previous next


θρίαμβος). A solemn procession in which a victorious Roman general entered the city in a chariot drawn by four horses. He was preceded by the captives and spoils taken in war, and was followed by his troops; and, after passing in state along the Via Sacra, ascended the Capitol to offer sacrifice in the Temple of Iupiter Capitolinus. From the early days of the Republic down to the extinction of liberty a regular triumph (iustus triumphus) was recognized as the climax of military glory, and was the cherished object of ambition to every Roman general. A triumph might be granted for successful achievements either by land or sea, but the latter were comparatively so rare that we may for the present defer the consideration of the naval triumph. After any decisive battle had been won, or a province subdued by a series of successful operations, the imperator forwarded to the Senate a laurel-wreathed despatch (litterae laureatae) containing an account of his exploits. If the intelligence proved satisfactory, the Senate decreed a public thanksgiving. (See Supplicatio.) After the war had been concluded, the general with his army repaired to Rome, or ordered his army to meet him there on a given day, but did not enter the city. A meeting of the Senate was held without the walls, usually in the temple of either Bellona or Apollo, that he might have an opportunity of urging his pretensions in person, and these were then scrutinized and discussed with the most jealous care. The following rules were for the most part rigidly enforced, although the Senate assumed the discretionary power of relaxing them in special cases: (a) That no one could be permitted to triumph unless he had held the office of dictator, of consul, or of praetor. The honours granted to Pompey, who triumphed in his twenty-fourth year (B.C. 81), before he had held any of the great offices of the State, and again ten years afterwards, while still a simple knight, were altogether unprecedented. (b) That the magistrate should have been actually in office both when the victory was gained and when the triumph was to be celebrated. This regulation was insisted upon only during the earlier ages of the commonwealth. Its violation commenced with Q. Publilius Philo, the first per son to whom the Senate ever granted a prorogatio imperii after the termination of a magistracy, and thenceforward proconsuls and propraetors were permitted to triumph without question. (c) That the war should have been prosecuted or the battle fought under the auspices and in the province and with the troops of the general seeking the triumph. Thus, if a victory was gained by the legatus of a general who was absent from the army, the honour of it did not belong to the former, but to the latter, inasmuch as he had the auspices. (d) That at least 5000 of the enemy should have been slain in a single battle, that the advantage should have been positive, and not merely a compensation for some previous disaster, and that the loss on the part of the Romans should have been small compared with that of their adversaries. Nevertheless, we find many instances of triumphs granted for general results, without reference to the numbers slain in any one engagement. (e) That the war should have been a legitimate contest against public foes, and not a civil contest. Hence Catulus celebrated no triumph over Lepidus, nor Antonius over Catiline, nor Cinna and Marius over their antagonists of the Sullan party, nor Caesar after Pharsalia; and when he did subsequently triumph after his victory over the sons of Pompey, it caused universal disgust. (f) That the dominion of the State should have been extended, and not merely something previously lost regained. The absolute acquisition of territory does not appear to have been essential. (g) That the war should have been brought to a conclusion and the province reduced to a state of peace, so as to permit of the army being withdrawn, the presence of the victorious soldiers being considered indispensable in a triumph.

The Senate claimed the exclusive right of deliberating upon all these points, and of giving or withholding the honour sought, and it for the most part exercised the privilege without question, except in times of great political excitement. The sovereignty of the people, however, in this matter was asserted at a very early date, and a triumph is said to have been voted by the tribes to Valerius and Horatius, the consuls of B.C. 446, in direct opposition to the resolution of the senators, and in a similar manner to C. Marcius Rutilus, the first plebeian dictator; while L. Postumius Megellus, consul B.C. 294, celebrated a triumph although resisted by the Senate and by seven out of the ten tribunes. Moreover, we read of a certain Appius Claudius, consul B.C. 143, who, having persisted in celebrating a triumph in defiance of both the Senate and the people, was accompanied by his daughter (or sister) Claudia, a Vestal Virgin, and by her interposition saved from being dragged from his chariot by a tribune. A disappointed general, however, seldom ventured to resort to such violent measures, but satisfied himself with going through the forms on the Alban Mount (triumphus in Monte Albano), a practice first introduced by C. Papirius Maso. If the Senate gave its consent, it at the same time voted a sum of money towards defraying the necessary expenses, and one of the tribunes ex auctoritate Senatus applied for a plebiscitum to permit the imperator to retain his imperium on the day when he entered the city. This last form could not be dispensed with either in an ovation or a triumph, because the imperium conferred by the Comitia Curiata did not include the city itself; and when a general had once gone forth paludatus, his military power ceased as soon as he re-entered the gates, unless the general law had been previously suspended by a special enactment. In this manner the resolution of the Senate was, as it were, ratified by the plebs. For this reason, no one desiring a triumph ever entered the city until the question was decided, since by so doing he would ipso facto have forfeited all claim. We have a remarkable example of this in the case of Cicero, who, after his return from Cilicia, lingered in the vicinity of Rome day after day, and dragged about his lictors from one place to another, without entering the city, in the vain hope of a triumph.

