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 p1163  Triumphus​a

Article by William Ramsay, M.A., Professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow
on pp1163‑1167 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

TRIUMPHUS, a solemn procession in which a victorious general entered the city in a chariot drawn by four horses. He was preceded by the captives and spoils taken in war, was followed by his troops, and after passing in state along the Via Sacra, ascended the Capitol to offer sacrifice in the temple of Jupiter.

 p1164  Such displays have been so universal among all warlike tribes from the earliest times, and are so immediately connected with some of the strongest passions of the human heart, that it would be as useless as it is impossible to trace their origin historically. It is scarcely necessary to advert to the fancies of those ancient writers, who refer their first institution to the mythic conquests of Bacchus in the East (Diodor. IV.5; Plin. H. N. VII.57), nor need we attach much importance to the connection between triumphus and θρίαμβος, according to the etymology doubtingly proposed by Varro (L. L. VI.68, ed. Müller). Rejoicings after a victory, accompanied by processions of the soldiery with their plunder, must have been coeval with the existence of the Romans as a nation, and accordingly the return of Romulus with spolia opima after he had defeated the Caeninenses and slain Acro their king, is described by Dionysius (II.34; compare Prop. IV.1.32) with all the attributes of a regular triumph. Plutarch (Rom. 16) admits that this event was the origin of and first step towards the triumph of after times, but censures Dionysius for the statement that Romulus made his entrance in a quadriga, which he considers disproved by the fact that all the triumphal (τροπαιοφόρους) statues of that king, as seen in his day, represented him on foot. He adds that Tarquinius Priscus, according to some, or Poplicola, according to others, first triumphed in a chariot; and in corroboration of this we find that the first triumph recorded by Livy (I.38; compare Flor. I.5; Eutrop. I.6) is that over the Sabines by Tarquinius, who according to Verrius (Plin. H. N. XXXIII.19) wore upon this occasion a robe of cloth ofº gold. Whatever conclusion we may form upon these points, it is certain that from the first dawn of authentic history down to the extinction of liberty a regular triumph (justus triumphus) was recognized as the summit 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 shall 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 (literae laureatae, Zonar. VII.21; Liv. XLVI.1; Plin. H. N. XV.40) containing an account of his exploit. If the intelligence proved satisfactory the senate decreed a public thanksgiving. [Supplicatio.] This supplication was so frequently the forerunner of a triumph, that Cato thinks it necessary to remind Cicero that it was not invariably so (Cic. ad Fam. XV.5). After the war was 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 Bellona (e.g. Liv. XXVI.21, XXXVI.39) or Apollo (Liv. XXXIX.4), 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 and restrictions were for the most part rigidly enforced, although the senate assumed the discretionary power of relaxing them in special cases.

  1. That no one could be permitted to triumph unless he had held the office of dictator, of consul, or of praetor (Liv. XXVIII.38, Liv. XXXI.20). Hence a triumph was not allowed to P. Scipio after he had expelled the Carthaginians from Spain, because he had commanded in that province "sine ullo magistratu" (Val. Max. II.8 §5; Liv. l.c.). The honours granted to Pompey, who triumphed in his 24th year (B.C. 81), before he had held any of the great offices of state, and again two years afterwards, while still a simple eques, were altogether unprecedented (Liv. Epit. 89; Cic. pro Leg. Man. 21; Vell. Pat. II.30; Val. Max. VIII.15 §8; Plut. Pomp. 14,º 22; Dion Cass. XXXVI.8).

  2. 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 person to whom the senate ever granted a "prorogatio imperii" after the termination of a magistracy (Liv. VIII.26), and thenceforward proconsuls and propraetors were permitted to triumph without question (Liv. XXXIX.45, XL.25, 34), although for a considerable time the event was of rare occurrence. It was long held, however, that it was necessary for the "prorogatio imperii" to follow immediately upon the termination of the magistracy, for a triumph was refused to L. Lentulus, who succeeded P. Scipio in Spain, on the ground that, although he had been formerly praetor, his imperium had not been continued uninterruptedly from the period when the command expired, but had been renewed "extra ordinem" after a lapse of some years (Liv. XXXI.20). But towards the close of the republic this principle was entirely abandoned. Consuls and praetors seldom quitted the city until their term of office had ceased, and when at any subsequent period they entered upon the government of a province, either in regular rotation or "extra ordinem", they enjoyed the full status and all the privileges of proconsuls and propraetors. The position of Pompey when sent against the pirates and afterwards against Mithridates, and of Cicero when he went to Cilicia, will be sufficient to illustrate this without multiplying examples.

