The Roman Triumph

The Roman Triumph

The Roman Triumph

The Roman Triumph

Synopsis

It followed every major military victory in ancinet Rome, the successful general drove through the streets to the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. A reexamination of this most extraordinary of ancient ceremonies, this book explores the magnificence of the Roman triumph but also its darker side.

Excerpt

“Petty sacrilege is punished; sacrilege on a grand scale is the stuff of triumphs.” Those are the words of Lucius Annaeus Seneca, first-century ce philosopher and tutor of the emperor Nero. He was reflecting in one of his philosophical letters on the unfair disparity in the meting out of punishment and reward, and on the apparent profit that might come from wrong-doing. As we might gloss it, following the wry popular wisdom of our own day, “Petty criminals end up in jail; big ones end up rich.”

In referring to the “stuff of triumphs,” Seneca meant those famous parades through the city of Rome that celebrated Rome’s greatest victories against its enemies (or its biggest massacres, depending on whose side you were on). To be awarded a triumph was the most outstanding honor a Roman general could hope for. He would be drawn in a chariot—accompanied by the booty he had won, the prisoners he had taken captive, and his no doubt rowdy and raucous troops in their battle gear—through the streets of the city to the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline hill, where he would offer a sacrifice to the god. the ceremony became a by-word for extravagant display.

Seneca’s quip is uncomfortably subversive. For, by implication, it questions the morality of some of those glorious victories that were cele-

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