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Augustan Roman Triumph

Augustan Roman Triumph

Augustus and the destruction of history: the politics of the past in early imperial Rome

The use (and abuse) of the past in the early days of the Roman empire has long been a central feature of studies of the Augustan principate. This volume—one of several to arise from the commemorations surrounding the bimillennium of Augustus’ death—continues this focus and argues that the Augustan relationship with the past was rooted in the ‘elimination of contingency from the historical process in the service of power’.[1] The idea seems to be that during his principate, Augustus sought to move away from ideas of historical time as an uncertainty, in which the future is unwritten towards an ideology of timelessness in which the Augustan Golden Age sat outside all temporal bounds and in which history itself came to an end. In doing so, of course, Augustus glossed over those moments when his grasp on power was less than secure or his actions could not be redeemed by ‘propaganda’. This has too often led scholars to inadvertently collude with the princeps in his ‘destruction of history’, for example by switching from chronological to thematic analysis in the aftermath of 27 BC, and by succumbing to the temptation to talk of a homogenous ‘Augustan age’. This volume challenges this tendency through a series of wide ranging and thought-provoking essays which attack the problem of Augustus’ relationship with the past from a variety of angles, each emphasising issues of ambiguity and complexity. The editors’ lengthy introduction does a very good job of highlighting the key themes of the work, as well as providing a detailed background to the specific arguments presented in the main chapters. They begin with an introduction to their key phrase, ‘the destruction of history’, which is used to refer to everything from the ‘forgetting of inconvenient facts and deliberate distortions to the factual record’[2] to the outright transformation of the idea of historical time discussed above. The remainder of the introduction is dedicated to a helpful discussion of the role of cultural memory in pre-Augustan Rome and the problems and challenges that traditional historiography faced upon the arrival of the triumviral period and Augustan principate.

The book proper opens with the two-chapter section, ‘(One Possible) Order out of Chaos’, in which Hodgson and Welch explore alternative histories of Octavian’s rise to power via examination of the roles of the liberatores and Antony respectively. Hodgson convincingly demonstrates that the common modern catchphrase libera res publica was relatively rare in the ancient sources and is used exclusively to refer to the system of government defined by libertas envisioned by Caesar’s assassins in the aftermath of his death. It thus represents ‘the road not taken’ and pushes back against the traditional assumption that ‘the Augustan principate was a solution without alternative to an inevitable crisis’.[3] In a similar vein, Welch’s chapter presents an alternative view of the Philippi campaign in which Antony takes on a greater role as avenger of Caesar than Octavian’s later attempts to monopolise that position would suggest. Ultimately, the presence of this alternative narrative represents the failure of Augustus’ attempt to fully ‘destroy history’.[4]

Section B, Augustan Plots, contains three chapters that explore the ways the princeps used recent Roman history to promote his rule in the present. Biesinger uses the examples of the ludi saeculares and the Forum Augustum to explore the princeps’ attempts to sanitise the recent past and depict the Augustan present as the culmination of the story of Rome, particularly in relation to military conquest. According to Biesinger, this physical approach to the commemoration of the present had an impact on the literary practice of historiography, limiting Roman historians to commenting only implicitly on contemporary affairs, as opposed to the explicit narratives of earlier authors such as Asinius Pollio and Sallust. Gotter focuses on the Greek idea of translatio imperii, via a fragment of Aemilius Sura preserved in Velleius.[5] He argues that Velleius’ depiction of Rome as the culmination in a succession of empires reflects an Augustan change in ideology with imperium replacing libertas as the guiding principle of the res publica. Finally, Havener examines the intersection between the fleeting ritual of the Roman triumph and more permanent forms of public memoria. He argues that although many republican aristocrats hope their victories would have a lasting impact on the public memory (as opposed to appearing simply as one in a long list), Augustus was the first to truly achieve this. He did so via the commemoration of his Parthian victory as the culmination of Rome’s triumphalist history. By installing the Fasti Triumphales Capitolini on the arch decreed to commemorate his Parthian victory, he placed that victory outside and above everything that had gone before, effectively ending the tradition of republican triumphs by implying that no one in future would exceed his achievements.

