Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Tom Holland, The Sunday Times, November 11, 2007

It is a sign of progress, no doubt, that we in the West appear to have lost the knack of celebrating our military victories effectively. Back in 1982, a parade to mark the retaking of the Falklands was memorable principally for a bust up between Mrs Thatcher and the Archbishop of Canterbury. More recently, when George Bush jetted onto an aircraft carrier and proclaimed “mission accomplished” in Iraq, he gave a hostage to fortune that haunts him still. Generals nowadays boast, not of how many enemies they have killed, but of how few. The brute facts of war (of what it is and what it causes) seem to have become an embarrassment even to the military themselves.

How very different it was in ancient Rome. No half-measures or moral qualms, we like to imagine, for a famous general such as Pompey the Great. When he celebrated a victory, he did it in style. On one occasion, he had himself wheeled through the streets in a chariot pulled by elephants. On another (a procession staged, rather like President Bush’s landing on the USS Abraham Lincoln, to celebrate the toppling of a notorious Near Eastern tyrant), he dazzled fellow citizens by parading whole cartloads of bling, hosts of exotically costumed prisoners and a portrait-bust of himself fashioned entirely out of pearls. The word the Romans used to describe such extravaganzas remains to this day firmly embedded within most European languages. Whenever we speak of “triumphs”, we are paying posthumous homage to the power and glamour of those ancient victory celebrations.

But were they, as students of Roman imperialism have always tended rather to assume, merely the unqualified expressions of a lust for conquest and domination? “It is warrior states that produce the most sophisticated critique of the militaristic values they uphold.” So argues Mary Beard, in a book that manages to be simultaneously both brilliantly subtle and splendidly swaggering. Throughout it, she subjects our sources for the Roman triumph to merciless dissection, exposing with a pathologist’s scalpel how beneath all its outward sheen there lurked profound insecurities and ambivalences. “Petty sacrilege,” wrote Seneca, “is punished; sacrilege on a grand scale is the stuff of triumphs.” It is with this witty and subversive quip that Beard opens her book, and it sets the tone for what follows: a sustained questioning of everything that we ever thought we knew about the triumph.

For even Pompey’s career as a triumphator, it turns out, was not immune to the occasional blip. The elephants drawing his chariot proved too large to fit through a set of gates on the route; his obsession with showcasing loot was dismissed by his disapproving peers as the grossest vulgarity. Beard’s glee in highlighting such disappointments is palpable; and yet still she has not exhausted her talent for deconstruction. For, as she points out, the fact that Pompey’s triumphs are among the best documented of any in Roman history cannot conceal the slightly perturbing detail that only one of our sources was actually an eyewitness to them. Distortion, exaggeration, myth: all must necessarily cast their shadows over any history of the famous ceremony.

Beard does not shrink from the implications of this. Indeed, she positively revels in them. Her aim, she freely acknowledges, “is to celebrate, rather than to straighten out or compress, the historical intricacies” – and celebrate them she certainly does. Sometimes she brings to her sources the robust common sense of a Dr Johnson, pointing out, for instance, how incredibly difficult it would have been for anyone to stay upright in a triumphal chariot for long, so shoddy was the suspension. Sometimes she applies to an ancient text the kind of close analysis that is customarily buried away in the dustiest and most scholarly of articles, but which, in The Roman Triumph, serves to afford the kind of delight that Doctor Watson must often have felt while listening to Sherlock Holmes.

In short, rather like Courtesans and Fishcakes, James Davidson’s book on ancient Athens, Beard’s study of the triumph is that rara avis, a work of original and often dense scholarship that can be enjoyed by readers far beyond the purlieus of classics departments. A difficult trick to pull off, of course – and all the more so, bearing in mind Beard’s theme, which is much concerned with the perils of overreaching. Just like any Roman general riding in his triumph, she has set herself to appeal to radically opposed constituencies: her own peers, and the profanum vulgus. On the back of her dust jacket, commendations from two very different authors appear: one a professor at Columbia University, and the other Robert Harris. Fitting tributes to a book that is, in every sense of that complex word, a triumph.

