Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.05.26

Helmut Krasser, Dennis Pausch, Ivana Petrovic (ed.), Triplici invectus triumpho. Der römische Triumph in augusteischer Zeit. Potsdamer Altertumswissenschaftliche Beiträge 25.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2008.  Pp. 327.  ISBN 9783515092494.  €60.00.  

Reviewed by Ida Östenberg, University of Gothenburg, Sweden (
Word count: 3265 words

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

In recent years, the triumph has been a topic in vogue. Several monographs have appeared,1 and last year saw a major exhibition on Trionfi romani in the Colosseum, followed by a publication that besides detailed descriptions of the exhibited items included papers on some central aspects of the procession.2 New trends are manifold, but one tendency stands out: to look away from distant origins and ask new questions about the ritual in its contemporary context. As a consequence, the triumphs of Imperial times, formerly considered insignificant events deprived of original political and religious meaning, have gained increased attention. The book under review here, specifically devoted to the Augustan age, should be seen as part of this new direction.

Triplici invectus triumpho. Der römische Triumph in augusteischer Zeit is a publication of contributions discussed at two conferences held at the Universities of Giessen and Erfurt in 2004/2005. According to the very short introduction, the aims of the meetings and the book are to focus on the significant changes in the Roman triumph that occurred with Augustus and on how these changes were represented and reflected in different media: art, cityscape and literature. The scope is laudably interdisciplinary, and the book contains papers written from different perspectives: historical, art-historical, topographical and philological. Still, the discussions themselves reveal rather little communication between these approaches. In particular, this goes for the historical papers on one side and the literary analyses on the other. As it turns out, the scopes of the two mostly differ, the former striving for historical explanation, the second for textual interpretation. The gap between the two is not a specific fault for this publication, which does indeed open doors for multi-disciplinary approaches and debates. Rather, it reveals a constant problem involved in creating interdisciplinary in-depth discussions between our academic fields. The publication would, however, have benefited largely from a more extensive introduction that illuminated the different methodological traditions and addressed the central topics and objectives in greater depth.

The theme of the publication is highly interesting and indeed worth extensive exploration. The age of Augustus formed a true turning point in history that is reflected clearly in the celebration of the triumph. Augustus himself (as Octavian), performed a manifest triplex triumphus in 29 BC, after which he chose to decline all further offers of triumph. At the same time, Rome under Augustan leadership exploded with art, monuments and texts that trumped forth the message of triumph. Decline and aggressive boasting -- the triumph at the transition point between Republic and Empire is indeed a complex theme.

There is more to the complexity: in 19 BC, Rome saw the last triumph held by a non-member of the Imperial house. This change brought about new meanings in the ritual as well as a significant decrease in the number of celebrations held. The people of Rome, formerly used to witnessing competing generals returning in triumph rather frequently, now had to wait for years to see an all-powerful emperor riding his car up the Capitol. At the same time, our written testimonies for the Roman triumph, on which centuries of scholarship have built their case, stem almost exclusively from the Imperial age. There are certainly Republican sources missing, but nevertheless it seems clear that Greek and Latin writers started to write extensively on the ritual, especially on the Republican practice, only after the triumph had turned into a rare event of Imperial monopoly.

The title of the book under review Triplici invectus triumpho is drawn from Vergil's famed description of Octavian's triple triumph on the shield of Aeneas (Aen. 8.714). With such a declaration of contents, I found it somewhat surprising that the volume includes no essay that focuses specifically on this central passage. The quotation seems chosen rather for its symbolic qualities, but a paper on Vergil's passage is definitely a gap in a volume explicitly targeting triumph, representation and the Augustan age. The subtitle too Der römische Triumph in augusteicher Zeit is somewhat misleading, as few papers dwell in any depth on the actual triumphs celebrated under Augustus. Instead, many papers (as also stated in the introduction) analyse representations of Augustan changes, while others include rather general discussions of the triumph that are more or less loosely tied to the Augustan age. Still others focus on triumphal themes in Augustan poetry. In consequence, even with this seemingly narrow topic, the articles are very varied in contents and methods.