Section C, The Histories of Empowered Subalterns, shifts the focus to the role of individuals surrounding the princeps, beginning with Osgood’s essay on family history. Osgood demonstrates the lengths to which both elite and relatively undistinguished families went to promote their family lineage via a new set of rules that placed an increased emphasis on their ancestors’ virtues, as opposed to their offices, and on proximity and service to the princeps. Next, Russell’s paper on the senate and the Fasti Capitolini provides a reading of the Fasti very different from Havener’s earlier chapter, interpreting the inscription as an example of the senate’s inserting its own view of history into the developing historical discourse, emphasising continuity between past and future and resisting any ‘destruction of history’.

Section D, Historical Palimpsests, examines ‘the superimposition of Augustan over republican realities’[6] in both literature and material culture. Price’s chapter opens the section by examining Augustus’ transformation of the Roman Forum from a traditionally republican space into a thoroughly ‘Augustan’ one. She identifies an ambivalence in Augustan literature about the transformation of this space of concentrated republican public memory, and sees the difficulty inherent in Augustus’ inserting himself into the pre-existing competing narratives of the Forum as a contributing factor to his decision to construct his own forum, in which ‘history began and ended with himself’.[7] Lowe’s chapter on the Aeneid closes the section by examining allusions to contemporary politics in Virgil’s Aeneid, sensibly emphasising the variety of such allusions and cautioning that Virgil should be seen as ‘more a logographer than ideologue’.[8] Though Virgil is clearly not impartial when it comes to Augustus, his allusions to republican history need not all be in service of a unified political message and can often simply add colour, especially since he knew many of the individuals being referred to only as characters on the page.

The final section consists of a single chapter that serves as an epilogue to the volume. Here Geisthardt and Gildenhard examine the idea of history from the late-republic down to the reign of Trajan via case studies focused on Catullus, Virgil, and Tacitus. The authors trace the engagement of these writers with Rome’s past, and particularly with the Trojan origins of the city, from Catullus’ tragic and pessimistic view in poem 64, through Virgil’s epic story of destiny culminating in the Augustan age, to Tacitus’ use of Trojan allusions to depict the recent imperial past as ‘an aberration with dire consequences for Rome’s political (and literary) culture’.[9]

Overall, this is a highly thought-provoking book. Despite the multiple authors there are clear arguments that run throughout and a strong sense of collaboration between contributors. Both editors and contributors should be congratulated for ensuring such a high level of overall thematic unity. On one level, many of the arguments presented here are relatively uncontroversial and will come as little surprise to anyone familiar with Augustan scholarship. It is clear that the Augustan regime was acutely aware of the ‘politics of the past’ and sought to manipulate that past to the benefit of the present through a complex process of forgetting, distorting, and overwriting. Examples of this kind of engagement with history (with varying levels of success) are convincingly presented in most of the essays in the book. However, what is more controversial, and less persuasive, is the assertion that this engagement with the past formed part of a more wide-ranging programme concerned with the ‘destruction of history’ on the part of Augustus, in which he sought to eliminate the very idea of history itself and place his principate outside temporal bounds as a culminative, timeless, ‘Golden Age’. On first impression this theory does seem to be supported by some of the examples presented throughout the book (e.g. the Forum Augustum), but it also necessarily side-lines those occasions where Augustus can be seen looking toward the future, not least in his famous obsession with the succession and his determination in the Res Gestae to offer a particular reading of his career (implying that there are, and will, be others). Nevertheless, the book remains an important and valuable resource for students of the Augustan period and is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the ‘politics of the past’ and cultural memory more generally.

Authors and titles

Attending to the Past: On the Politics of Time in Ancient Rome, Ingo Gildenhard, Ulrich Gotter, Wolfgang Havener, and Louise Hodgson
A. (One Possible) Order out of Chaos
1. Libera Res Publica: The Road Not Taken, Louise Hodgson
2. History Wars: Who Avenged Caesar and Why Does It Matter? Kathryn Welch
B. Augustan Plots
3. Rupture and Repair: Patterning Time in Discourse and Practice (from Sallust to Augustus and Beyond), Benjamin Biesinger
4. The Succession of Empires and the Augustan Res Publica, Ulrich Gotter
5. Augustus and the End of ‘Triumphalist History’, Wolfgang Havener
C. The Histories of Empowered Subalterns
6. Family History in Augustan Rome, Josiah Osgood
7. The Augustan Senate and the Reconfiguration of Time on the Fasti Capitolini, Amy Russell
D. Historical Palimpsests
8. Flooding the Roman Forum, Hannah Price
9. Dust in the Wind: Late Republican History and the Aeneid
E. Epilogue
10. Trojan Plots: Conceptions of History in Catullus, Virgil, and Tacitus, Johannes Geisthardt and Ingo Gildenhard

[4] Although the extent to which this was a coordinated programme on the part of Augustus is debatable (see below). The survival of these ‘alternative histories’ could simply stem from a lack of interest in rooting out opposition (cf. Suet. Aug. 51.3 on Augustus’ toleration of criticism).