  3. 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 (Liv. XXXI.48, XXXIV.10; Val. Max. II.8 §2),​b and hence the triumph of the praetor Furius (Liv. XXXI.49) was considered irregular and imperfect. Thus if a victory was gained by the legatus of 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.

  4. That at least 5000 of the enemy should have been slain in a single battle (Val. Max. II.8 §1), that the advantage should have been positive and not merely a compensation for some previous disaster (Oros. V.4), and that the loss on the part of the Romans should have been small compared with that of their adversaries (Liv. XXXIII.22). By a law of the tribunes L. Marius and M. Cato penalties were imposed upon all Imperatores who should be found guilty of having made false returns to the senate, and it was ordained that so soon as they returned to the city they should be required to attest the correctness of such documents upon oath before the city quaestor (Val. Max. l.c.). It is  p1165 clear that these provisions could never have existed during the petty contests with which Rome was fully occupied for some centuries; and even when wars were waged upon the most extensive scale we find many instances of triumphs granted for general results, without reference to the numbers slain in any one engagement (e.g. Liv. VIII.26, Liv. XL.38).

  5. That the war should have been a legitimate contest against public foes (justis hostilibusque bellis, Cic. pro Deiot. 5), and not a civil contest.​c 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. Hence the line in Lucan (I.12):

    "Bella geri placuit nullos habitura triumphos."

    (See Val. Max. II.8 §7; Dion Cass. XLIII.42; Plut. Caes. 56.) [Ovatio.]

  6. That the dominion of the state should have been extended and not merely something previously lost regained. Hence Fulvius, who won back Capua after its revolt to Hannibal, did not receive a triumph (Val. Max. l.c.; compare Liv. XXXI.5, XXXVI.1). The absolute acquisition of territory does not appear to have been essential (Duker, ad Liv. XXXI.5).

  7. That 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. In consequence of this condition not being fulfilled an ovation only was granted to Marcellus after the capture of Syracuse (Liv. XXVI.21, compare XXVIII.29, XXX.48) and to L. Manlius upon his return from Spain (Liv. XXXIX.29). We find an exception in Liv. XXXI.48, 49, but this and similar cases must be regarded as examples of peculiar favour (See also Tacit. Ann. I.55, compared with II.41).

The senate claimed the exclusive right of deliberating upon all these points and giving or withholding the honour sought (Liv. III.63; Polyb. VI.15),º and they 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 fathers (Liv. III.63; Dionys. XI.50), and in a similar manner to C. Marcius Rutilus the first plebeian dictator (Liv. VII.17), while L. Postumius Megellus, consul B.C. 294, celebrated a triumph, although resisted by the senate and seven out of the ten tribunes (Liv. X.37). Nay more, 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 people, was accompanied by his daughter (or sister) Claudius, a vestal virgin, and by her interposition saved from being dragged from his chariot by a tribune (Oros. V.4; Cic. pro Coel. 14; Val. Max. V.4 §6; Suet. Tib. 2). A disappointed general, however, seldom ventured to resort to such violent measures, but satisfied himself with going through the forms on the Alban Mount, a practice first introduced by C. Papirius Maso, and thus noticed in the Capitoline Fasti: C. Papirius Maso cos. de Corseis primus in monte Albano III. Nonas Mart. an. DXXII (Plin. H. N. XV.38). His example was followed by Marcellus (Liv. XXVI.21; Plut. Marc. 22), by Q. Minucius (Liv. XXXIII.23), and by many others, so that Livy (XLII.21) after mentioning that the senate had refused a triumph to Cicereius (praetor B.C. 173) adds, "in monte Albano, quod jam in morem venerat, triumphavit" (see also Liv. XLV.38).

If the senate gave their consent they at the same time voted a sum of money towards defraying the necessary expenses (Polyb. VI.15),º 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 (Liv. XLV.35, Liv. XXVI.21). 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; and in this manner the resolution of the senate was, as it were, ratified by the plebs. [Imperium, Paludamentum.] 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.

