Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Triumphal Procession of General Lucius Aemilius Paulus

And so the dawn of the first day of the three-day triumph finally arrived. For Paulus, it was to be a bittersweet celebration, his mind no doubt in disarray with conflicting emotions. He watched as his soldiers carefully loaded the massive quantities of plunder onto decorated wagons arranged in proper order in and around the Circus Flaminius just outside the city walls: 1200 filled with embossed white shields, another 1200 filled with bronze shields, and yet another 300 laden with lances, pikes, bows, and javelins.[i] His eye for detail and flare for the dramatic ensured that the display would not disappoint. The arms glittered with freshly polished bronze and steel, and were artfully arranged to look exactly as though they had been piled together in heaps and at random, helmets lying upon shields and breast-plates upon greaves, while Cretan targets, Thracian wicker shields, and quivers were mixed up with horses’ bridles. Through them projected naked swords and long Macedonian spears, all the arms being loosely packed so they rattled harshly as they were borne along. The sounds and sight of them was intended to strike terror into onlookers.[ii] More wagons and 800 panoplies—full suits of Macedonian hoplite armor—brought up the rear.

As was the custom, a host of trumpeters led the way. The procession made its way from the Circus Flaminius through the Porta Triumphalis and into the city proper, through the Circus Maximus filled with 150,000 or more cheering citizens, around the south side of the Palatine Hill, then onto the Via Sacra that led to the Forum, crowded with spectators on the temporary scaffolds. From there it returned to the Campus Martius and dispersed. When it was over after almost eight hours, the awestruck crowds returned home and waited excitedly for the next day.[iii]

If the first day was impressive, the second day was mind-boggling. The hours slowly ticked by as the captured riches of Macedonia and Epirus in their gleaming splendor paraded along the same route before the citizens of Rome. Leading the way were 3000 slaves carrying 750 large vessels filled to the brim with silver coin, each vessel valued at three talents.[iv] After them came an undocumented number of richly worked silver mixing bowls, cups, and drinking horns. To end the second day, 500 wagons carrying the artistic treasures of the conquered countries—statues of various gods and men—were followed by golden shields and finally a series of colossal paintings and models depicting the conquered countries and cities, a storyline of Paulus’s winning campaign.[v]

With a heavy heart but no doubt buoyed by the success of the first two days, Paulus awoke early on the third day to a camp alive with energized activity. Smoke billowed from the morning fires of the soldiers who were joking and cursing excitedly while polishing metal weapons and ensuring their uniforms were spotless. Legionaries were to be in full parade dress uniform: knee-length, short-sleeved maroon linen tunics; long chain mail shirts; leather sandals; swords; and brass helmets, complete with plumes. Officers added transverse helmet plumes and scarlet capes. Spears were to be carried with adornments of laurel. Paulus, though, was unique in his appearance. As a triumphator, he alone would be clad in a tunic embroidered with palm leaves, the tunica palmata, over which was a purple robe or toga picta interwoven with gold. His face, in deference to the god Jupiter, would be painted red. It was to this task that he was now attending, while his lictors and aides scurried about getting his chariot in order.

That small, circular chariot was itself a work of art. Carved from ivory, it was magnificently adorned—including a large phallus hanging underneath—and barely large enough to carry Paulus and the slave who shared it with him. The four horses with cropped manes that were to pull it danced nervously as Paulus’s aides tied the wooden yoke and harnesses to the chariot.[vi]