Augustan Roman Triumph - History

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, ऺs for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another every one of them will be thrown down.” (Luke 21: 5-6)

When the view of the Temple finally reached the eyes of Titus in 70 AD, he must have marveled at the glory in a similar fashion. Titus and his father, the great Emperor Vespasian, had been squelching the rebellion throughout Palestine and Syria since 69, and when his father’s services were called upon in Egypt, Titus was entrusted with the command of the Roman Army to complete the crushing of the rebellion.

Titus marched upon Jerusalem to find the city in a state of disarray. Three separate groups of Zealots had emerged, each desiring to take control of the struggling rebellion. Furthermore, the time of year had arrived for the Jewish Passover, their largest religious holiday during which all of the Jews came into Jerusalem to make sacrifices at the Temple, making the city crowded and chaotic.

By means of a siege, Titus quickly took over the two outer walls of the heavily-fortified city, after which he came upon Herod’s Temple. Although less-grand than the original temple—that of Solomon which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC—this temple was still a sight to behold. Most importantly it was the place where the one and only God of the Jews resided, the holiest site in all of Israel, therefore the Jews fought passionately for its protection. After a failed attempt to starve out the resistance, the Romans launched a full-scale attack over the wall surrounding the temple. In the heat of battle however, a Roman soldier threw a flaming firebrand onto the roof of the temple and as the temple was burning about him, Titus entered the temple and beheld the Holy of Holies, a site previously viewed only by Jewish priests. The Romans seized several items from within the temple, most significantly a large menorah, the seven-branched candlestick symbolizing the Jews as a light to the world.

After Titus and his army finished stomping out the rebellion, they returned to Rome to find that he, his brother Domitian, and his father had each been officially awarded triumphs by the senate. Their individual efforts had each exceeded the five requirements set forth by the senate. First, they were each magistrates. Second, they had defeated the enemy in a just war against a foreign enemy, one sanctioned by the senate, thereby approved by the people and mandatory to the survival of the empire. Third, they had each killed well over 5,000 men. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly as it showed the glory of Rome and instilled pride and confidence in its people, they had returned with massive amounts of trophies and prisoners. Finally, the war was entirely complete which enabled the soldiers to return for the glorious celebration.

The most famous features of this magnificent arch are its intricately-detailed interior freizes. The north frieze shows Titus in the midst of his triumphal glory. He is depicted riding in his triumphal chariot drawn by four incredible, white horses. In the chariot with him rides Victory, on the verge of crowning Titus with a wreath of laurel, and the cart is being guided by Rome. On the opposite frieze, the proud returning Roman soldiers hoist the spoils from the temple of Jerusalem. Hundreds of years later, the silver trumpets and Table of Shewbread remain clearly visible. Most impressively, however, is the enormous seven-branched menorah that lies in the center of this relief, obviously the most glorious item in the entire triumph. The prisoners of war march dejectedly before the soldiers, anticipating their approaching death.

The outside of the arch may have originally contained additional friezes showing the triumph. The arch, however, was incorporated into a wall of the Frangipane family in the middle ages when large, powerful families were battling for control of Rome. Although the outside of the arch was destroyed in the process, and even more was significantly damaged in wars of the 12th and 13th centuries, in many ways the wall around the arch served to conserve this monument just as other structures throughout Rome built over ancient structures served to preserve them.

The arch itself ascends over the Via Sacra at its highest point. Approaching the arch from the East, one walks on the Via Sacra traveling along the exact route of the ancient triumphs. Deep grooves from chariots traveling this busy road remain in the large stones of which it was paved long ago.