Such were the preliminaries, and it only now remains to describe the order of the procession. This in ancient days was sufficiently simple. The leaders of the enemy and the other prisoners were led along in advance of the general's chariot, the military standards were carried before the troops who followed laden with plunder, banquets were spread in front of every door, and the populace brought up the rear in a joyous band, filled with good cheer, chanting songs of victory, jeering and bantering as they went along with the pleasantries customary on such occasions (Liv. III.29). But 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 follow. When the day appointed had arrived the whole population poured forth from their abodes in holiday attire, some stationed themselves on the steps of the public buildings in the forum and along the Via Sacra, while others mounted scaffoldings erected for the purpose of commanding a view of the show. The temples were all thrown open, garlands of flowers decorated every shrine and image, and incense smoked on every altar (Plut. Aemil. Paul. 32; Dion Cass. LXXIV.1). Meanwhile the Imperator called an assembly of his soldiers, delivered an oration 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 Triumphalis (where this gate was is a question which we cannot here discuss; see Cic. in Pis. 23; Suet. Octav. 101; Josephus, B. J. VII.24), where he was met by the whole body of the senate  p1166 headed by the magistrates. The procession then defiled in the following order.

  1. The Senate headed by the magistrates (Dion Cass. LI.21; Serv. ad Virg. Aen. IV.543).

  2. A body of trumpeters.

  3. A train of carriages and frames (Josephus, B. J. VII.24) laden 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 (Suet. Jul. 37). Boards were 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 (Quinctil. VI.3) of the cities and forts captured (Plin. H. N. V.5), 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 horse furniture 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.

  4. A body of flute-players.

  5. 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 holy vessels and instruments.

  6. Elephants or any other strange animals, natives of the conquered districts.

  7. The arms and insignia of the leaders of the foe.

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

  9. The coronae and other tributes of respect and gratitude bestowed on the Imperator by allied kings and states.

  10. The lictors of the Imperator in single file, their fasces wreathed with laurel (Plin. H. N. XV.40).º

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  11. The Imperator himself in a circular chariot of a peculiar form (Zonar. VII.21) drawn by four horses, which were sometimes, though rarely, white (Plut. Camill. 7; Serv. l.c.; Dion Cass. XLIII.14). The circular form of the chariot is seen in the preceding cut, copied from a marble formerly in the possession of the Duke d'Alcala at Seville (Montfaucon, Ant. Exp. vol. IV pl. CV), and also in the following cut, which represents the reverse of one of the coins of the Antonines.

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    He was attired in a gold embroidered robe (toga picta) and flowered tunic (tunica palmata), he bore in his right hand a laurel bough (Plut. Paull. 34),º and in his left a sceptre (Dionys. V.47; Val. Max. IV.4 §5), his brows were encircled with a wreath of Delphic laurel (Plin. H. N. XV.38, 39), in addition to which, in ancient times, his body was painted bright red (Plin. H. N. XXXIII.36).º He was accompanied in his chariot by his children of tender years (Liv. XLV.40; Tac. Ann. II.41), and sometimes by very dear or highly honoured friends (Dion Cass. LI.16, LXIII.20), while behind him stood a public slave holding over his head a golden Etruscan crown ornamented with jewels (Plin. H. N. XXXIII.4, Plin. H. N. XXVIII.7; Zonar. VII.21). 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, a little bell, and a scourge were attached to the vehicle (Plin. H. N. XXVIII.7; Zonar. VII.21). 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," and this statement is copied by Zonaras (l.c.), but is not confirmed by any earlier writer. Isidorus (XVIII.2), misunderstanding Pliny (Plin. H. N. XXVIII.7), imagines that the slave in question was a common executioner.

  12. Behind the chariot or on the horses which drew it (Zonar. l.c.) rode the grown-up sons of the Imperator, together with the legati, the tribuni (Cic. in Pis. 25), and the equites, all on horseback.

  13. The rear was brought up by the whole body of the infantry in marching order, their spears adorned with laurel (Plin. XV.40), some shouting Io Triumphe (Varro, L. L. V.7, ed. Müller; Hor. Carm. IV.2.49; Tibull. II.6.121), 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 (Liv. IV.53, V.49, XLV.38, Dionys. VII.72; Suet. Jul. 49, 51; Mart. I.5.3).