That said, several of the individual papers present stimulating and innovative ways to look at this much-discussed ritual with fresh aims and questions. Several others, though more descriptive, give good readings of a more general kind.

The book is presented in three sections 1. Triumph als politisches Ritual, II. Triumph in Bildkunst und städtischem Raum, III. Triumph im Text. There is some dominance in number of papers in the last part.

The first section, centring on historical issues, includes three very different analyses. First out is Jörg Rüpke, whose focus, in spite of the title 'Neue Perspektiven auf alte Statuenrituale: Überlegungen zu Res gestae divi Augusti 4', is Republican rather than Augustan. One of Rüpke's main arguments is that the triumphing general was presented as a statue in the procession, a circumstance that he believes helps to explain many of the triumph's characteristic traits.3 His discussion on the tensions and conflicts in representing mortals in divine guise in triumphal contexts is very valuable. More problematic is his theory that the triumphator's driving into the victorious city, was modelled on how gods were called out of fallen cities as part of the evocatio. Were these gods even taken into Rome? We know that the canonical example, Juno Regina from Veii, was given a temple on the Aventine, outside the walls. Overall, Rüpke's discussion is original and provocative, but includes too many weighty diverse a priori arguments for its short format. Also, its Republican-centred discussion falls outside the scope of the publication's title, a circumstance that is unfortunately highlighted by its prominent position as initial piece.

In the following article, written by Tanja Itgenshorst, 'Der Princeps triumphiert nicht. Vom Verschwinden des Siegesrituals in augusteischer Zeit', the author paints a highly expert picture of the significant changes in the triumphal celebrations that Augustus implemented. The paper is rather descriptive, but very readable. The most significant question comes up at the very end: Was it in effect the Augustan abolition of the triumph as held in Republican times that paved the way, or even formed the requisite condition, for the many Imperial literary discussions on the topic? Here lies a paradox of a considerable nature, and one that calls for future analyses.

The third paper is a joint work by Fabian Goldbeck and Peter Franz Mittag called 'Der geregelte Triumph. Der republikanische Triumph bei Valerius Maximus und Aulus Gellius'. Valerius Maximus' account of the ius triumphandi and Aulus Gellius' discussion of the difference between triumphus and ovatio are two much-used sources in countless modern attempts to reconstruct the Republican triumph. Lately, however, scholars have noted that the criteria, rules and definitions given by the two strike a discordant note with what seems from other sources to have been a very flexible Republican practice.4 Goldbeck and Mittag take the discussion one step further and ask a very legitimate but hitherto little-explored question: What do the passages in Valerius Maximus and Aulus Gellius mean, not as sources to an earlier procedure, but in their own contemporary textual and political context? Goldbeck and Mittag's main argument is that with some scraping of the surface, the passage in Valerius Maximus reveals criticism of the Imperial triumphal monopoly. Also, Aulus Gellius' distinction between triumphus and ovatio should be understood as a wholly Imperial text, with little relevance to the early and middle Republic. Several of their remarks are apt. Valerius Maximus does, after all, write that triumphs were not bestowed for victories in civil war and that refusal to accept a granted triumph was a religious offence, both 'rules' that could be read as criticism of Augustus. At least, they do not match the traditional image of Valerius as imperial panegyrist. Some arguments in this paper are taken too far, though, and I am not wholly convinced by the idea that Valerius Maximus arranged his seven criteria systematically, intensifying his critique with a peak at rule four then gradually turning it down in the last three points. I also wonder if one could read such thorough criticism of the Imperial house into a passage that ends with Augustus' triumphant oak-crowned doorposts and an author who dedicated his work to Tiberius. The second section of the publication includes four papers, two of which discuss the enigmatic triumphal route. The first, Wolfram Martini's 'Raum und Ritual im römischen Triumph. Die Wegstrecke des Triumphzugs' asks no specific Augustan questions but analyses the via triumphalis, non-defined in time, as vivid 'Erinnerungsort' with a specific eye on its interplay with adjacent monuments. This is a key aspect, but extremely hazardous to explore, as all modern attempts at reconstructing the route are full of question marks. Martini addresses none of the difficulties, but simply takes as his points of departure that Coarelli's reconstruction is basically correct, that the route was constant through time and that the procession passed under the triumphal arches, all positions that could be and have been contested. Unfortunately, the author's unwillingness to face the basic complications undermines much of the value of this paper.