As the triumph itself was the closest thing to the true ethos of the Romans, triumphal arches served as constant reminders of past glory and present security and domination. In ancient times, mounted on top of the arch would have been a large statue made of bronze or another precious metal. An additional figure atop this already daunting monument resting at the peak of the Via Sacra would have made its presence even more well-known, serving as a constant reminder of the overshadowing presence and power of the Roman Empire.

Above all else, the triumph itself was a religious event. The triumphators painted their faces red to symbolize their intimate contact with the Roman god Jupiter, whose temple was the ultimate destination of the procession. They were so close to the god that they were seen as mediators between the god and the people. For this reason, they had the honor of sacrificing two huge white bulls at the Temple of Jupiter as propitiation for the crimes of war which the army had committed. Since the triumphator was in such close proximity to this powerful god, and an event as impressive as the triumph could instill pride on the one who was the focus of the parade, a slave was in the chariot with the ruler whispering, “Remember you are mortal.”

The presence of the triumph can be clearly seen throughout Roman architecture today. Numerous grand monuments proudly display enormous statues of the magnificent triumphal chariot being drawn by four glorious steeds. The inscribed arch is a common motif used to mark the presence of a significant path in the lives of the Romans.

The triumph still stirs the hearts of all who encounter it today, just as it must have to the Romans of old. Its true significance of the triumph is encapsulated in the quote from Robert Payne’s The Roman Triumph.

The highest honor open to a Roman was the honor of a triumph: For this men fought, intrigued, suffered, and died. For the honor of a triumph immense sums of money were expended, innumerable people were needlessly killed, vast treasures were dissipated, and whole countries laid waste. The economy of Europe, Africa, and Asia was mercilessly disrupted, and a hundred cities and a hundred thousand towns were pillaged, so that the conquerors could return laden with plunder to Roma and show what they had accomplished. But, the same battles had to be fought over and over again, and when at last the Empire was falling into ruins, the emperors were still inscribing Pax Aeterna on their coins, when there was no peace, nor any hope of peace.

Payne, Robert. “The Roman Triumph.” New York, 1962.

Romae, Mirabilia Urbis. “The Marvels of Rome.” New York, 1986.

Yarden, Leon. "The spoils of Jerusalem on the Arch of Titus : A
Re-Investigation". Stockholm, 1991.

Zaho, Margaret Ann. “Imago Tiumphalis: The Function and Significance of
Triumphal Imagery for Italian Renaissance Rulers.” New York, 2004.

The UW KnowledgeWorks software used to create this site was developed by the The Program for Educational Transformation Through Technology at the University of Washington.

Augustan Roman Triumph - History

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
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 [email protected] University. http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:38641.

Fasti triumphales.
Benoît, Rossignol. Fasti triumphales. Licensed under Public Domain by Wikimedia. 28 October 2011. http://commons.wikimedia.org

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
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 [email protected] 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
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 [email protected] University. http://digital.library.villanova.edu/Item/vudl:38641.


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
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 [email protected] 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 2 nd 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 2 nd 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
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
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
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 [email protected] Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Montgomery_Alabama_WWI_parade.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


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.

Augustan Age

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Augustan Age, one of the most illustrious periods in Latin literary history, from approximately 43 bc to ad 18 together with the preceding Ciceronian period (q.v.), it forms the Golden Age (q.v.) of Latin literature. Marked by civil peace and prosperity, the age reached its highest literary expression in poetry, a polished and sophisticated verse generally addressed to a patron or to the emperor Augustus and dealing with themes of patriotism, love, and nature. One decade alone, 29 to 19 bc , saw the publication of Virgil’s Georgics and the completion of the Aeneid the appearance of Horace’s Odes, Books I–III, and Epistles, Book I the elegies (Books I–III) of Sextus Propertius, a member of a group of promising young poets under the patronage of Gaius Maecenas and Books I–II of the elegies of Tibullus, who was under the patronage of Messalla. During those 10 years also, Livy began his monumental history of Rome, and another historian, Pollio, was writing his important but lost history of recent events. Ovid, the author of Metamorphoses, a mythological history of the world from the creation to the Augustan Age, was the last great writer of the Golden Age his death in exile in ad 17 marked the close of the period.

By extension, the name Augustan Age also is applied to a “classical” period in the literature of any nation, especially to the 18th century in England and, less frequently, to the 17th century—the age of Corneille, Racine, and Molière—in France. Some critics prefer to limit the English Augustan Age to a period covered by the reign of Queen Anne (1702–14), when writers such as Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, Sir Richard Steele, John Gay, and Matthew Prior flourished. Others, however, would extend it backward to include John Dryden and forward to take in Samuel Johnson.


The fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of Imperial Rome remains the central story that underpins all attempts to understand later-day Roman history.

Anthony Everitt's biography has at its heart the individual who personifies the historical transformation. Octavian, the man who became Caesar Augustus, was adopted posthumously by his great uncle, Julius Caesar. His adopted name gave him enormous gravitas in the years immediately following Caesar's murder, as did the enormous wealth that came with it. But Octavian was not an outsider to wealth and privileged. This was no upstart from the fields, or slave made good, Octavian was a Roman, and he fought to ensure the continuation of Rome.

The story of Octavian and his transformation into Augustus brings into play many of the great figures of Roman history. There is of course Julius Caesar, and Augustus' great rival, Mark Anthony. There is also Cleopatra, and to a lesser extent other wives and mistresses. Everitt also introduces many of the poets who were part of Augustus' circle. Though occasionally I felt lack of material meant that Everitt strays a little from his topic, delighting, on occasion, in salubrious detail. (Did we really need that Horace poem on his wet dream)?

That aside this is a useful and readable account of the period. A nice summary of Anthony and Cleopatra the stories of Augustus' limitations as a military commander and the genius of those (Agrippa in particular) who laid the basis for Rome's Empire.

Whether named Octavian or Augustus, the subject of this biography is far from the fair minded ruler that some later Emperors claimed to wish to emulate. He was ruthless and violent. Whether or not he had Cleopatra murdered as some suggest, he certainly made sure her heirs were killed. Octavian was given "a personality makeover" even while alive. Stories were spread to convince the rest of the world that "the young revolutionary whose career had been founded on illegality and violence a respectable, conservative pedigree."

At the core of this book is this notion of revolution. To what extent did Augustus revolutionise Rome? There is no doubt that both Augustus and the other two members of his Triumvir engaged in a vicious, brutal fight to ensure they gained power. The destruction of much of the old Roman ruling class and the absorption of their wealth and land into the new Roman state seems, on the surface, revolutionary. Yet there seems more continuity in other respects. Roman remained a society based on slavery, and its political institutions, at least at a senate and regional level seemed very similar. And there was little between Augustus and his main rival Anthony, as Everitt comments, the "choice was simply between two kinds of autocracy: tidy and efficient, or laid-back and rowdy."

The Marxist historian of Rome, Neil Faulkner, has a different analysis. Rather than the revolutionary Augustus, he sees a stabilising force:

"Caesar’s brief rule in 45 to 44 BC was also ‘absolutist’-it was, in effect, that of a military dictator governing against the opposition of much of the ruling class but with strong popular backing. Caesarism was a form of what Marxists call ‘Bonapartism’. It arises when a clash of class forces produces chronic instability but no clear outcome-when there is no revolutionary class able to seize power for itself and remodel society in its own image. In such circumstances, revolutionary leadership can be ‘deflected’-it may devolve on ‘strongmen’ who lift themselves above the warring factions, building support by promising popular reform and a restoration of order, and maintaining power by balancing between evenly matched class forces. Caesar, the imperialist warlord and popular reformer, provided ‘deflected’ leadership to the Roman Revolution, and, once in power, ‘Bonapartist’ leadership to the fractured Roman state. His immediate successor, Octavian-Augustus (30 BC to AD 14), who became the first emperor, led a conservative reaction which largely restored the unity of a Roman ruling class that was now purged, enlarged and more open to recruitment from below. It was this that distinguished Caesar from Augustus, not that one was a democrat and the other an absolutist."

The "Roman Revolution" had begun some years earlier and Augustus was, in large part, consolidating earlier change. But it was less a revolution and more, in Faulkner's words, of "a struggle between aristocratic factions over the future of empire". By strengthening the Roman state, expanding and developing it, Augustus was making it into the system that could govern most of the known world. In this context Augustus was less of a revolutionary and more the figure who ensured that change became permanent.

It might be suggested that this is a minor part of Everitt's book. But it does get to the heart of who Augustus was. While much of the biography is readable and fascinating and an excellent introduction to Roman history, I felt the core argument lacked strength and undermined the viability of the whole work. That said, this is a complicated period that has challenged all those who have tried to understand those turbulent Roman years. While I don't agree with all of Everitt's conclusions, his book is an excellent introduction and will give readers a useful over-view of the subject.

