Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Sunday 28th May 2017 | Manchester, UK

Roman Triumph in the Republican Era

The Roman triumph was one including military, religious and political aspects. Holding a triumph was the highest honour for a Roman, the peak of a political career. There is no question that it evolved throughout history and this article will enfold the effect of these on the rise of charismatic, autocratic leaders and the fall of the Republic.
The origins of triumph were traced back to Romulus and his first three triumphs. It is evident that early Rome was dependent on military success, therefore on successful generals, who might be a serious threat to the newly established Republic. As a result, they created complex institutional and social frameworks, which were supposed to prevent the rise of such leaders.
As a triumph was a perfect occasion for personal aggrandizement, even stricter regulations were needed: the ius triumphandi. This law circumscribed the occasions, when such procession is allowed, and also let space to the subjective decision of the Senate. The ’appropriate behaviour’ of the general was one of these. If the victorious leader had fallen to the sin of hybris, it was up to the Senate’s discretion to decide about the possibility of a triumph. If they felt that a triumph would be a way great honour, they could give the right to hold an ovatio or a triumph on Mount Alban, which basically counted as lower level triumphs.
The Romans adopted the ceremony from the Etruscans alongside with its appearance and formalities, but the identification of the glorious general with gods, which was compatible for the Etruscans, was unacceptable for the Roman religion. Therefore, by adopting the triumph they did not automatically adopted its meaning as well. The Romans gave new meaning to an old formula, which basically remained the same for centuries.
However, the triumphs could not resist the change of the times. The serious economic and social developments resulted in a much less egalitarian Roman society and a grave intra-elite competition which finally lead to the fall of the Res Publica. The Republic, as it got bigger and bigger became less controllable within the old institutional framework. The armies displayed loyalties tot generals rather than the ’Republic’, and these leaders used their leverage to hold triumphs as often as they could.
The rivalization inside the elite resulted in such competitions as the one of Marius and Sulla. In the end, these changes resulted in the emergence of Caesar, and even the carefully planned framework of the triumph was not able to prevent this. Because the rising of authoriter imperators was not the result of the triumphs – the changes were so serious that even these checks and balances were not able to hold them back.

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