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Roman Triumph History Essay

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Updated: Jun 6th, 2020

Roman triumph or what they referred to as triumphus was as civil ceremony as well as religious rite of the olden Rome. The ceremony was meant to publicly celebrate as well as to sanctify an army general who had successfully conquered a foreign enemy. The successful army general was called vir triumphalis which meant “man of triumph” (Smith and Thayer 1163). It was only the Senate that was mandated to approve a triumph during the Republican period. The triumph was the uppermost honour that one could achieve in the Republican tradition. In contrast, triumphs were not granted for success in civil wars even if the war was to quell a slave revolt (Smith and Thayer 1163).

In order to achieve this status, the military leader must have won a major victory against a foreign enemy. Under his leadership in the war, his army must have killed more than 5,000 soldiers of the enemy troops. This earned him the name imperator. Again, he had to be an elected magistrate so as to achieve supremacy of an imperium which meant that he should be able to dictate. Finally, the army leader had to bring the army back, an indication that he had succeeded in defeating the enemy and therefore the presence of the army in the battle field was no longer needed.

This was particular with the citizen army. It was under these requirements that a triumph was awarded to an army commander by the senate during the Republican period. However, during the emperor period, the rules regarding triumph changed as it was now reserved to the emperor together with the family. During this period, if an army general was granted a triumph by the emperor, he was allowed to march with part of his troops (Smith and Thayer 1164).

The ceremony of sanctification used to begin outside the Servian Walls located in the Campus Martius. The triumphator or the imperator entered the town in a chariot through the Porta Triumphalis where he was welcomed by the senate as well as the magistrates. He legally gave up his command at this point. Other personalities who had to be present included the army without armor, trumpeters, adult sons as well as officers of the triumphator, the enemy leaders as well as other captives including their relatives and finally, the lictors of the triumphator. They also carried with them bulls for sacrifice, the weapons of the defeated army as well as the spoils of the war carried in carts.

The triumphator had a slave in his chariot who was responsible for carrying a golden wreath over his head as they travelled to the destination. The slave also constantly reminded him that he was mortal and therefore he had to remain humble. The procession would then proceed to Circus Maximus where they would stifle life out of the leader of the conquered enemy before continuing to Capitoline Hill and the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. Here, a crowd made up of the Roman citizens lined along the street would cheer the triumphator and also shower him with flowers. He sacrificed two white bulls to Jupiter at Capitoline Hill and then offered his wreath at the temple in Jupiter to prove that he did not intend to become the King of Rome. Thereafter, citizens and soldiers would celebrate the occasion. In some cases, a monument was erected to make the occasion more memorable (Smith and Thayer 1166).

The Alban Mount Triumph in 211 BC

M. Marcellus combined his triumph celebration with an ovation that he had just been granted earlier as he struggled to get an approval for triumph. He had left Sicily province at the end of the summer in 211 BC where an army under his command was fighting against Carthaginians of Greece in order to travel to Rome to claim approval for his triumph. However, the senate sitting in the temple of Bellona denied him the request despite the publicity of his success in the province as well as public thanksgiving that he had been accorded prior to being relieved of his duties.

The senate argued that they had ordered him to hand over his duties to his successor and therefore he did not bring the army home as was required meaning that he did not completely conquer and defeat the Carthaginian troops. Besides, the failure to bring the army home meant that there were no army troops to provide proof that he deserved a triumph. He was therefore granted an ovation which meant that he still had to retain his command. However, a day before his ovation ceremony, he triumphed over the Carthaginians on Alban Mount (Lawrence and Smith 93).

As Marcellus entered the city, he carried much booty along with him. These included a model of Syracuse which was among the principal cities of Greece, catapults, ballistae as well as several engines of war which he had taken from the city at the time of capture and were exhibited during the procession. In addition he had also brought with him Syracusan artistical work such as household furniture and valuable garments. He also brought with him several articles made of bronze and silver as well as numerous statues that had made the city of Syracuse unique among other big cities of Greece. In his procession, he had included eight elephants to be a symbol of his great victory over the Carthaginians.

Marcellus had used eight elephants to show his might, ability as well as great skills to lead the army to victory. He did so to prove to the senate which had earlier on dismissed his achievements. The most conspicuous feature in the procession to Capitoline Hill was the presence of Sosis the Syracusan as well as Moericus the Spaniard. Sosis had guided entry into Syracuse during the night while Moericus had been sent by Nasos, the ruler of Syracuse to inform the Romans that he had surrendered. This meant that the ruler was not captured as he agreed to make peace with the Romans and give in to their demands. Sosis and Moericus were offered Roman citizenship and each received 500 jugera of land (Lawrence and Smith 93).

The victory over the Carthaginians in Syracuse meant that the Romans had succeeded in expanding their territory into Greek land. Greek population had been pushed way from their lands while others were captured and made slaves. According to Rich and Shipley (78) Tycha and Neapolis districts became part of the Roman territory after the war.

Crowds in the streets cheered as he entered the city and throughout the procession as the victory had meant an opportunity to acquire new land and slaves to work for them especially to those who belonged to the rich class, prima classis (Smith and Thayer 1167). The consul and the Romans especially the rich class had argued that the war was meant to preserve, expand and protect their territory and the nation (Rich and Shipley 2). According to them, the war was very important as it helped restore Rome and to save the Roman captives who had been captured by the Greeks.

Works Cited

Lawrence, Eugene and Smith, William. A Smaller History of Rome. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers. 2006. Print.

Rich, John and Shipley, Graham. War and Society in the Roman World. Leicester- Nottingham Studies in Ancient Society, 5. London, New York: Routledge. 1993. Print.

Smith, William and Thayer, William. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London: John Murray. 1875. Print.

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