Sven Th. Schipporeit's 'Wege des Triumphes. Zum Verlauf der Triumphzüge im spätrepublikanischen und augusteischen Rom' is well written, but uses most of its space to paint a very general background picture. On the final pages, Schipporeit presents his thesis: the Parthian arch placed to the south of the temple of Divus Iulius indicates that Augustus changed the triumphal route through the Forum and had it pass to the south instead of the north of Caesar's temple. This could well be so, but again, the reading is based on the premise that the procession passed through the arches, a circumstance that is far from clear and requires further argumentation.

In 'Ein frühkaiserzeitliches Relief mit pompa triumphalis', Thomas Schäfer discusses a little-known relief in Cordoba representing a triumphator in his quadriga. The relief is dated to the Claudian age and once formed part of a longer frieze, of which several other scattered pieces have survived. Schäfer makes a useful iconographical analysis, concluding that the relief without doubt represents Octavian entering Rome in his threefold triumph. He also notes the spectacular relief with the same motif found at Nicopolis, and briefly discusses the presence in Octavian's triumphal car of two children, whose identity has caused debate. His own reading of the two as the twins of Antony and Cleopatra is far from unproblematic, as children riding in the triumphal currus were by tradition relatives of the victorious general rather than captives. Hence, in my view, the two children at Nicopolis are more likely to represent Julia, daughter of Augustus, and Drusus, younger brother of Tiberius.5

Concluding the second section is Ulrike Theisen's 'Princeps triumphans oder der gebaute Triumph des iulisch-claudischen Kaiserhauses in Rom, Pompeji und Mérida'. Theisen discusses the monumental representations of Augustan triumph and virtues both in Rome and the Italic and provincial cities. She emphasises the central symbolic character of the Forum Augustum and shows that both private and public buildings in Pompeii and Mérida throughout Julio-Claudian times continued to construct statue galleries of summi viri as bearers of Imperial political and ideological concepts. The argumentation is solid, but the paper would have benefited from including drawings and photos of the monuments discussed.

The third section focuses on representations of triumph in Augustan poetry. Vera Binder starts off the discussion with a paper on Horace, 'Römischer Triumph und griechisches Epinikion: Bemerkungen zu Hor. Od. 4.4'. Binder is refreshingly sceptical of current scholarly excuses for Horace's praise of the Imperial house. She soundly challenges common views of the poem as failed, incidental, and unwillingly composed, and argues that the piece formed an integral part of the whole fourth book of the Odes that deliberately (and partly through references to Pindar) celebrated Augustus as winner of triumphs and restorer of peace.

Ivana Petrovic ('Aitiologie des Triumphes--Triumph als Motiv in Properz 4,6') discusses Propertius' very complex and varied use of the triumphal theme. She exposes an evident evolution of the motif in the poet's corpus and makes several apt remarks on textual details. Her main thesis concerns carmen 4.6, famously depicting the battle of Actium and the temple of Apollo on the Palatine. Again, the question concerns a poet's relation to the Imperial house: does Propertius sing Augustus' praise or is there a second voice of irony and scorn? Petrovic assumes no definitive position, but argues, very politically, and with a specific eye on the many references to the hymns of Callimachus, that the poem is deliberately ambivalent. She also maintains that Propertius depicts Augustus' triumph as paving the way for a pax Romana that embraced concord between Apollo and Dionysus and even between the Roman and the Ptolemaic world. As a literary analysis, this is a valid reading, but historically, it is deeply difficult. The idea of a triumph not over but side by side with Egypt seems to me very un-Roman.