In later times these pageants were marshalled with extraordinary pomp and splendour, and presented a most gorgeous spectacle. Minute details would necessarily be different according to circumstances, but the general arrangements were as follows: All the temples were thrown open, garlands of flowers decorated every shrine and image, and incense smoked on every altar. Meanwhile the imperator called an assembly of his soldiers, delivered an oration (contio) commending their valour, and concluded by distributing rewards to the most distinguished, and a sum of money to each individual, the amount depending on the value of the spoils. He then ascended his triumphal car and advanced to the Porta Triumpha

Imperator in Triumphal Car. (From a marble in Seville.)

lis, where he was met by the whole body of the Senate, headed by the magistrates. The procession then defiled in the following order:


the Senate, headed by the magistrates;


a body of trumpeters;


a train of carriages and frames or litters loaded with spoils, those articles which were especially remarkable either on account of their beauty or rarity being disposed in such a manner as to be seen distinctly by the crowd. Boards were also borne aloft on fercula, on which were painted in large letters the names of vanquished nations and countries. Here, too, models were exhibited in ivory or wood of the cities and forts captured, and pictures of the mountains, rivers, and other great natural features of the subjugated region, with appropriate inscriptions, gold and silver in coin or bullion, arms, weapons, and cavalry trappings of every description, statues, pictures, vases, and other works of art, precious stones, elaborately wrought and richly embroidered stuffs, and every object which could be regarded as valuable or curious.


A body of flute players.


The white bulls or oxen destined for sacrifice, with gilded horns, decorated with infulae and serta, attended by the slaughtering priests with their implements, and followed by the Camilli bearing in their hands paterae and other sacred vessels and instruments.


Elephants or any other strange animals peculiar to the conquered districts.


The arms and insignia of the leaders of the foe.


The enemy's leaders themselves, and such of their kindred as had been taken prisoners, followed by the whole band of inferior captives in fetters.


The crowns (coronae) and other tributes of respect and gratitude bestowed on the imperator by allied kings and States.


The lictors of the imperator in single file, their fasces wreathed with laurel.


The imperator himself in a circular chariot of a peculiar form, drawn by four horses, which were sometimes, though rarely, white. He was attired in a goldembroidered robe (toga picta) and a flowered tunic (tunica palmata), and bore in his right hand a laurel bough, and in his left a sceptre. His brows were encircled with a wreath of Delphic laurel, in addition to which, in ancient times, his body was painted bright red. He was accompanied in his chariot by his children of tender years, and sometimes by very dear or highly honoured friends, while behind him stood a public slave, holding over his head a golden Etruscan crown ornamented with jewels. The presence of a slave in such a place at such a time seems to have been intended to avert invidia and the influence of the evil eye, and for the same purpose a fascinum (q. v.), a little bell, and a scourge were attached to the vehicle. Tertullian ( Apol. 33) tells us that the slave ever and anon whispered in the ear of the imperator the warning words “Respice post te, hominem memento te,” but this statement is not confirmed by early writers, though mentioned in Arrian.


Behind the chariot, or on the horses which drew it, rode the sons of the imperator, together with the legati, the tribuni, and the equites, all on horseback.


The rear was brought up by the whole body of the infantry in marching order, their spears adorned with laurel, some shouting “Io Triumphe!” and singing hymns to the gods, while others proclaimed the praises of their leader or indulged in keen sarcasms and coarse ribaldry at his expense, for the most perfect freedom of speech was granted and exercised. Just as the procession was ascending the Capitoline Hill, some of the hostile chiefs were led aside into the adjoining prison and put to death, a custom so barbarous that we could scarcely believe that it existed in a civilized age, were it not attested by the most unquestionable evidence. Pompey, indeed, refrained from perpetrating this atrocity in his third triumph, and Aurelian on a like occasion spared Zenobia (q.v.), but these are quoted as exceptions to the general rule. When it was announced that these murders had been completed, the victims were then sacrificed, an offering from the spoils was presented to Iupiter, the laurel wreath was deposited in the lap of the god, and the imperator was entertained at a public feast along with his friends in the temple. When he returned home in the evening he was preceded by torches and pipes, and escorted by a crowd of citizens. The whole of the proceedings, generally speaking, were brought to a close in one day; but when the quantity of spoil was very great, and the troops very numerous, a longer period was required for the exhibition,

Triumph of Marcus Aurelius. (Relief in the Palazzo dei Conservatori.)

as when the triumph of Flaminius continued for three days in succession. But the glories of the imperator did not end with the show, nor even with his life. It was customary to provide him at the public expense with a site for a house, such mansions being styled triumphales domus. After death his kindred were permitted to deposit his ashes within the walls, and laurel-wreathed statues standing erect in triumphal cars, displayed in the vestibulum of the family mansion, transmitted his fame to posterity.

A Triumphus Navālis appears to have differed in no respect from an ordinary triumph, except that it must have been upon a smaller scale, and would be characterized by the exhibition of beaks of ships (rostra) and other nautical trophies. The earliest upon record was granted to C. Duilius, who laid the foundation of the supremacy of Rome by sea in the First Punic War; and who was so elated by his success that during the rest of his life, whenever he returned home at night from dinner, he caused flutes to sound and torches to be borne before him. A second naval triumph was celebrated by Lutatius Catulus for his victory off the Insulae Aegates (B.C. 241); a third by Q. Fabius Labeo (B.C. 189) over the Cretans; and a fourth by C. Octavius over Perseus, without captives and without spoils.

Triumphus Castrensis was a procession of the soldiers through the camp in honour of a tribune or any officer inferior to the general, who had performed some brilliant exploit. After the extinction of freedom, the emperor being considered as the supreme commander of all the armies of the State, every military achievement was understood to be performed under his auspices, and hence, according to the forms of even the ancient constitution, he alone had a legitimate claim to a triumph. This principle was soon fully recognized and acted upon; for although Antonius had granted triumphs to his legati, and his example had been freely followed by Augustus in the early part of his career, yet after the year B.C. 14 he entirely discontinued the practice, and from that time forward triumphs were rarely, if ever, conceded to any except members of the imperial family. But to compensate in some degree for what was then taken away, the custom was introduced of bestowing what were termed triumphalia ornamenta—that is, permission to receive the titles bestowed upon the imperator of republican times and in the robes worn by him, with the right to bequeath triumphal statues to their descendants. See Peine, De Ornamentis Triumphalibus (Leipzig, 1885).

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: