Universes in Universe

For an optimal view of our website, please rotate your tablet horizontally.

Hadrian's Arch

Hadrian's Arch / © Foto: Haupt and Binder, Universes in Universe

Hadrian's Arch

The tour of the archaeological site of ancient Gerasa in present-day Jerash begins at this magnificent triumphal arch. The citizens of the city built it in honor of the Roman Emperor Hadrian on the occasion of his visit to their city in the winter of 129/130 AD. Over 37 m wide, 21 m high and about 9 m deep, it is one of the largest of its kind in the Roman Empire. Since the fragments lying around could be identified by the archaeologists, it was possible to reconstruct the monument.

Originally, the Hadrian's Arch was intended to be the city gate of a new southern quarter along the road to Philadelphia, today's Amman. However, this plan was abandoned soon after the emperor's visit. Instead, Gerasa grew to the north, where the huge complex of the Sanctuary of Artemis was built, and was extended to the east side of the Chrysorhoas (Gold River, today's Wadi Jerash). Therefore, the structure built in honor of Hadrian remained freestanding 460 meters from the southern gate of the fortified city.

Façade details

The central of the three passageways with barrel vaults, laid out exactly north-south, is 10.80 m high and 5.70 m wide, the two lateral ones are each 5.20 m high and about 2.70 m wide.

The southern (outer) façade of Hadrian's Arch, and the northern one facing the city, are very similar, although not completely identical.

Image 1: Attic base. Image 2: Corinthian capital. Image 3: Capital of a pilaster on the large central passage. The hole to the left of the pilaster was intended for the attachment of a wooden gate wing.

Four huge superimposed three-quarter columns stand on pedestals (2.20 m high, 2.25 m wide, 1.20 m deep). Above the Attic bases, a wreath of acanthus leaves encloses the column shaft (left photo). Corinthian capitals with acanthus leaves crown the columns (center).

The three passages are framed by pilasters, which are finished on top by acanthus leaves and moldings with frieze-like ornaments (fluting, egg-and-dart, foliage). They support round arches superimposed to the barrel vault. On the right photo, to the left of the pilaster, you can see a hole that was supposed to serve for the attachment of a wooden gate wing.

On the south and north sides of Hadrian's Arch, above the two smaller archways, are elaborate niches with broken pediments, their entablatures supported by small columns with Corinthian capitals. The columns stand on a base of multi-tiered moldings. These niches on both sides of the facade could be entered from the inside and are connected by doorways.

The richly decorated entablature consists of a sequence of various ornamental moldings (including egg-and-dart, dentillation), a frieze in low relief with flowers and foliage, and the cornice decorated with a band of palmettes. Above it rises a flat triangular pediment in the shape of a broken pediment, in which the decorative elements of the entablature continue. In the center, there is only a laurel wreath with a rosette in it.

Inscription on the north façade

On the north side of Hadrian's Arch, in front of the right gateway, there are fragments of an inscription that was placed on the facade facing the city. The consecration inscription in Greek, broken into 19 parts, has the form of a tabula ansata and is 7.14 m wide and 1.03 m high.

The text of the inscription reads:

"To the good fortune!
For the salvation of the Emperor Caesar, son of the god Trajan Parthicus, grandson of the god Nerva, Trajan Hadrian/ Augustus, pontifex maximus, with tribunician powers for the 14th time, consul for the 3rd, father of the fatherland, and for the fortune and preservation of/ his entire house. The city of the Antiocheans on the Chrysorhoas, first Gerasans, by will of Flavius, Agrippa (built) the gate with a triumph. In the year 192."

(Translated by Samuele Rocca)

More about the inscription

The first part of the inscription contains the formulaic wishes for the well-being of the emperor and his family, which were common at the time, as well as the mention of his names, dynastic affiliations and epithets.

The self-designation of the citizens as "Antiochians on the Chrysorhoas" dates from the time when the Seleucid Antiochus IV (reigned 175 – 164 BC) ruled the area and the place was called Antioch on the Chrysorhoas (Gold River, today's Wadi Jerash). After the Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus founded the Provincia Syria in 63 BC, the name was changed to Gerasa - the Hellenized version of the ancient Semitic name Garshu.

Although the citizens of the city claim to have erected the arch as a whole community and to have hosted the triumphal celebration in honor of the emperor, the financing is explicitly acknowledged through the testamentary donation of someone named Flavius Agrippa.

The inscription ends with a dating formula in the local chronology. This begins with the year of the foundation of the Provincia Syria in 63 BC, so that the year 192 mentioned corresponds to the date of Emperor Hadrian's visit to Gerasa in 129/130 AD, the occasion for the construction of the building.

(From information in Samuele Rocca)

(© Text by Universes in Universe from information in different sources.)


Hadrian's Arch
Jerash Archeological City
Location on map

© Texts and photos are protected by copyright.
Compilation of information, editing, translations, photos: Universes in Universe, unless otherwise indicated

See also in Art Destination Jordan:

Web guide for cultural travellers - a wealth of information and photos.

Contemporary art, archaeology, art history, architecture, cultural heritage.

Supported by
Jordan Tourism Board

Back to Top