From the TLS, December 5 2007:
William Fitzgerald reviews
Mary Beard, THE ROMAN TRIUMPH 434pp. Harvard University Press. £19.95

"Triumph” is a word with umph. Victorious arms thrown in the air, enemies and rivals cast to the ground – a triumph is nothing if not complete. It has become the ultimate expression of success (“A triumph” shouts the billboard), the ultimate celebration of adversity overcome (“A triumph of the human spirit”). Our word derives from the Latin triumphus, the term the ancient Romans used for a ritual victory celebration, one of the most common emblems of Roman culture in the modern popular imagination. The Romans called this ritual a “triumph” because the victorious troops cried “io triumpe” as they marched through the streets; but the meaning of the cry is obscure to us and would have been so to the troops themselves.

One ancient theory derived it from the Greek word thriambos, an epithet of Dionysos (Bacchus), but linguists argue that this etymology must have passed first through Etruscan to end up as triumpus; others connect it with the refrain “triumpe, triumpe, triumpe, triumpe” in an obscure archaic Roman hymn, in which it may be a call for divine epiphany. Even its grammatical form is disputed. Is triumpe a vocative, an imperative, an Etruscan nominative, or an exclamation? All have been suggested. The etymology of triumphus is only one of the disputed or obscure aspects of this most Roman of institutions, and if Mary Beard’s new book, The Roman Triumph, can be considered the definitive treatment, it is not because she solves any of the canonical problems.

In fact, Professor Beard makes it clear that there never can be a complete account of the triumph, and that almost everything we thought we knew about it is questionable. Looking beyond the impossible task of reconstruction, she offers us a different approach to the study of ancient society in this wide-ranging study of “triumphal culture” in Rome. Beard argues that ancient accounts of the triumph should not be thought of as sources but as theories, driven as much by preconceptions and contemporary agendas as are modern scholarly studies, and she expands our vision beyond the triumphal procession itself to take in the preliminaries and the aftermath, the descriptions, memorials, images and metaphors of triumph that together make of ancient Rome “a triumphal culture”.

Not every Roman military victory was celebrated by a triumph. A triumph was awarded by the Senate (or not) on the request of the general, who had to make a case that his victory merited this supreme honour. It has been calculated that about 300 triumphs took place in the 1,000 years of the city’s history. Every Roman politician aspired to a triumph, and practically every Roman politician who reached the consulship (and many who did not) would have had the chance to command an army, somewhere in the Roman Empire or beyond, and so to earn a triumph. Military service and command were not optional for a Roman politician, nor did they involve a particular choice of career; militarism lay at the heart of Roman culture and was integral to the life of just about every Roman male. Even Cicero, Rome’s pre-eminent orator, launched a mighty campaign to win a triumph, on the basis of some not altogether glorious manoeuvrings while he was Governor of Cilicia. We can follow this (unsuccessful) campaign in some detail, through Cicero’s voluminous and fascinating correspondence. From what his friend Caelius writes to him shortly after he arrives in Cilicia it is clear that thoughts of a triumph were at the back of any Roman governor’s mind: “If we could only get the balance right so that a war came along of just the right size for the strength of our forces and we achieved what was needed for glory and a triumph without facing the really dangerous clash – that would be the dream ticket”. In his speech Against Piso Cicero mocks Piso’s philosophically high-minded lack of interest in applying for a triumph and represents the desire for one as the acceptable, even approved, face of ambition.

Beard shows us that even Cicero’s letters, that most detailed account of the day-to-day existence of Rome’s elite, leave us in the dark about the criteria for a triumph. Valerius Maximus, writing in the time of the Emperor Tiberius, articulates a grisly “triumphal law”, according to which a minimum of 5,000 enemy troops had to be killed in a single battle for a triumph to be celebrated; but this law is not mentioned in any surviving account of triumphal debates. Beard sees Valerius as behaving no differently from modern historians who try to impose regularity and rules on a fluid reality. Just what qualified a general to celebrate a triumph was negotiable, though it seems that the first initiative lay with the troops, whose acclamation of the general as “imperator” was often seen as the first step on the road to a triumph. It has been speculated that a passage in Plautus’ comedy Amphitruo may be a parody of the traditional language in which requests for a triumph were expressed or granted: “The enemy defeated, the victorious legions are returning home, the mighty conflict brought to an end and the enemy exterminated. A city which brought many casualties to the Theban people has been defeated by the strength and valour of our troops and taken by storm, under the authority and auspices of my master Amphitruo, especially”.

