's construction results from the difficulty of defining the years when the Roman officials mentioned in the inscriptions held their official functions. These officials were L. Alfenus Senecio - the legate in Celesyria, i.e. the northern part of Syria, and the Commagene, and L. Marius Perpetuus - the commander of the XVI Flavia Legion. The confusion is attributed to the titles of the imperial family, mentioned in the same inscriptions. Septimius Severus is endowed with the following titles: trib. pot. XII, imp. VIII, and cos. II - which refer to the years 204, 196/197 and 194/201. In turn, the son of Septimius, Caracalla, bears the title of imp. III, suggesting much later dates of 213/217. Leaning attributed all this confusion to the mistake made while preparing the inscriptions and mixing the imperial titles. After a more detailed analysis, he concluded that the correct date for the erection of the new bridge is 200.

Inscription on Severan Bridge, version 2

It seems that the final answer to the question about the year of construction of the Severan Bridge has been provided. However, the same inscriptions mention the name of a Roman legion, whose soldiers worked on the construction of the bridge. It was Legio XVI Flavia Firma, created by Emperor Vespasian in 70, the remains of the XVI Gallica which had surrendered in the Batavian rebellion. Legio XVI Flavia Firma was stationed on the banks of the Euphrates, in the city of Samosata, guarding the eastern border of the Roman Empire. At the beginning of 197, Emperor Septimius Severus headed east to conduct a military campaign against the Parthians. The bridge over the river Chabinas was to be a strategic building that enabled the Roman army marching to Parthia. If we go back to the previous paragraph, then we find out that the date of the bridge's construction of 200 - is too late, because the legionaries had marched there three years earlier.

Emperor Septimius Severus, from Capitoline Museum

An alternative version of the date and the reason for the bridge's construction states that it was erected not before but after the end of the Parthian campaign. Septimius Severus defeated the Parthians, conquered and pillaged their capital, Ctesiphon, and incorporated the area of ​​northern Mesopotamia into the Roman Empire. Therefore, the existing line of defences along the upper course of the Euphrates was no longer necessary. The area was reorganised, and to facilitate communications a bridge over the Chabinas River was erected. In this case, 200 is a very probable date of this event.

Let us now return to the subject of the inscriptions with which the bridge is decorated. The inscription quoted above, and its second, almost identical version, are placed on vertical blocks embedded in the railings of the bridge. The remaining inscriptions, found on three columns that decorate the bridge are much shorter, but they add information about the contribution that the four cities of Commagene - referred to as "Quattuor Civitates Commag" - made to the bridge.

Inscription on Caracalla column

The first of these cities is Samosata - the former capital of Commagene Kingdom and the seat of Legio XVI Flavia Firma. Unfortunately, the old town of Samsat was flooded with the waters of an artificial lake, created by the Atatürk Dam in 1989. The other town is Perre, known in Roman times as the Pordonnium, an important crossroads of ancient trade routes. Its extensive ruins can be visited in the city of Adıyaman. The third town was Doliche, now a small village of Dülük, only 10 km from the centre of Gaziantep. The fourth city that contributed to the founding of the bridge was Germaniceia - now known as Kahramanmaraş. Interestingly, the city began to refer to its legacy of the Commagene Kingdom in the Roman period, but it actually had never been a part of it.

Severan Bridge

These four cities raised four columns, standing in pairs at both ends of the bridge. However, earlier in the text only three columns were mentioned, so what happened to the fourth one? To explain its disappearance, we must look at a typical imperial Roman family, consisting of Emperor Septimius Severus, his wife Julia Domna, and their two sons - Marcus Aurelius Severus Antoninus Augustus and Publius Septimius Geta Augustus. These are rather long names, but fortunately, two brothers are better known under the much shorter ones, as Caracalla and Geta. The brothers had already received the titles of Caesars and participated in the rule of the Roman Empire together with their father, Caracalla - from 198, and Geta - from 209.