The two following papers deal with Vergil. Ulrike Egelhaaf-Gaiser discusses 'Werkstattbesuch bei Vulcanus: Triumphale Geschichtsbilder aus Vergils intertextueller Waffenschmiede (Aen. 8,407-453)'. Scholars have written at great length on the shield of Aeneas, but Egelhaaf-Gaiser turns our attention instead to the making of the shield -- Vulcan's visit to his forge under Mount Aetna, where he orders the Cyclopes to produce arms for Aeneas. Egelhaaf-Gaiser's intent is to expose the centrality of this formerly neglected passage in its poetic and historic function. In her view, the workshop scene is not just Vergilian 'Kleinkunst' indebted to Hellenistic forerunners to be read as a prelude to the monumental shield description. Quite the opposite; it is central to the Aeneid and fundamental for reading the concepts of history and poetry that are moulded into the triumphal scenes of the shield. This is an excellent piece of work with several persuasive arguments. Her discussion of the constructive tensions between nature (Aetna, old Italy) and art (shield, temple of Apollo) is deeply to the point. The poet's self-construction forms part of the discussion. Hence, when Vulcan takes use of the primordial forces buried under Aetna to shape his masterpiece, he mirrors the author, who in his text produces a monument of culture and victory out of the burning matter of chaos and war.

The second paper on Vergil is Dennis Pausch's 'hi nostri reditus exspectatique triumphi? Die Heimkehr des Pallas zwischen pompa funebris und pompa triumphalis (Verg. Aen. 11,1-99)'. Pausch focuses on the return to the future site of Rome of young Pallas' dead body after the successful battle against the Latins. The procession has been read as a funus triumpho simillimum, but Pausch strives to show that it should be interpreted vice versa: the triumphus had interpretational precedence over the funus. I am not all persuaded by his arguments. How could a procession centred on a dead hero not be a funeral (that included, of course, massive symbolic references to triumph, as did historical Roman public funerals at this time)? I remain also to be convinced of the importance of the question of precedence. Is it not the very tension between victory and death, triumph and funeral, joy and sorrow that forms the dynamic of the passage? Pausch's point is that to contemporary readers who discovered the funerary subtext in Vergil's description of triumph, Augustus triplix triumphus (as in the Pallas case in realty held for victories in civil war) became problematic. Hence, in Pausch's view, the passage is a clear example of the two-voices theory, in its recent understanding as pessimistic undertone rather than private critique.

Two contributions on Ovid conclude the book, the first of which is Helmut Krasser's 'Ianus victor. Ein Leitmotiv im ersten Fastenbuch Ovids'. Krasser argues that despite Ovid's own statement that his work is to sing arae rather than arma, Book 1 of the Fasti dwells substantially on themes of Augustan victory and triumph. In particular, Krasser explores the function of Janus, and maintains that Ovid used the twofaced god as representation of transition between past wars and Augustan peace. The end of the month of Janus takes the reader to the Ara Pacis. A sacrifice (also playing with the inaugural sacrifice at the start of the year/book) celebrates the end of triumphs at this altar of peace, a pax achieved however, only through Roman victory. Krasser's arguments are well presented and convincing.

Julia Schäfer-Schmitt ('candida victima im tristen Tomis. Zur Funktionalisierung des Triumphmotivs in Ovids Epistulae ex Ponto 2,1') discusses the development of the triumphal theme in Ovid's poems. In the Amores, he is a captive, in the Ars amatoria a spectator. Finally, Schäfer-Schmitt argues that in the exile poetry, exemplified by Pont. 2.1, Ovid plays with several parallel aspects of triumph, thereby exploiting the complexity of the topic to its full potential. On one hand, he (or rather his persona) is a powerless servant of the Imperial house, who like the captive Bato in Tiberius' triumph hopes for pardon. On the other, he is a powerful poetic triumphator, who through his verses retains the capacity of writing triumph, hereby creating for Rome's leaders an everlasting monument of their success. The tension between powerful victor and powerless victim is central to understanding the triumph and its performance as representation, and Schäfer-Schmitt makes a strong case for Ovid's play with these close opposites.