Most of the existing scholarship on the triumph has struggled to reconstruct the details of the ceremony from the often contradictory bits and pieces of evidence scattered through texts and images of different kinds and periods. The triumphal route, the order of the procession, the general’s dress, his chariot and the insignia of triumph, as well as the origins of the ceremony, have all been studied and debated. Beard shows that the composite picture traditional in modern reference works and histories is based on very shaky foundations. She demonstrates in some detail, for instance, that it is impossible to reconcile the various accounts of the triumphal route; the only point about which there is general agreement is that it ended with a steep climb up to the Capitoline Hill and the Temple of Jupiter.

The final climb must have been quite a challenge for a procession which included not only enemy captives and Roman troops but floats, models and pictures representing cities captured and battles won and, above all, loot. The triumph encouraged Roman writers to flights of extravagant description. At Pompey’s triumph of 61 BCE (his third!), we are told that the booty displayed in the triumph included 75,100,000 drachmae of silver coin, thirty-three crowns of pearl, countless wagonloads of weapons and a huge gaming board made of precious stones holding a golden moon weighing thirty pounds. The triumph provided the opportunity to list and count (bullion, statues, captives, weapons), to describe the outlandish and the exotic, and to revel in the power of Imperial Rome.

Or to deplore its decadence. For, with the triumphal procession, novel forms of foreign extravagance flowed into the city: lute girls, harpists, cooks, sideboards and one-legged tables all feature prominently in disapproving ancient descriptions. Some of this loot took the form of Greek statues and other works of art, which would generate a competitive mania for collecting in Rome’s elite. It is this cultural effect of the conquest of the Greek world that led Horace to remark that “captive Greece took the savage victor captive”, a paradox of the kind that, as Beard shows, was characteristic of triumphal writing.

The triumph was not only a ritual of success, it was also a ritual of humiliation. A general triumphed over an enemy, and the humbled enemy had to be paraded for all to see. In the triumphal procession the enemy leader and a selection of enemy troops, suitably loaded with chains and other insignia of defeat, preceded the triumphing general in his chariot. But this spectacle of humiliation was inherently fragile. Obviously the triumphing general wanted to display the conquered as worthy adversaries, and contemporary accounts stress that the captives in the procession were chosen for their stature and beauty. But a particularly dignified leader, unbowed in defeat, could upstage the general following in his chariot. Beard’s frontispiece shows Jugurtha doing just that to the triumphing Marius in Tiepolo’s sumptuously dramatic “The Triumph of Marius”. Horace’s poem celebrating the defeat of Cleopatra by Octavian (the future Augustus) ends with the Queen committing suicide so as to avoid being led in triumph at Rome. Horace exploits the flexibility of Latin word order to end his poem with the line “no lowly woman in the triumph”, shifting the triumph from victor to vanquished. What, he asks, constitutes the true triumph, the true heroism? Spectacular triumphal backfires came in other forms too: Roman authors reported occasions in which the miserable captives had awakened pity rather than Schadenfreude in the spectators, who were led to reflect on their own troubles, or on the possibility that they too might find themselves in the position of the defeated.

Roman audiences might identify with the captives, but it was crucial that the captives displayed in a triumph should not actually be Romans. This caused problems in the waning years of the Republic, when so many victories were won in civil wars. Lucan’s epic poem on the civil war between Pompey and Caesar describes it aptly as a “war that could have no triumphs”. Octavian’s victory over Cleopatra was really the climax of a civil war in which the enemy was led by Mark Antony, and Octavian’s celebration of a triumph helped to disguise that fact.

Balancing the enemy captives and bringing up the rear of the triumphal procession were the victorious general’s troops, chanting the mysterious “io triumpe”. Less mysterious were the rude chants that the triumphing troops were licensed to direct at their general. Suetonius gives us a sample of what Caesar’s troops contributed: “Romans, watch your wives, the bald adulterer’s back home. You fucked away in Gaul the gold you borrowed here in Rome”. Traditionally these chants have been seen as “apotropaic”, designed to ward off envy and the evil eye in the moment when the successful general was most vulnerable. This is consistent with what is perhaps the best-known aspect of the traditional picture of the triumph, the slave who supposedly stood behind the general in his chariot to remind him that he was not a god, by repeating the words “Look behind. Remember that you are a man”. In the film Quo Vadis? the slave’s words receive an unintended comic twist when they are delivered to a triumphing Marcus Vinicius as he ogles a pretty girl in the crowd (nothing wrong with Marcus Vinicius!). Beard points out that the slave and his cautionary words have been cobbled together out of bits and pieces of evidence from different contexts and periods and that no single text gives us the whole picture. She is similarly sceptical about the modern theory that the triumphing general impersonated the god Jupiter Best and Greatest, dressed in the clothes of his cult statue and with his face similarly painted red. The impersonation of the god, the admonitory slave and the apotropaic songs all make a tempting package, but the evidence for the triumphator’s impersonation of Jupiter is very slender. What we can say is that Roman authors of the late Republic and early Empire were particularly concerned with the line between the human and the divine, and with the problematic concept of the divine human. Eventually, the emperor would be hailed as a god and receive divine honours, but this would be a slow and difficult process.

