Roman Triumph

A Roman Triumph was a ceremony of the ancient Rome to publicly honor the military commander (Dux) of a notably successful foreign war or campaigns. Only men of senatorial or consular rank could perform a triumph and be a triumphator.

In order to receive a triumph, the dux must:

  1. Win a war against a foreign nation. Civil wars and rebellions were disqualified because they did not bring either spoils or slaves to the public treasure.
  2. Be acclaimed as imperator (not emperor) by the legions in the field of battle.
  3. Apply to the senate for the right of a triumph. At this point, internal politics and faction lobbying had an important role. There are examples of rightful triumphs refused and generals of not so successful wars granted a triumph.

The ceremony consisted of a spectacular parade, opened by the chiefs of conquered peoples (afterwards executed in the Tarquinium), followed by wagons of gold and other valuable spoils captured during the campaign (including slaves), musicians, dancers, flags drawn with scenes of the war, the legions and finally the dux. It was a concrete exhibit of the spoils brought to the patrimony of Senatus PopulusQue Romanus (S.P.Q.R).

The triumphator rode on a biga, a chariot pulled by two white horses. A slave behind the triumphator held a laurel crown over his head (not touching it). Notably, this slave had to repeat continuously "Memento homo." (Remember you are mortal). The ceremony bears many similarities to the celebrations for the Roman gods.

The parade followed a precise route in the streets of Rome, starting outside the city Servian Walls in the Campus Martius. The triumphator would then cross the pomerium into the city through the Via Triumphalis (which centuries later was reopened as the current Via dei Fori Imperiali), along the Forum until the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, where the laurels of victory were offered to the god.

To better celebrate the triumph, a monument was sometimes erected. This is the origin of the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Constantine, not far from the Colosseum.

See also: Triumphal arch


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