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Greco - Roman Antiquity
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The Roman Triumph


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Commemoration

Triumphs were commemorated in a variety of ways. The most ubiquitous of which are coinage. A great example of a coin minted for a triumphant general is the 101 BCE coin by Gaius Fundanius for Marius’ victory over the Cimbrians and the Teutons. This coin probably is the first time a living Roman appeared on currency (Potter). Bellori includes a plate of such coins from the imperial Severan dynasty in his book.

Other forms of commemoration include arches, which are covered in another section of the Rome project in detail.

 Plate 5{'<br/>'}Bellori, Giovanni Pietro.  Plate 5. Veteres arcus Augustorm triumphis insignes ex reliquiis quae Romae adhuc supersunt : cum imaginibus triumphalibus restituti, antiquis nummis notisquae Io: Petri Bellorii illustrati nunc primum / per Io Iacobum de Rubeis. Rome: Ad Templum Sanctae.  Image CC-BY-SA Digital Library@Villanova University. http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:38641.
Plate 5
Bellori, Giovanni Pietro. Plate 5. Veteres arcus Augustorm triumphis insignes ex reliquiis quae Romae adhuc supersunt : cum imaginibus triumphalibus restituti, antiquis nummis notisquae Io: Petri Bellorii illustrati nunc primum / per Io Iacobum de Rubeis. Rome: Ad Templum Sanctae. Image CC-BY-SA Digital Library@Villanova University. http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:38641.
Fasti triumphales.{'<br/>'}Benoît, Rossignol. Fasti triumphales. Licensed under Public Domain by Wikimedia. 28 October 2011. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CILI(2)p47fgtXXFastitriumphales.jpg.
Fasti triumphales.
Benoît, Rossignol. Fasti triumphales. Licensed under Public Domain by Wikimedia. 28 October 2011. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CILI(2)p47fgtXXFastitriumphales.jpg.

Fasti Triumpahles

The most complete list and most often cited of triumphs in the Republic is the fasti triumphales. It was a marble set up in the Forum during the Augustan era listing the generals, with the consuls at the time of their triumphs, from Romulus in 753 BCE to Balbus in 19 BCE. All that remains of the fasti now are fragments displayed in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. It listed over 200 triumphs. Interestingly, it differentiated between typical and naval triumphs (Beard). Onofrio Panvinio, whose work on triumphs is in the Villanova Special Collection, created a list of triumphs based on the fasti. The author of the work is unknown- Panvinio attributed it to Valerius Flaccus, an idea now considered erroneous.

Panvinio's Fasti{'<br/>'}Panvinio, Onofrio. Fasti et triumphi Rom. a Romulo rege usque ad Carolum V. Caes. Aug., sive, Epitome regum, consulum, dictatorum, magistror. equitum, tribunorum militum consulari potestate, censorum, impp. & aliorum magistratuum Roman. cum orientalium tum occidentalium, :ex antiquitatum monumentis maxima cum fide ac diligentia desumpta. Onuphrio Panuinio Veronensi F. Augustiniano authore. ; Additæ sunt suis locis impp. & orientalium, & occidentalium uerissimae icones, ex vetustissimis numismatis quam fidelissime delineatae. Ex musaeo Iacobi Stradæ Mantuani, ciuis Romani, antiquarii. Venetiis: Impensis Iacobi Stradae Mantuani. 1577. Image CC- NC-BY-SA Digital Library@Villanova University. http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:76363
Panvinio's Fasti
Panvinio, Onofrio. Fasti et triumphi Rom. a Romulo rege usque ad Carolum V. Caes. Aug., sive, Epitome regum, consulum, dictatorum, magistror. equitum, tribunorum militum consulari potestate, censorum, impp. & aliorum magistratuum Roman. cum orientalium tum occidentalium, :ex antiquitatum monumentis maxima cum fide ac diligentia desumpta. Onuphrio Panuinio Veronensi F. Augustiniano authore. ; Additæ sunt suis locis impp. & orientalium, & occidentalium uerissimae icones, ex vetustissimis numismatis quam fidelissime delineatae. Ex musaeo Iacobi Stradæ Mantuani, ciuis Romani, antiquarii. Venetiis: Impensis Iacobi Stradae Mantuani. 1577. Image CC- NC-BY-SA Digital Library@Villanova University. http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:76363

Women and Captives: the “Other” in the Triumph

Women did not typically have a large role in the triumphal procession, especially during the Republic (Flory). During the Empire, there was a greater opportunity for women to be a part of the day as more than spectators. For example, Suetonius writes that Messalina rode in the triumph of her husband Emperor Claudius (Beard). Daughters of the triumphant man could also be in the procession.  Livia, Augustus’s wife, seems to have arranged a dinner in honor of Tiberius’s triumph (Flory). More often, women were found in the role of captive or living spoil. For example, Thusnelda, a queen, was led in Germanicus’ procession; Arsinoe, Cleopatra’s sister, was led in one of Caesar’s; Zenobia, queen of Palmyra, was led in Aurelian’s (Beard).