Like the emperor, the triumphing general raises the problem of how to balance his status as godlike, and so exceptional, with that of the servant of his community. In the early years of the civil strife that would eventually bring Augustus to power as the first Roman Emperor, the poet Lucretius used triumphal imagery to make a subversive point about the ideal relation between the heroic individual and his community. Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things, his epic poem expounding the principles of Epicurean philosophy, casts Epicurus as a triumphing Roman general who, having dared to campaign against the religious fear that is oppressing mortals, brings back as the spoils to be displayed in his triumph the knowledge of “what can be and what cannot”, giving us the wherewithal to resist fear of the gods. “So religion, cast beneath our feet, is trampled in its turn and his victory raises us to the heavens.” Epicurus’ “triumph of the mind” has this advantage over that of the Roman general: it is the community, not the triumphing general that is raised to divine status.

Beard argues that the controversy surrounding the deification of humans in this period is the context in which to understand ancient references to the divine status of the triumphing general, and that they do not offer any support to theories about the primitive origins of the triumph in notions of divine kingship. Must we then resign ourselves, in the face of Beard’s scepticism, to confessing our ignorance about the precise details of this colourful and iconic ritual, and acknowledge that we don’t know where it came from and what it meant? Beard argues that ritual is not like that – invariable, monolithic and tied to an original meaning. Ritualized behaviour is distinguished by its participants as separate from everyday non-ritual practice, but it may be improvisatory and variable. Rules, origins and traditions (almost always less ancient than we suppose) are retrospectively crystallized under the pressure of contemporary need. The meaning of a ceremony lies “as much in the recollection and re-presentation of the proceedings as in the transient proceedings themselves. Its story is always in the telling. The exaggerations, the distortions, the selective amnesia are all part of the plot”. A good example of how origins are retrospectively invented for customs is the ancient theory that the god Dionysos invented the triumph (as so often, linking Rome with Greece). Stories of Dionysos’ arrival in Greece from the Far East date back at least to Euripides’ Bacchae (c408 bce). But in the context of Alexander’s campaigns in India (326 bce), Dionysos’ return from spreading his rites in the Far East was remodelled as a victorious return from India, complete with troops and captives, so supplying Alexander with a divine precedent. Then, after Rome conquered Greece and assimilated much of Alexander’s Empire, the Return of Dionysos became the Triumph of Dionysos, Roman style, and Dionysos was credited with inventing the Roman triumph. This development provides a nice demonstration of how the flow of influence may run backwards rather than forwards, as Beard argues in this and many other cases.

So much for the origins of the triumph, but what about its end? Modern tradition has it that the last triumph was celebrated in Constantinople, rather than Rome, by the general Belisarius in 534 CE, after a victory over the Vandals in Africa. Appropriately, it was a very unconventional affair. No Christian celebration, after all, could end with the customary sacrifice in the Temple of Jupiter. Beard cites a number of triumphs that might, depending on what view you hold of the triumph, be considered the last, but she is rightly more interested in the decisive change which came about with the rule of Augustus. From Augustus on, only the emperor or members of his family were allowed to celebrate a triumph, and the triumph came to serve almost as the equivalent of a coronation ritual. An equally important development was the fact that Augustus adopted the insignia and symbols of the triumph to mark his novel status. Among his titles was imperator (origin of our word emperor), that title with which a victorious general was acclaimed by his troops as the first step towards a triumph. With Augustus, the triumph moved into the symbolic realm.

Early in her book Beard asks, “Can we get beyond the easy . . . conclusion that such rituals . . . acted to reaffirm society’s key values? Or beyond the more subtle variant that sees them rather as the focus of reflection and debate on those values . . . ?”. Mary Beard certainly gets us beyond the easy conclusion, though by the end it’s still not clear what might lie “beyond” the more subtle variant, or whether we want to go there, given that this rich and provocative book offers such a full account of what it means to call ancient Rome “a triumphal culture.