Caracalla, from Capitoline Museum

Before his death in 211, Severus was to instruct them: "Live in harmony, enrich the soldiers, and despise the rest of the people." Alas, the brothers, as in often happens in families, could not stand each other. Less than a year after their father's death, the situation was entirely out of control, and even the attempts of mediation made by Julia Domna did not help to alleviate the conflict. At the end of 211, Caracalla offered Geta a meeting at their mother's apartment, where he gave orders to kill him. Geta died in the arms of Julia Domna, stabbed by the Praetorians.

Julia Domna, from Capitoline Museum

After Geta's death, Caracalla could not stop hating his brother's guts so he ordered Geta's name to be removed from all inscriptions in the empire. His monuments and portraits were also to be destroyed. Therefore his statues are exceptionally rare. This practice was known in ancient Rome as damnatio memoriae or "damnation of memory." One of the four columns of the Severan Bridge, devoted to Geta, was destroyed during this procedure. Why was it not sufficient to erase Gate's name? We do not know that, but as a result, to this day, there is no symmetry in the appearance of the bridge.

Geta as Apollo, from Palazzo Massimo alle Terme

The remaining three columns are dedicated to Septimius Severus, Julia Domna, and Caracalla. The columns of the imperial pair stand on the southern side, and the column of their nervous son - at the northern end of the bridge. Initially, all the columns, about 10 meters high, were crowned with the statues of the members of the imperial family. There is a strong possibility that the columns were not originally built to decorate the bridge but were transported there from the nearby Karakuş Tumulus.

Caracalla column

It is time to take a closer look at the technical specifications of the bridge. It was built in the form of a single arch, connecting the banks of the Chabinas River at the narrowest point. The total length of the bridge is 120 meters, and its width is 7 meters. The span of the arch on which the bridge is supported is 34.2 meters. Due to these impressive dimensions, many descriptions of the bridge indicate that it is the second largest preserved arch bridge from Roman times. Naturally, the question immediately arises: which bridge takes the first place in this ranking? The second, less obvious, question to ask, especially in the case of Turkey, is: is it really the second largest bridge of this type?

Severan Bridge

Finding the answer to the first of these questions does not pose any problems - the longest Roman arch bridge preserved to our times is Puente Romano, meaning simply the Roman Bridge, on the Guadiana River in Spanish Merida. It boasts an impressive length of 790 meters. This is a massive advantage over the 120 meters of Septimius Severus Bridge. At the same time, with so much difference in the dimensions of these bridges, it is possible to suspect that other Roman bridges can be found to take the position in the ranking between them. Even a cursory look at the lists of existing Roman bridges shows that Taşköprü - Stone Bridge - in Adana is 310 meters long, Trajan Bridge in Alcántara, Spain - has 182 meters, and the segmented arch bridge in Limyra, Turkey - 360 meters.

Finally, a handful of facts from the recent history of the Septimius Severus Bridge. The first description and illustrations of this building were provided by Osman Hamdi Bey and Osgan Efendi in 1883. In the 20th century, the bridge underwent the renovation twice - in 1951 and 1997. After these repairs, the access to the bridge was gradually limited to motorised vehicles. Finally, after the construction of a new bridge, the Roman bridge was completely closed, except pedestrian traffic.

New bridge over Cendere creek

Visitor tips: 

Admission to the Roman bridge is free, and there are many places where you can park the car. The surrounding area is a popular picnic spot, and the Cendere stream serves the residents as a place to cool off on hot days. Unfortunately, due to the great popularity of this place, combined with the reluctance to maintain order, there is a lot of trash near the bridge.

Garbage near Severan Bridge

Getting there: 

Severan Bridge stands on Cendere Creek, just off the 02-3 road from Kâhta (20 km to the south) to Sincik (30 km to the north), in Adıyaman Province. In the nearby area, there are other tourist attractions - Karakuş Tumulus, Eski Kale castle, ancient Arsameia ruins, and the famous Nemrut Mountain. The access to the bridge is possible for people with their own means of transport. In addition, travel agencies operate in Kâhta, organising the tours of the area that offer a stopover at the bridge.

Severan Bridge