Captives faced a humiliating route through the city, to be sure- however, as Mary Beard writes, the procession was not always a walk to the death, but could represent “a key moment in which the enemy became Roman” (Beard 140). An example of this process is Publius Ventidius Bassus, who in 38 BCE celebrated a triumph after being carried as a child captive in a triumph during the Social War. Pliny writes this of his unfortunate beginning: “Masurius says, that he had been twice led in triumph; and according to Cicero, he used to let out mules for the bakers of the camp” (Pliny, Natural History, Book VII, Chapter 1).

There is no prototypical Roman Triumph. Much of what we know about the Roman Triumph is an amalgamation of historian’s accounts of individual ceremonies, annalistic records, literature and art, and the architectural legacy of the events. Many important details (and even the existence of triumphs) are disagreed upon by the ancient sources, not to mention by modern scholars. The basic skeleton of the Triumph is this: it was a parade, led by a victorious military commander, into and through the city of Rome, culminating with sacrifices at the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. Captives, spoils, animals, armor, even models of battlefields preceded the triumphing man and his chariot. His soldiers followed. As Mary Beard writes in The Roman Triumph, “the triumph, in other words, re-presented and re-enacted victory. It brought the margins of the empire to its center” (32). The details are to be fleshed out.

Triumphal Procession from the work of Giovanni Bellori{'<br/>'}Bellori, Giovanni Pietro. Veteres arcus Augustorm triumphis insignes ex reliquiis quae Romae adhuc supersunt : cum imaginibus triumphalibus restituti, antiquis nummis notisquae Io: Petri Bellorii illustrati nunc primum / per Io Iacobum de Rubeis. Rome: Ad Templum Sanctae Mariae de Pace, 1690. Image CC-BY-SA Digital Library@Villanova University. http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:38641.
Triumphal Procession from the work of Giovanni Bellori
Bellori, Giovanni Pietro. Veteres arcus Augustorm triumphis insignes ex reliquiis quae Romae adhuc supersunt : cum imaginibus triumphalibus restituti, antiquis nummis notisquae Io: Petri Bellorii illustrati nunc primum / per Io Iacobum de Rubeis. Rome: Ad Templum Sanctae Mariae de Pace, 1690. Image CC-BY-SA Digital Library@Villanova University. http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:38641.

Origins

Plutarch writes that Romulus first cut down an oak, wore a laurel wreath, and paraded through Rome; he claims “his procession was the origin and model of all subsequent triumphs” (Plutarch, Life of Romulus, 16).  However, Pliny, Varro and others believed it was originated by Bacchus, and thus named after his epithet thriambos. In the Fasti Triumphales, the late republican list of triumphs, Romulus is the first listed. There are thought to have been over 300 triumphs in the ~1000 year period from the founding of the Republic to the end of the Western Roman Empire (Beard). 

How to Win a Victory and Get a Triumph

All triumphs began with a military victory over the enemies of Rome. According to Livy, the victorious general returning to Rome must remain outside the city walls until the triumph is granted by both the senate and the people. The senate would have a formal vote; the people would decide to grant the vir triumphalis, triumphant man, imperium within the city for the time of the procession. For example, from his account of Marcellus’s rejected triumph bid, we know that in theory, a triumph could only be granted if the commander had brought his army with him and concluded the war with surety (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, 22.21). However, as Beard argues, there were no hard and fast rules regarding triumphs that we can pin down- as in the case with Appius Claudius Pulcher in 143 BCE. He is said to have been denied a triumph and taken one anyway (Beard).

Other options for a returning general not granted triumphal honors were ovations and a triumph outside the city on the Alban Mount. In an ovation, the general was not given laurel nor a chariot (Beard). Marcellus celebrated his triumph on the Alban Mount when denied.

Map of Rome by Onofrio Panvinio{'<br/>'}Panvinio, Onofrio. Onuphrii Panvinii Veronensis, De ludis circensibus, libri II. De triumphis, liber unus. Venetiis : apud J.B. Ciottum Cenensem. 1600. Image CC-BY-SA Digital Library@Villanova University. http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:75216
Map of Rome by Onofrio Panvinio
Panvinio, Onofrio. Onuphrii Panvinii Veronensis, De ludis circensibus, libri II. De triumphis, liber unus. Venetiis : apud J.B. Ciottum Cenensem. 1600. Image CC-BY-SA Digital Library@Villanova University. http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:75216

The Route

The route of the triumph is more a set of guidelines than an itinerary set in stone. Basically, the procession started outside of the city in the Campus Martius, then proceeded through the Triumphal Gate, through the Forum, and ended at the Temper of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline (Beard).

