Triumph is the exultation of victory after a successful ending of a struggle or contest. The word derives from Latin triumphus meaning 'achievement, a success, procession for a victorious general or admiral,' and earlier triumpus, probably via Etruscan from the original Greek thriambos, a 'Hymn to Dionysus'. The verb is first recorded 1483.
A Roman triumph was a civil ceremony and religious rite held to publicly honour the military commander (dux) of a notably successful foreign war or campaign and to display the glories of Roman victory. Only men of senatorial rank could perform a triumph and be a triumphator.
In order to receive a triumph, the dux must:
- Win a significant victory over a foreign enemy, killing at least 5,000 enemy troops, and earn the title Imperator.
- Be an elected magistrate with the power of imperium, i.e. a consul or a praetor.
- Bring the army home, signifying that the war was over and that the army was no longer needed. Of course this only applied to the Republican era when the army was a citizen army. By the imperial period, when the army was professional, the proper triumph was reserved for the emperor and his family. If a general was awarded a triumph by the emperor, he would march with a token number of his troops.
- In the Republican period, the senate had to give approval for a triumph based on the above mentioned requirements.
The ceremony consisted of a spectacular parade, opened by the chiefs of conquered peoples (afterwards executed in the Tullianum), followed by wagons of gold and other valuable spoils captured during the campaign (including slaves), musicians, dancers, placards drawn with scenes of the war, then came the victorious general at the head of his troops (in the late republic and imperial times it was only a token body of troops rather than the entire army). It was a concrete exhibit of the spoils brought to the patrimony of Senatus Populusque Romanus (S.P.Q.R.).
The triumphator, his face and arms painted red, rode on an already ancient four wheeled car pulled by two white horses. A slave behind the triumphator held a laurel crown over his head (not touching it). Notably, this slave had to repeat continuously Memento mori ('Remember thou art mortal.'). Some sources state that the slave would say; 'Respica te, hominem te memento' ('Look behind you, you are only a man.') The ceremony's origin, though shrouded by antiquity, perhaps derives from earlier Etruscan rituals.
The parade followed a precise route in the streets of Rome, starting outside the Servian Walls of the city, in the Campus Martius on the western bank of the Tiber. The triumphator would then cross the pomerium into the city through the Via Triumphalis (which centuries later was reopened as the current Via dei Fori Imperiali by Benito Mussolini so that he, too, could march in triumph) and travel along the Via Sacra into the Forum Romanum. The triumph reached its climax at the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitoline, where the triumphing general offered laurels of victory to the god.
To better celebrate the triumph, a monument was sometimes erected. This is the origin of the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Constantine, not far from the Colosseum, or perhaps near a battle site as is the case for the Tropaeum Traiani. Also, the monumental Meta Sudans was erected by the Flavians to mark the point where the triumph route turned from the Via Triumphalis into the Via Sacra and the Forum.
After the establishment of the Principate, only members of the Imperial family were awarded with triumphs. Other citizens were awarded with Ornamenta triumphalia (triumphal regalia), so that the Imperial family could better keep hold on avenues to power and advancement.