Related Reviews

Augustan Roman Triumph - History

Jerusalem fell. No matter how zealous they were, or how determined they were, those barbaric Jews should never even dreamed of challenging the absolute right of Roman rule.

The great poet Virgil had made this point clear in his Aeneid nearly a century ago. Those who question the rule of the Empire will vanquish! Fools! How dare they shame our Gods! We privileged them to be a self-governed section, and this is how these arrogant fools repay the favor? Our Gods will not allow such disgrace! If their temples do not honour our Gods, then let them burn! Let this be an example for all!

In 66 the Jews declared independence from the Roman Empire. This action infuriated the emperor Roman legions led by Titus Flavius were sent to punish the Jews. After four years Titus's army sacked the city of Jerusalem, putting an end to the bitter rebellion. Titus burned the Jewish Holy Temple of Solomon and brought back to Rome the most sacred relics in Jewish faith: the Menorah, the seven-branched golden candelabrum that represented the nation of Israel. It demonstrated the idea that the nation of Israel would accomplish its goals by setting an example for other nations, not by force, hence the term "a light unto the nations".

Now, ironically, the Menorah lay in the hands of the Romans, taken by force.

This war deserved a celebration. Romans loved seeing the Triumph, where the victorious Roman army marched in the city to show off the loot and captives.
Now Titus could parade the city with his soldiers and his spoils of war, to show the fellow Romans how valiant he had been, and how successful this war was. To have a triumph granted by the Roman Senate, all he needed was to face 5,000 enemies of a foreign nation he captured 50,000. Even more importantly, this war protected the honor of the Empire this war ensured the supremecy of Roman power. If this would not get him a Triumph, nothing would.

Of course, the Triumph of Titus was one of the greatest triumphs ever held.

Roman Senators, spoils of war (including the Menorah) and captured Jewish generals lead the parade but that was but a minor part of what the citizens of Rome came for. They came out to cheer for their valiant sons and brothers, the shining future of the empire. "Here comes Titus the Imperator!" Citizens cried out as the great man's chariot finally appeared from Campus Martius. Clothed in toga made of purple silk, crowned with wreath embroidered in laurel, proudly, there rode Titus, the pride of Rome! The smile! The gestures! Citizens cried to cheer for him!
"io triumph", "Io Triumph"! Welcome back! Valiant sons of Rome!

The appearance of Titus and his soldiers marked the peak of the parade. Musicians blew their horns, dancers showed their moves, commoners cheered and yelled, and children chased after the chariots: this procession absorbed everyone everyone loved this celebration.

The Temple of Jupiter lay in front of the procession. Here the procession marched into a complete stop, and Titus offered two giant white bulls to Jupiter, thanking the God for watching over Rome. In addition to the appeasement and the show of gratitude, Titus also asked for a favor from Jupiter: the soldiers justly and honorably protected the Empire by plunging into the river of blood and guilt only Jupiter could cleanse them and purify them.

After the purification and sacrifice, the last of the rituals began. For the Roman citizens it was merely a performance, yet for the captured generals it marked the end of their lives.

O great Jupiter, here we present you the leaders of the enemies of state! Those who dare to offend you must not live. Off, off with their heads!

The Colloseum side of the ceiling contains this inscription: "Senatus Populusque Romanus Divo Tito Divi Vespasiani Filio Vespasiano Augusto", or, "the Roman Senate and People to Deified Titus, Vespasian Augustus, son of Deified Vespasian". The Senate and people honoured Titus by dedicating this triumphal arch to him.

The two relief panels on the side of the passageway make up the core of this arch. The first relief shows the spoils of war from the Temple of Solomon: The Menorah, the Altar, the trumpets, and the placards. What is remarkable about this relief is its depth and perspective. The spoils procession, heading towards a honourary arch, is lead by the Altar and followed by the Menorah, but the arch is much smaller in size compared to the Menorah hence the arch must appear from a distance. The Menorah party is also considerably larger than the Altar carriers. As a result, the Menorah appears much closer to the observer, and this generates a sense of realism in the procession.