The arrangement of the procession as given above is taken, with some changes, from the treatise of Onuphrius Panvinius De Triumpho in the 9th volume of the Thesaurus of Graevius. The different particulars are all collected from the accounts transmitted to us of the most celebrated triumphs, such as that of Pompey in Appian (Bell. Mith. 116, 117), of Aemilius Paullus in Plutarch (Paull. 32), and in Livy (XLV.40), of Vespasian and Titus in Josephus (B.J. VII.5 §4, 5, 6), and of Camillus in Zonaras (VII.21), together with the remarks of Dionysius (II.34, V.47), Servius (ad Virg. Aen. IV.543), and Juvenal (Sat. X.38‑45).

Just as the pomp 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  p1167 the most unquestionable evidence (Cic. in Verr. V.30; Liv. XXVI.13; Joseph. VII.24). Pompey, indeed, refrained from perpetrating this atrocity in his third triumph (Appian, Bell. Mith. 117), and Aurelian on like occasion spared Zenobia, but these are quoted as exceptions to the general rule. When it was announced that these murders had been completed (Joseph. l.c.) the victims were then sacrificed, an offering from the spoils was presented to Jupiter, the laurel wreath was deposited in the lap of the god (Senec. Consol. ad Helv. 10; Plin. H. N. XV.40; Plin. Paneg. 8; Stat. Sylv. IV.1.41), the Imperator was entertained at a public feast along with his friends in the temple, and returned home in the evening preceded by torches and pipes, and escorted by a crowd of citizens (Flor. II.1). Plutarch (Q.R. 80)º and Valerius Maximus (II.8 §6) say that it was the practice to invite the consuls to this banquet, and then to send a message requiring them not to come, in order, doubtless, that the Imperator might be the most distinguished person in the company.

The whole of the proceedings, generally speaking, were brought to a close in one day, but when the quantity of plunder was very great, and the troops very numerous, a longer period was required for the exhibition, and thus the triumph of Flaminius continued for three days in succession (Liv. XXXIX.52; Plut. Aemil. Paull. 32).

But the glories of the Imperator did not end with the show nor even with his life. It was customary (we know not if the practice was invariable) to provide him at the public expense with a site for a house, such mansions being styled triumphales domus (Plin. XXXVI.24 §6). After death his kindred were permitted to deposit his ashes within the walls (such, at least, is the explanation given to the words of Plutarch, Q. R. 79),º and laurel-wreathed statues standing erect in triumphal cars, displayed in the vestibulum of the family mansion, transmitted his fame to posterity.

Triumphus Castrensis was a procession of the soldiers through the camp in honour of a tribunus or some officer, inferior to the general, who had performed a brilliant exploit (Liv. VII.36).

After the extinction of freedom the Emperor being considered as the commander-in‑chief 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 recognised and acted upon, for although Antonius had granted triumphs to his legati (Dion Cass. XLIX.42), and his example had been freely followed by Augustus (Suet. Octav. 38; Dion Cass. LIV. 11, 12) in the early part of his career, yet after the year B.C. 14 (Dion Cass. LIV.24), 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 and to appear in public with the robes worn by the Imperatores of the commonwealth when they triumphed, and to bequeath to their descendants triumphal statues. These triumphalia ornamenta are said to have been first bestowed upon Agrippa (Dion Cass. l.c.) or upon Tiberius (Suet. Octav. 9), and ever after were a common mark of the favour of the prince (Tacit. Ann. I.72, II.52, III.72, &c., Hist. I.79, II.78, &c.).

The last triumph ever celebrated was that of Belisarius,​d who entered Constantinople in a quadriga, according to the fashion of the olden time, after the recovery of Africa from the Vandals. The total number of triumphs of record down to this period has been calculated as amounting to 350. Orosius (VII.9) reckons 320 from Romulus to Vespasian, and Pitiscus (Lexic. Antiq. s.v. Triumphus) estimates the number from Vespasian to Belisarius at 30.

Thayer's Notes:

a A less scholar­ly but equally interesting and picturesque account of the Roman triumph, with some additional information taken from ancient sources, can be found in Chapter IX of Peacham's Valley of Varietie (1638).

b See also Vell. Pat. II.CXV.3.

c See also Flor. II.X.

d Or at least the last triumph celebrated by people wearing togas and speaking Latin. Such prestige and tradition attended the Roman triumph, however, that something as like one as possible was reënacted on December 4, 1571 for the entry into Rome of Marcantonio Colonna, the Italian victor at the naval battle of Lepanto.

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