History : Jul-Aug 2019
48 JULY/AUGUST 2019 The sense of honor was overwhelming: In a city that viewed monarchs with distrust, the general would be allowed to be “king for a day.” Dressed in royal purple, he would ride in a quadriga, a carriage drawn by four horses. In his hands, he would hold an ivory scepter and a lau- rel branch. On his head was both a laurel wreath and a golden crown held by a slave, who was also given the task of whispering into the general’s ear reminders of his mortality. Ending at 19 b.c ., the Fasti Triumphales is an incomplete record of those who had been awarded triumphs. Stretching back to Rome’s founders, it shows that Romans believed this accolade to be as old as the city itself. The first triumph in the list is attributed to Romulus, one of the city’s legendary founders. Like many of Rome’s traditions, this connection with its mythical past helped consolidate and sanc- tify its institutions. The origins of the proces- sion were probably rooted in a religious festi- val meant to bring about plentiful harvests. As the city grew in size, the triumphs grew in splendor. N OT ALL VICTORIES resulted in triumphs. If a general won a battle but fell short of the minimum requirements, he could be honored with an ovation, a celebration on a smaller scale. Ovations were still grand parades, but they were missing some of the more elaborate effects of a triumph. Rather than ride in a chariot, the victor would march. Instead of the toga picta that was solid purple and decorated with gold stars, he would wear the toga praetexta, which was white with a broad purple border. On his head he would wear a wreath of myrtle rather than laurel, and instead of sacrificing oxen he’d have to make do with sheep. Marcus Licinius Crassus, who completed the triumvirate with Caesar and Pompey, received an ovation in 71 b.c. after defeat- ing Spartacus’s rebel army. (Spartacus’s forces, despite being made up of slaves, had already managed to inflict numerous defeats on the Roman legions.) Crassus, though, was anything but content at being denied a triumph. The reckless pursuit of his laurels led him to an unprovoked attack against the Parthian Empire in 53 b.c. that would cost him his life. WALKING OVATIONS PHOTO JOSSE/SCALA, FLORENCE SURRENDER TO CAESAR This 1886 oil painting by Henri-Paul Motte recreates the moment when Vercingetorix enters Caesar’s camp to present his surrender. The Gaulish chief was held captive in Rome for several years before Caesar’s Gallic triumph. Crozatier Museum, Le Puy-en-Velay, France HERVÉ LEWANDOWSKI/RMN-GRAND PALAIS A SILVER SKYPHOS DEPICTS TIBERIUS DURING HIS TRIUMPH OF 8 B.C . HIS IVORY SCEPTER AND LAUREL BRANCH, AS WELL AS BEING BORNE IN A QUADRIGA, ARE PRIVILEGES RESERVED FOR TRIUMPHS. THOSE GRANTED AN OVATION HAD TO WALK.