The Procession

Intriguingly, there seems to be no set order for the triumphal procession, or even clear picture of exactly who would have been a part of it. As Beard points out, the order seen in triumphal arches and monuments, such as the one illustrated by Bellori above, does not match up with the order given by Roman historians. Very basically, the procession can be generalized and separated into three parts: spoils, general, and soldiers.

The spoils would lead the triumphal procession. Spoils could include anything taken from the conquered peoples- statues, gold, silver, weapons, slaves, coins, animals, royal captives, and even floats depicting the action on the front (Beard). In Livy’s account of Nero and Livius’s triumph in 207 BCE, after the 2nd Punic War, there are even figures given for how much loot is brought back- 300,000 sesterces and 80,000 bronze coins (Livy 28.9). As for the humans put on display, they were often kings and royal families of the opposing forces. It is widely held that Cleopatra took her own life when Octavian emerged victorious from the civil wars of the Second Triumvirate so that she would not end up in a triumph (Bringmann).

The general himself was supposed to be the main attraction- though the swagger of the captives or the gleam of the gold had the power to outshine him. Again, a very general and basic schema for his role is this: he rode in a chariot “in the shape of a tower” with his children, pulled by horses (Cassius Dio in Potter). At least once a triumphant commander did not ride in a chariot. In the triumph of both Nero and Livius after the 2nd Punic War, Nero rode on Horseback- Livy writes that “the triumph thus shared between them enhanced the glory of both, but especially of the one who allowed his comrade to surpass him in honour as much as he himself surpassed him in merit” (Livy 28.9). Generally, though, the general stood in the chariot for the whole procession. On his head were a wreath of laurel and a gold crown, and he wore a purple tunic and a toga picta, a toga thought to be covered with patterns or designs. He held a scepter. In some reports, his face is painted red. This has led to debate among scholars. Versnel explains the two theories- one, that he was dressed up in imitation of a statue of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, and two, that he was dressed up in the style of the original Etruscan kings of Rome (Versnel). Regardless of the origins, the vir triumphalis would have been a marvelous sight. Mary Beard argues that the red face would have been less frequent by the late Republic.

Following the vir triumphalis and his chariot were the soldiers of the victorious army. In contrast with the general, they wore full military garb and regalia. They would shout “io triumpe”, a phrase of which the meaning was then and is now still not understood. They would also sing songs mocking or praising their general, called carmina incondite by Livy (Beard). The best known songs are ones sung at the triumphs of Julius Caesar over Gaul, including this one noted by Suetonius:

"Men of Rome, keep close to your consorts, here's a bald adulterer. Gold in Gaul you spent in dalliance, which you borrowed here in Rome” (Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar 50).

 

Julius Caesar's Triumph by Andrea Mantegna{'<br/>'}Mantegna, Andrea. Triumphs of Julius Caesar IX. England: Royal Collection, Hampton Court Palace. 1488. Public Domain. "Triumph9-Mantegna-Julius-Caesar" by Andrea Mantegna. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Triumph9-Mantegna-Julius-Caesar.jpg#/media/File:Triumph9-Mantegna-Julius-Caesar.jpg
Julius Caesar's Triumph by Andrea Mantegna
Mantegna, Andrea. Triumphs of Julius Caesar IX. England: Royal Collection, Hampton Court Palace. 1488. Public Domain. "Triumph9-Mantegna-Julius-Caesar" by Andrea Mantegna. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Triumph9-Mantegna-Julius-Caesar.jpg#/media/File:Triumph9-Mantegna-Julius-Caesar.jpg

Republican Triumphs

During the Republic, the triumph was the honor that men dreamt of achieving. It was thought to be the pinnacle of the Roman military, and often political, career. One of the most famous men to triumph was Pompey the Great. Pompey celebrated a rare three triumphs in his career. Plutarch writes that he did not yet have a beard when granted his first triumph- another rarity. In this first celebration, Pompey reportedly “tried to ride into the city on a chariot drawn by four elephants; for he had brought many from Africa which he had captured from its kings. But the gate of the city was too narrow, and he therefore gave up the attempt and changed over to his horses” (Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 14).  Pompey celebrated his triumphs on his birthday, which was also the day he died in Egypt.

The end of the Republic, the 30’s BCE, saw a jump in the frequency of triumphs. In fact, the number of triumphs dropped off sharply after the Augustan settlement and the end of the fasti triumphales in 19 BCE (Beard).


