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Грачева А.Д.

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Roman triumph (Latin: triumphus) - the solemn return of a general and his troops to Rome after a victorious war. Initially, the triumph was simply the arrival of a victorious army in the capital, but over time, the triumph turned into a solemn celebration of the triumphant general in the image of a god and became a real holiday for the inhabitants of Rome, which could last for several days.

The origin of triumphs appears among the Etruscans. This is a people who lived on the Apennine Peninsula and lived next to the Romans, who were later conquered by the latter. The Romans borrowed a lot from the conquered peoples (the arched vault, duels at funerals (gladiator fights), triumph is no exception. But the Romans did not blindly copy it, but reworked it to fit their own realities, to fit their own worldview. The word TRIUMPH is of Etruscan origin, and the Etruscans borrowed it from the Greeks "θρίαμβος", which means a hymn of praise in honor of the god Dionysus. The Romans, on the other hand, shouted "io triumphe" during their triumphs. I'm triumphant).

Originally, the Roman triumph was simply the return of a victorious army led by a general, whose first event was a sacrifice to the city's supreme god. A notable feature of this action was the demonstration of prisoners and loot. This is the essence of the triumph. The triumph came after every major company, as a matter of course. Once the ceremony was developed, there was a tradition to restrict it to being held only on special occasions. And it already required a permit The Senate.

The triumph had 2 aspects: religious and military

If we talk about the religious, then before going to the theater of military operations, the commander had to make auspiciums (this is divination by the flights of birds, animal cries and other divine omens) and made vows for success in the war. If the campaign was successful and he was granted a triumph by the Senate, it took the form of a procession to the Capitol, where he had to fulfill his vows and make sacrifices to the god Jupiter. This religious character of the triumph was emphasized by the fact that the general in the procession appeared in the form of a god. His clothes were the same as those of the god, and belonged to the temple, from which they were taken for this occasion. Later , the emperors could own it as their own. The God also owned a golden crown and scepter with an eagle, the general's body, at least in early times, was painted red, and the white chariot horses that the emperors often used resembled the white horses of Jupiter and the Sun.

Modern image of the triumphant commander
Modern image of the triumphant commander

No less important is the second aspect of the Roman triumph. A triumph is the last military event performed by a commander in the course of command. It is important that when it is performed, the commander has all the fullness of the military empire and is the supreme commander in the war. This could be a consul, praetor, or dictator (a special magistrate in a crisis). During the Empire period, the triumphant is already only the emperor, since he is the commander-in-chief.

After an important victory, the army proclaimed its commander emperor. He received fascias (i.e., buds of laurel twigs tied with a belt and with an axe in the middle) and a victory report decorated with laurels. After the general returned with the army to the vicinity of Rome, the next step was to obtain the consent of the Senate, but it could only be obtained if certain conditions were met:

1. The future victor was to be proclaimed emperor by the army.

2. Victory should have been won in a just struggle against the enemies of the State, not in a civil war or a slave revolt.

3. The victory had to be won during a major battle, in the stew, at least 5 thousand people were damaged in 1 battle. ( in the 1st century BC, the commander was required to confirm his information under oath, and there was a fine for falsifying data). Although there are many examples of providing triumphs for overall results. The victory was to be won with little blood on the part of Rome.

4. The war was supposed to be over so that the army could be withdrawn, and the presence of the victorious army was part of the ceremony, but circumstances eventually required the presence of standing armies at a great distance from Italy, and this rule was abolished. Also, a major victory in a large-scale or prolonged war could be rewarded with triumphs.

5. Permission of the Senate. To discuss the granting or not granting of a triumph, the Senate met outside the city walls in the temple of Bellona (the goddess of war, was part of the retinue of Mars), Apollo. This was done so that the general could personally defend his claims to triumph. If the Senate did not allow a triumph, then it could offer an OVATION (a small triumph, instead of sacrificing a bull-sheep), but the commander could appeal to the People's Assembly.

Relief with the image of a triumph. Arches of Titus, Rome, 1st century AD
Relief with the image of a triumph. Arches of Titus, Rome, 1st century AD
Arch of Titus, Rome, 1st century AD

Move: The triumph began on the Champ de Mars (outside the walls of Rome) and ended with a sacrifice in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.

1. Magistrates and the Senate

2. Trumpeters

3. Tangible fruits of victory: captured weapons, art and material values (statues, vases, gold). Placards with the names of conquered cities written on them. Golden wreaths presented to the commander by the cities of the conquered provinces, wild animals.

4. A white sacrificial bull with gilded horns, accompanied by priests.

5. The most important prisoners in chains (Jugurtha, Vercingetorix, image of the deceased Cleopatra). They were usually killed in the Capitol jail.

6. Lictors with fascia decorated with laurels.

7. Dancers

8. A triumphant commander in a chariot drawn by 4 horses (deer, elephants). The chariot and horses were decorated with laurels. The triumphant is dressed in a purple tunic embroidered with a golden palm branch and a toga also embroidered with gold. On his head was a golden laurel wreath, and behind him stood a slave holding a golden crown in the form of an oak wreath. He whispered to the triumphant momonto mori-remember that you are mortal. During the time of the Empire, a slave could not stand behind the emperor, and on the reliefs we can already see the image of Victory. In the hands of the triumphant in the right hand is a laurel branch, in the left - an ivory scepter with the image of an eagle at the top. Incense was lit in front of the triumphant's chariot. Minor children boys and girls could ride alongside the commander or ride behind him. The triumphant's adult children rode behind the chariot on horses.

9. Sometimes the triumphant and his children were followed by Roman citizens who had been freed from slavery by the triumphant's victory.

10. The procession ended with the passage of the infantry with shouts of IO triumphe and sometimes indecent songs and ditties addressed to the triumphant. This was allowed.

The triumph could last for several days. It ended with a sacrifice and a feast with the senators in the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. There was also a celebration for the soldiers in the Temple of Hercules.

The honors of the triumphant did not end there, he had the legal right to:

1. The possibility to wear a triumphal dress later on holidays.

2. Get land for the house at public expense and decorate the house with trophies

3. Place a statue as the winner among the statues of other triumphants.

4. Had the right to be buried inside the city walls and on the grave it is written that he was awarded a tribune.

5. Build triumphal arches to celebrate your victories

Relief with the image of a triumph. Presumably the panel of the arch of Marcus Aurelius II in AD.
Relief with the image of a triumph. Presumably the panel of the arch of Marcus Aurelius II in AD.
Scythos with the image of the triumph of Tiberius. Louvre. I century BC-the beginning of the first century AD.

Related topics

The Senate, Roman Republic, The Etruscans, The Emperors of Rome, The Roman Empire


1. Kovalev S. I. Istoriya Rima [History of Rome]. New edition, revised and expanded/Ed. by Prof. E. D. Frolov, St. Petersburg: Polygon Publ., 2002, 864 p.

2. Mashkin N. A. Istoriya Drevnego Rima [History of Ancient Rome], Moscow: Vysshaya shkola Publ., 2006, 753 p.