The text in general includes few misprints, but there are several such faults in the English abstracts as well as in some of the bibliographies. There is no detailed list of contributors.

The variety of contributions in Triplici invectus triumpho reveals the high potential involved in studying the very complex nature of the Roman triumph at the age of Augustus. Also, several of the papers, intended to highlight the topic 'in exemplarischen Studien', present a stimulating read. One can but join the editors in their wish that both present and future contributions will pave the way for further rich discussions on topics related to the triumph and its representation in the Roman cityscape and its visual and textual arts.

Authors and titles:

I. Triumph als politisches Ritual
Jörg Rüpke: Neue Perspektiven auf alte Statuenrituale: Ü;berlegungen zu Res gestae divi Augusti 4
Tanja Itgenshorst: Der Princeps triumphiert nicht. Vom Verschwinden des Siegesrituals in augusteischer Zeit
Fabian Goldbeck und Peter Franz Mittag: Der geregelte Triumph. Der republikanische Triumph bei Valerius Maximus und Aulus Gellius

II. Triumph in Bildkunst und städtischem Raum

Wolfram Martini: Raum und Ritual im römischen Triumph. Die Wegstrecke des Triumphzugs
Sven Th. Schipporeit: Wege des Triumphes. Zum Verlauf der Triumphzüge im spätrepublikanischen und augusteischen Rom
Thomas Schäfer: Ein frühkaiserzeitliches Relief mit pompa triumphalis
Ulrike Theisen: Princeps triumphans oder der gebaute Triumph des iulisch-claudischen Kaiserhauses in Rom, Pompeji und Mérida

III. Triumph im Text

Vera Binder: Römischer Triumph und griechisches Epinikion: Bemerkungen zu Hor. Od. 4. 4
Ivana Petrovic: Aitiologie des Triumphes--Triumph als Motiv in Properz 4,6
Ulrike Egelhaaf-Gaiser: Werkstattbesuch bei Vulcanus: Triumphale Geschichtsbilder aus Vergils intertextueller Waffenschmiede (Aen. 8,407-453)
Dennis Pausch: hi nostri reditus exspectatique triumphi? Die Heimkehr des Pallas zwischen pompa funebris und pompa triumphalis (Verg. Aen. 11,1-99)
Helmut Krasser: Ianus victor. Ein Leitmotiv im ersten Fastenbuch Ovids
Julia Schäfer-Schmitt: candida victima im tristen Tomis. Zur Funktionalisierung des Triumphmotivs in Ovids Epistulae ex Ponto 2,1


1.   T. Itgenshorst, Tota illa pompa. Der Triumph in der römischen Republik, Göttingen 2005; M. Beard, The Roman triumph, Cambridge, Mass. 2007; M. R. Pelikan Pittenger, Contested triumphs: politics, pageantry, and performance in Livy's Republican Rome, Berkeley 2008; I. Östenberg, Staging the world. Spoils, captives, and representations in the Roman triumphal procession, Oxford 2009.
2.   E. La Rocca and S. Tortorella (eds.), Trionfi romani. Catalogue of the exhibition held at Colosseum in Rome, 5 March-14 September 2008, Rome 2008.
3.   Here, as in an article published in 2006, Rüpke redates the earliest triumphs to the late 4th century BC when the practice of erecting honorific statues commenced, 'Triumphator and ancestor rituals: between symbolic anthropology and magic', Numen 53, 2006, 251-289; contested by H. S. Versnel, 'Red (herring?) comments on a new theory concerning the origin of the triumph', Numen 53, 2006, 290-326.
4.   T. Itgenshorst, Tota illa pompa. Der Triumph in der römischen Republik, Göttingen 2005, pp. 180-188, reads Valerius Maximus' account as a lieu de mémoire with little relevance to Republican practice. See also M. Beard, The Roman triumph, Cambridge, Mass. 2007, pp. 209-212.
5.   Cf. M. Beard, The Roman triumph, Cambridge, Mass. 2007, pp. 224-225.

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