The second relief shows Titus in his quadriga, a royal chariot drawn by four horses, riding with the winged goddess of victory on his shoulders. Similar to the first relief, Titus also appears closer to the observer. Together the two reliefs complete the core of Titus' triumph procession. Furthermore, this imaginary procession faced in the actual direction of the real triumph procession, proceeding from the Colloseum to the Palatine Hills through Via Sacra.

When a traveler walks under the arch, he could look up into the vault and find the carving of Titus riding on an eagle. The sacred eagle is the messenger sent by the Gods. It would carry Titus to Heaven, where the deceased emperor shall continue to watch over the people from above.

Although the arch today seems to have survived two thousand years of wear and tear, and it may appear in a great shape, it actually is not. The first major reconstruction came during the Middle Ages when the Frangipani family, then ruler of Rome, incorporated the arch into their city wall. Huge holes were punched into the wall to make places for beams. Later the wall was taken down and the arch was saved, though in quite a mess. Miraculously, the reliefs were preserved in great condition.

My own research had shown that the seven-branched golden Menorah was the core relic for Jewish faith. The Holy Book prohibited the remake of seven-branched holy Menorah with any material, yet Professor Michael and Debra both told me the holy Menorah had nine branches.

Confused, I looked up more information: the Menorah in Solomon's Temple was originally seven branched, but in re-dedication of the Temple the new Menorah had nine branches. Legend has it that the candles of Menorah lasted eight days, even though supposedly they were meant to last for only one day. So the new Menorah had nine branches, where one central branch was used to light the other eight. The name of the central branch is Shamash, name for the Jewish God of Sun.

Macadam, Alta. "Blue Guide: Rome". A&C Black: 2003.

Steves, Rick. "Rick Steves' Italy 2004". Avalon Travel Publishing, 2003

Yarden, Leon. "The spoils of Jerusalem on the Arch of Titus : a re-investigation". Stockholm, 1991

Zaho, "The History of the Roman Triumph". Honors Summer Italian Packet 1, University of Washington Copy Center, 2003

The UW KnowledgeWorks software used to create this site was developed by the The Program for Educational Transformation Through Technology at the University of Washington.

Augustus&apos work with the senate

Augustus’ revitalisation of the senate highlighted how Augustus maintained a prevalent auctoritas of the senate, despite revoking his official powers in 23 BC. Augustus’ auctoritas and work with the senate over the senate was delineated through his statement, “I excelled all in auctoritas,” which commented on how Augustus was able to pass laws himself through several ways. Augustus’ 𠆊uctoritas’ that Augustus explained referenced to how he utilised his Tribunicia potestas (from 23 BC onwards) in order to present bills to the people.

This was clear through how Augustus could take action through judicial decisions, which was especially evident through his treatment of the Aediles as their traditional functions were taken away gradually. For instance, Cassius Dio ( Roman History, page 375), had explained that “In this same year. the praetors and the tribunes performed the aediles&apos duties,” which essentially referred to the role of the aediles from 22 BC- 6 AD.

Augustus and the Legions

Augustus, like the imperator generals before him, garnered the bulk of his political strength from the Roman armies. Loyalty of the various legions in the Late Republic had always been mainly to their individual generals, as opposed to the Senate, or Rome itself. As Augustus emerged the victor in the final civil war to end the Republic, the situation for him was no different, and the settlement of the military issue was of paramount importance.

Soon after his return from Egypt, and the official ascension as Augustus, the issue was at the top of a long list of reforms. According to his own 'Res Gestae' Augustus quickly dismissed as many as 300,000 troops from active service. In this however, he seemingly didn't show preferential treatment to his own armies, but allowed any who wished to retire the right to do so, while keeping the willing men from both his and Antony's troops as part of a new standing army. The remaining legions, some 150,000 men strong, were organized into 28 total legions and spread throughout the empire. This new professional army would be paid a salary directly by the emperor, ensuring loyalty to Augustus, and after 6 AD, payments were to come from a new public treasury (the aerarium militare). Those troops which had been retired from service were given the customary grants of land, but after 14 BC, Augustus instituted a retirement pension for the legions, granting cash payments in lieu of land rewards.