Imperial Triumphs

After the founding of the Roman Empire, triumphs were only awarded to emperors or members of the imperial family (Beard).  Some scholars link this change to the triumph becoming a step in the coronation and legitimacy of the new emperor, starting with Julius Caesar (Versnel). Triumphs in this period were much scarcer than during the Republic, and could often be quite flimsy to the modern eye. For example, Caligula is said to have dressed up Gauls as Germans to celebrate his triumph by Suetonius, and Dio relates that he raided the palace for “spoils” (Beard).  Tactitus describes the triumph of Germanicus in terms of the new imperial regime:
“There were borne in procession spoils, prisoners, representations of the mountains, the rivers and battles; and the war, seeing that he had been forbidden to finish it, was taken as finished…Still, there was a latent dread when they remembered how unfortunate in the case of Drusus, his father, had been the favour of the crowd; how his uncle Marcellus, regarded by the city populace with passionate enthusiasm, had been snatched from them while yet a youth, and how short-lived and ill-starred were the attachments of the Roman people” (Tacitus, Annals 2).

Germanicus celebrated his triumph before the war was even completed and in the shadow of the mysterious deaths of two other popular generals. Tacitus highlights the change in tenor of the celebration in the empire. The Arch of Titus even seems to show the deification of the Emperor, linking the triumph and the divine during the Empire (Beard).

Triumph of Germanicus{'<br/>'}Guerber, Helene. Triumph of Germanicus. 1896. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Triumph_of_Germanicus.gif
Triumph of Germanicus
Guerber, Helene. Triumph of Germanicus. 1896. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Triumph_of_Germanicus.gif

Triumph through the Ages

Triumphs survive in the many victory parade celebrations that are still held and commemorated. Mary Beard writes that the last parade of looted art throughout the streets of Europe was Napoleon’s plunder of Italian art and procession through Paris in 1798. Perhaps a more well-known example is the New York City Victory Parade in 1946, following the conclusion of World War II. Thankfully, the display of captives has fallen off thanks to the U.N. and the Geneva Conventions.

Montgomery, Alabama. World War I Victory{'<br/>'}Paulger, Stanley. World War I victory parade for the 167th Infantry regiment on Dexter Avenue in Montgomery, Alabama. 1919. Alabama Dept. of Archives and History. CC-PD-OLD. Image Public Domain@Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Montgomery_Alabama_WWI_parade.jpg
Montgomery, Alabama. World War I Victory
Paulger, Stanley. World War I victory parade for the 167th Infantry regiment on Dexter Avenue in Montgomery, Alabama. 1919. Alabama Dept. of Archives and History. CC-PD-OLD. Image Public Domain@Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Montgomery_Alabama_WWI_parade.jpg
A Roman Triumph{'<br/>'}Rubens, Peter Paul. A Roman Triumph. National Gallery, 1630. PD-US; PD-ART. Image Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rubens-roman-triumph.jpg#/media/File:Rubens-roman-triumph.jpg
A Roman Triumph
Rubens, Peter Paul. A Roman Triumph. National Gallery, 1630. PD-US; PD-ART. Image Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rubens-roman-triumph.jpg#/media/File:Rubens-roman-triumph.jpg

Bibliography

Beard, Mary. The Roman Triumph. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Bellori, Giovanni Pietro. Roman Triumphal Arches. 1690.

Diodorus Siculus. The Library of History Vol. II, Book IV. Translated by C. H. Oldfather for the Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933.

Fasti Triumphales in Inscriptiones latinae liberae rei publicae. Translated and edited by Attilio Degrassi, 1957. On view at the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

Flory, Marleen B. “The Integration of Women into the Roman Triumph” in Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte Bd. 47, H. 4 (Oct 1998): 489-494.

Livy. Ab Urbe Condita. An English Translation Translated by William Heinemann,. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press; London, Ltd. 1919.

Panvinio, Onofrio. On Circus Games/On Triumphs. 1600.

Plutarch. Lives. Translated by John Dryden. Modern Library: 1942.

Polybius. Thatcher, Oliver J. ed., The Library of Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 166-193

Potter, David. Ancient Rome: A New History. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2009.

Suetonius. Lives of the 12 Caesars vol. II. Translated by J. C. Rolfe for the Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, revised 1998.

Tactitus, Annals. Translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb. http://classics.mit.edu/Tacitus/annals.1.i.html

Versnel, H. S. Triumphus: An Inquiry Into the Origin, Development and Meaning of the Roman Triumph. Leiden: Brill, 1970.

Further Reading

Beard, Mary. The Roman Triumph. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006.

Potter, David. Ancient Rome: A New History. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2009.

Versnel, H. S. Triumphus: An Inquiry Into the Origin, Development and Meaning of the Roman Triumph. Leiden: Brill, 1970.