The procession soon set out, following the same route as the previous two days. This time the lead was taken by the entire Senate of Rome in all their finery.[vii] After them came the trumpeters who, every few hundred meters, sounded the charge of battle. Not that the crowds needed prompting to watch; the final day’s displays were truly wondrous. In order, they included: 
  • 120 sacrificial white oxen with gilded horns and bedecked in colored garlands and ribbons. They were led by young men in brightly bordered aprons and accompanied by boys carrying gold and silver libation vessels.77 vessels full of gold coin which were carried just as the silver coin was the day before;[viii]
  • A ten-talent, consecrated bowl of gold set with jewels and precious stones;[ix]
  •  A vast display of all the gold tableware from Perseus’s palace, all carried by a variety of foreigners;
  • 200 ivory elephant tusks, each about three cubits in length;
  • Perseus’s ivory chariot enriched with gold and jewels and carrying his arms and crown;
  • Perseus’s horse in battle array with cheek-pieces set with gold and the rest of its gear adorned with gold;
  •  A golden couch spread with flowered coverlets;
  • A golden palanquin with crimson curtains;
  • A body of musicians, possibly flute players;[x]
  • Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of fettered prisoners-of-war.[xi]
Hours later, when the last of the captives reached the Forum, the afternoon sun was dipping low in the western sky. The crowd sensed that the end was near. The climax of the three days of endless paraded booty was soon to be before them. After a short interval, the two young sons and daughter of Perseus trudged by in shackles. Accompanied by their tutors and teachers, they were exhausted, and all were in tears. The children bowed and begged to the spectators. It was an emotional sight and moved many of the Romans to shed compassionate tears with them.

Such a sight were they that the crowds almost missed the darkly robed Perseus, chained and plodding head down after his children, utterly bewildered and despondent. Before him were his friends, intimates, and 250 of his officers, all with grief-filled, watery eyes.

But now, just as 400 bearers of golden wreaths from the conquered cities passed, to the southeast, carried on the afternoon breeze, came the faint synchronized song of the army mixed with the scent of leather and cold steel. At their head, resplendent in his chariot, rode General Lucius Aemilius Paulus, consul of the Republic of Rome and triumphator. A Delphic laurel wreath encircled his head, a spray of laurel was held aloft in his right hand, and an ivory scepter surmounted by an eagle in his left. Behind him in the chariot, a slave held a golden Etruscan crown ornamented with jewels just over his head. The faint words of the slave could barely be heard above the horses’ hooves clacking on the broad stones of the Via Sacra, “Respice post te, hominem memento te” (Look behind you. Remember you are a man.). Behind the chariot came the army, troop after troop of cavalry and cohorts of legionaries, close to 40,000 strong.  In full dress uniform with battle awards and bearing arms, they trotted, marched, sang, jested, and chanted, “Io triumpe!”[xii] It was a colorful, dramatic sight, one to be remembered for the ages.

At the far western end of the Forum, where the crowd was heaviest and the Via Sacra made an abrupt turn to the southeast around the Temple of Saturn with its beautiful marble columns, Paulus stopped. Here he gave a quick order that sent Perseus under armed escort, clanking in chains to the nearby Carcer dungeon to await his fate. As the remainder of the prisoners, army, and procession dispersed—some of the prisoners no doubt bound for execution, Paulus and his lictors carried on up the winding road to the top of the Capitoline Hill and the Temple of Jupiter.[xiii] The crowds watched as he disappeared over the rise. In the temple, accompanied by priests, he dedicated his laurel to the god in thanks for the successful campaign and began the sacrificial rituals. Many of the paraded oxen had already been slaughtered in preparation for the post-celebration feast that would be given for all citizens. This act climaxed the three days of processions.[xiv]

After the final feasting, so tradition tells us, Paulus as the triumphator would have returned home preceded by torches and flute players and escorted by a crowd of citizens.