William Fitzgerald is a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. His most recent books include Slavery and the Roman Literary Imagination, 2000, and Martial: The world of the epigram, 2007.

From The Guardian, December 22 07
Greg Woolf reviews The Roman Triumph by Mary Beard
448pp, Harvard, £19.95

A great procession sets off from the Field of Mars, the grassy meadow around which the Tiber makes a great arc. Rome's citizen army, returned from yet another victorious campaign, parades through the streets of the city. The soldiers follow an ancient route flanked by temples dedicated after previous victories, through the great circus, on into the forum until, to catcalls and fanfares, and leading barbarian kings and great piles of booty, they escort their general up to the temple of Jupiter on the Capitol. Impassively he stands in his chariot, a wreath held over his head, and behind him a slave whispers, again and again, "Remember you are mortal." Easy to forget, since he wears the clothes of a god.
Or not ... for almost every detail of this picture - familiar as it is from sword-and-sandal epics and Asterix books - is, according to Mary Beard, up for grabs. Yes, the triumph was a vivid and central part of Roman culture. In fact, she argues, it was in some ways more central than we have ever realised. Triumphal imagery and triumphal language bled into the Roman games and seeped into the ceremonies that marked the election of a consul or the arrival (or through deification, the departure) of a new emperor. Triumph was inscribed into the architecture of arches, theatres and temples, and also sarcophaguses and tombs. It penetrated epic and erotic poetry and comic drama too. But almost every detail of this great ceremony is maddeningly difficult to seize upon. Everything on which we were agreed turns out to be just that little bit more difficult to demonstrate than anyone ever imagined.
Beard has in her sights three processions. The first is that long historical sequence of actual celebrations. The second is a series of rich and extravagant accounts of triumphs, what she calls "rituals in ink" although they include a mass of images too, such as the Arch of Titus. Third, there is a long procession of classical scholars, who follow Beard's chariot with placards hung around their necks detailing their wild conjectures, hypotheses and claims about what the triumph "really meant".
It would be convenient if each could be examined separately, but the processions keep colliding in the winding, narrow streets of Roman cultural history. The actual triumphs are known to us only through the representations, and these are difficult to disentangle from the dense foliage of scholarly exegesis. Beard prunes ferociously. The evidence for the triumphal route is alarmingly inconsistent. The slave in the chariot whispering to the general is a modern composite, compiled of late testimony, no one piece of which tells exactly this story. The clothes borrowed from the god, the chariot itself are insecure. So is much more.
Once the factoids are swept away we are left with modern attempts to create some sort of general rule-book for triumphs. How many enemies did you need to kill? What sort of general could celebrate? Who decided? Ancient writers made many claims, but their generalisations stand up no better than those of the moderns. It does not help that when a Polybius or a Livy or a Josephus sets out to describe a particular triumph, he focused on what was remarkable, extraordinary, controversial and bizarre. And who was to say what was "normal" and what excessive?
Our witnesses concentrated on the most spectacular stagings of the triumph. Some of the most entertaining parts of Beard's boisterous demolition invite us to imagine the second and third-rate triumphs, the lines of not many captives, the displays of hardly any booty, the rather petty squabbles over spoils between generals and the soldiers on whom they depended for their cast of thousands on the big day. Grander theories fall even flatter. Was the triumph some collective rite of passage from war to peace? Was the general a sort of temporary god? Was this an ancient trace of Etruscan kingship? No, not really, probably not. Too much has been built on too little.
The first really rich rituals in ink were penned during Rome's great overseas expansion, the conquest of the Mediterranean world in the second century BC. One of the many pleasures of reading this bold and exciting book is the luxuriant evocation of performance after grand performance. Many of those stories begin with the Roman senators arguing ferociously over whether this or that general should be allowed to triumph, inventing in the process ancient rules and precedents to bolster their cases. By the time of the latest accounts, the emperors guarded the ceremony jealously, celebrated it rarely and turned it to their own dubious purposes. Rule breaking was almost the point. So searching for "the normal triumph" is pointless.
Beard is interested in the risks of triumphing. Triumphs could go wrong, could prompt ridicule or arouse hatred; prisoners might seem nobler than their captors, generals might become less glorious and more petty in the process. Yet from the first (uncertain) moment when Romans came to think of triumph as a bundle of victory rites that could be repeatedly improved upon, generals fought and lobbied for their moment in the limelight. Enemies, rivals and spectators could not resist being drawn into the show. Beard's Roman Triumph will exercise a similar fascination on its readers.