Further organizing the legions as a professional army, the military became an actual career choice for Italian and provincial citizens alike. Terms of service were originally instituted at 16 years to qualify for retirement packages, but this was later extended to 20 years. In so doing, the concept of massive conscripts in times of war, thereby taking citizens from other necessary occupations, was mostly avoided. As an added benefit, this new professional career allowed the common poor new opportunities without being reliant solely on the state welfare system. Though spoils of war could still be shared among the troops, soldiers could now look forward to regular pay without commanders forcing a campaign simply to provide looting opportunities.

At the time of Augustus and through to the mid 1st century AD, it's been estimated that the legions were composed of up to 70% Italian recruits. As time went by and the placement of legions, which were always on the frontiers, was established for long periods, the legions became less reliant on men from the Italian peninsula. Under Claudius and Nero, the number of Italian recruits dropped to just fewer than 50%, and that number continued to decline over the next century. By the time of Hadrian, Italians made up only 1% of the total legion compliments. Under Augustus, however, provincial non citizens also had military opportunities in the restructured auxilia. Though the auxilia was still mostly an 'as needed' operation in the early empire, it's been estimated that auxilia soldiers represented at least an equal number of active soldiers to that of the citizen army. The status, however, was ever evolving and it wouldn't be long before they were really a permanent part of the standing army. Auxiliaries could also receive regular pay from the treasury, though at a lesser amount, had similar terms of service and had access to variable retirement benefits. The chief of these benefits could be the rewarding of citizenship, on the non-citizen provincial and his family, making them eligible for all the perks of being a 'Roman'.

To command his legions, Augustus, and each successive emperor, also turned to those closest to them. No longer was command bestowed through the Senatorial hierarchy, but the practice of choosing the best was still sadly ignored. Having close relations to or being an intimate member of the emperors' inner circle usually carried more merit than one's actual battlefield capability. Under Augustus, the bulk of this duty fell to his close friend Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, his stepsons Tiberius and Drusus (along with his son Germanicus), and even later his grandsons Gaius and Lucius Caesar. In the early empire, unrelated but successful men like Marcus Licinius Crassus (grandson of the first triumvir) created problems for Augustus.

Many generals still viewed military service in the old Republican fashion, where success should be met with triumphs and personal rewards. In the case of Crassus, his exceptional success in the Balkans very early in Augustus' tenure highlighted the potential for disaster. Crassus' demand of a triumph as well as the spolia opima (or ultimate spoils) could've potentially placed the loyalty of the men serving him in serious doubt. During the principate, the legions were to be loyal to the emperor himself and not the Legates who served him. Augustus did possibly grant the triumph but Crassus seems to have been quickly removed from service and essentially disappears from the historical record afterward. Another of Augustus' early governors, C. Cornelius Gallus the prefect of Egypt, lauded himself with rewards. Statues erected with glorifying inscriptions resulting from victories over neighboring tribes and revolting provincials, were a source of both anger and distrust for Augustus. Gallus' behavior led ultimately to his own suicide (by 26 BC), certainly under pressure from Rome.

As the new constitutional arrangements of Augustus began to alter the fabric of Roman government, it was imperative that this Republican military ideology cease to exist. From the incident with Crassus onward, the emperor was solely responsible for the victories of men in the field. If a triumph was due, it was the emperor who received it. Even Agrippa the close confidant of Augustus, perhaps understanding this fundamental change in philosophy more than any other, refused all such personal honors and allowed Augustus to celebrate Agrippa's victories as if they were truly his own. Of course, the emperor, at least in the case of those who were strong enough to pull it off, was exempt from blame in the case of military disaster and these could be blamed entirely on the commanders. Still, the life of a legate could be one of supreme honor, respect and wealth. They simply had to understand the new rules and forego the honors of the Republican era. The emperor further solidified the legions as his own, by ensuring that each legionary swear a personal oath of loyalty directly to him. Essentially the emperor was not only the source of the soldier's pay, but he was truly the commander-in-chief and patron. In the case of Augustus, it didn't hurt that he was considered a living god.

1. Brutal Memorial

Augustus revered his great-uncle and adoptive father, Julius Caesar, even long after the legendary general’s death. He was so committed to Caesar’s memory, in fact, that he once ordered an absolutely horrific sacrifice to be held on the Ides of March, the anniversary of Caesar’s assassination (today we’d call it March 15th, but the Romans had a flair for the dramatic). 300 prisoners taken from the recent Perusine War were killed on the altar of Caesar in Rome, all to show how much the emperor respected the man who set the foundation for his rule.