Greg Woolf is professor of ancient history at the University of St Andrews.

Peter Jones reviews THE ROMAN TRIUMPH
From THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH, January 20 2008

Readers of Winnie the Pooh will remember that at the front door of Wol’s house (‘The Chestnuts’) there were two notices: under the door-knocker ‘PLES RING IF AN RNSER IS REQIRD’, and under the bell-pull ‘PLEZ CNOKE IF AN RNSR IS NOT RQID’.

This profound message neatly summarises two schools of classical scholarship: ‘ringers’, who like to provide answers to problems, and ‘cnokers’, who would rather do something else. It is fair to say, I think, that Professor Mary Beard, Fellow of Newnham College, editor of the TLS’s classics section and forthright Times bloggeuse, falls broadly into the cnoking camp.

So anyone who reads her account of the Roman triumph – that great booty-laden procession across Rome granted to a general (driving in a gem-studded chariot and dressed, somehow, as Jupiter) who had won important military victories - will be disappointed if they expect an answer to the questions ‘What happened at a triumph and why?’

Nevertheless, Beard has good reason for taking this approach. With full and scrupulous reference to the evidence, all of it quoted in translation, she points out that the Romans themselves had no simple answer to those particular questions; the information they did provide is riddled with inconsistencies; and triumphs (ancient sources count 320 in all) could sometimes be singularly untriumphant.

Some examples: was there a slave standing behind the victorious general telling him to remember he was mortal? Beard shows how this was a composite picture created from a range of different sources; indeed in some depictions the place of the ‘slave’ was often taken by the goddess Victory – suggesting the very opposite of the ‘slave’ message! In other words, the slave with his warning probably played some part at some stage, but there is nothing to prove he was a permanent, fixed part of the show.

What route did the procession take? It started outside the city’s sacred boundary and wound up on the Capitoline Hill – but that is all one can say. Different accounts offer quite different ports of call at different times. In other words, the whole ritual was a flexible one, changing constantly with the times, like all the best ‘traditions’. Indeed, Beard points out that Trajan was represented by a dummy during his triumph in AD 118 celebrating his victory over the Parthians. He had to be. He was dead.

Nor did triumphs all go off smoothly. When in 81 BC Pompey decided to hitch his chariot to elephants instead of horses, they could not squeeze through one of the gates. He reversed (how do you reverse elephants?) and tried again. No good. So he hung about till the horses were called up. At one of his triumphs Julius Caesar suffered a broken axle to his chariot (rough roads took a heavy toll on unsprung vehicles) and had to have it replaced.

Likewise, hordes of prisoners were an essential part of the glamour of the show, but there was always a danger that they would win the sympathy of the crowd. This happened to Caesar in 46 BC, when the crowd fell to weeping at the sight of a young Egyptian princess among the captives.

For all that, Romans loved a good triumph. For the populace, the spectacle of a fabulously lavish display confirmed all they believed about the right of Rome to master the ends of the earth and prove it by parading its products - animal, vegetable and mineral (even ebony trees!) - before them. Sometimes there would be free dinners afterwards.

For the elite, the triumph was the highest status-marker on offer, and they bent over backwards to be granted one. Beard discusses, fascinatingly, Cicero’s efforts to get one after some minor victory in eastern Turkey where he had been provincial governor. He admitted no one would have heard of the town he captured, but that was not going to stop him. Behind-the-scenes machinations were intense, as his letters reveal, and he wrote to every member of the Senate bar two (c. 600 of them) to plead his cause. He failed, but the whole negotiation raises very interesting questions about the grounds on which triumphs were granted and the political rivalries involved.

So the case for cnoking on this issue is made, but I must admit that I wish Beard had not played scholarly hard-to-get and had had a stab (fingers crossed, perhaps) at what she thought triumphs were all about. That is what professors are for, isn’t it? Nevertheless, what emerges from this careful, detailed study is that, whatever the facts of the matter, triumphs were the subject of intense reflection and moralising among Roman observers. Here is a great man, at the pinnacle of his success, likened to a god, surrounded by everything the world has to offer – so, what? Or, what next?

Seneca, millionaire philosopher and tutor to Nero, puts one sort of spin on it: ‘Petty sacrilege is punished; sacrilege on a grand scale is the stuff of triumphs’.

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