Notes and Further Reading

[i] The Circus Flaminius is mentioned in Livy (Vol.6, Book 45.39) as being a location where the spoils of war would have been gathered.
[ii] Both Plutarch and Diodorus Siculus (1957) mention details of the triumphal content but the days on which certain items were displayed conflict. I have amalgamated the two and assumed that the first day would most logically be comprised of captured arms, the second day of captured booty (money, works of art, etc) and artistic depictions, and the third day of sacrificial oxen, captured prisoners, King Perseus, and of course Paulus and his army. This arrangement would certainly be the most dramatic progression for the triumph. In actuality, this arrangement favors the description of Diodorus Siculus, the writer who lived closer to the actual date of the triumph.
[iii] This is an assumed route as depicted by Beard (2007; p. 335). There would have been no reason for the first day’s procession to continue up to the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. Also, given the number of wagons stated by Siculus (2700 total), if each wagon were to take approximately 10 seconds to pass a given point—not unreasonable considering they would be large, traveling slowly, and pulled by a team of horses or oxen—it would take a total of 7.5 hours for just the wagons to pass. The assumption that the procession returned to the Campius Martius and dispersed is mine and is based on the fact that it was probably the only logical thing to do.
[iv] Taking the current value of silver at approximately $18.00 per ounce and an ancient Roman talent equating to 32.3 kg of weight, the present-day value of the 750 vessels of silver coin alone would be over $46million.
[v] Once again, simple calculations based on an assumed time for each wagon or vessel to pass a given point (@ 10 sec each) yields about 2 hours for all the vessels of silver coin to pass and about the same for the 500 wagons to pass. The day’s procession was probably about as long as the first day which would leave another 3 hours or so for the remainder of the booty to pass (i.e. silver bowls, cups, statues, shields, paintings, and models) so there was probably quite a lot that was not officially documented. Although the original sources do not specifically state that the paintings and models depicted all the cities and countries captured, this was a fairly standard ritual in triumphs and I have assumed it here.  
[vi] The chariot may very well have been constructed especially for this particular triumph since there was a large amount of ivory that had been captured by Paulus. The horses, although often depicted as being white, were not always that color and there is no mention of the color in this triumph. See Ramsay (1875).
[vii] Although the Senate is not mentioned by primary sources, it was customary for them to lead triumphal processions and I have chosen to put them on the last day. See Ramsay (1875). Also as mentioned, the oblique reference to the senators in Servilius’s speech hints at their presence.
[viii] The number of vessels filled with gold coin is once again different between Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch. Plutarch states there were carriers of gold which was contained in 77 vessels each holding 3 talents of gold coin. Siculus states 220 carriers only. However, it is likely that the word carriers in each interpretation refers to people, probably about three to carry each vessel which closely matches the numbers. Thus using Plutarch’s figures, today’s value of this coin alone, with gold at approximately $1200 per ounce, would be over $315 million.
[ix] The value of this bowl today would be about $14 million for the gold alone, let alone the precious stones.
[x] This is not specified in original sources but was generally accepted practice, also mentioned in Beard (2007; p. 222).
[xi] There is no mention of the prisoners-of-war in this triumph from the primary sources other than Perseus and his retinue. Beard (2007; pp.118-119) discusses the distinct possibility that many were sold into slavery even before leaving foreign shores, this being a source of quick cash and eliminating the care needed for them. However, as with the Senate notably missing from Plutarch’s description of Paulus’s procession, they could have been included and could have taken many hours to pass. Servilius’s speech also mentions “victims” who might have been the prisoners and who might indeed have been sacrificed.
[xii] The origin of this chant is debated by scholars but the meaning is generally agreed to be the calling forth of the god Jupiter to manifest himself, supposedly in the person of the conquering general. See Versnel (1970; pp. 48-55).
[xiii] It’s possible that Paulus made an example of foreign deserters by having them trampled to death by elephants as part of post-triumphal games in Rome. See Bergmann and Kondoleon (1999; p. 81). Other prisoners of nobility rank would no doubt have been executed as well.
[xiv] The exact procedures at the end of the celebration are totally unknown and my explanation is completely my own invention, based on what is actually known, such as a culminating sacrifice to Jupiter by the conqueror. The feasting is again assumed for Paulus’s triumph as no sources mention it but it was standard procedure for celebrations at this time. The Forum would only have been capable of holding at most about 10,000 persons for a feast at tables so either most of the populace ate elsewhere (e.g. in temples, other buildings, or their homes) or only a select few were invited. At the very least there was probably a private feast for the senators in or around the Temple of Jupiter as mentioned in Servilius’s speech. Also, most of the booty would have been immediately stored in the state treasury in the adjacent Temple of Saturn.

  • Livius, T. (1905). The History of Rome, Vol. 6, Book 45. Rhys, E. (Ed.). London: J.M. Dent & Sons, Ltd.
  • Siculus, Diodorus. (1957). The Library of History of Diodorus Siculus, Vol. XI, Book XXXI. Loeb Classical Library Edition. Retrieved April 30, 2010, from*.html
  • Beard, M. (2007). The Roman Triumph. Harvard University Press.
  • Ramsay, W. (1875). Triumphus. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London: John Murray. pp. 1163-1167.
  • Versnel, H.S. (1970). Triumphus: An Inquiry into the Origin, Development and Meaning of the Roman Triumph. Leiden: E.J. Brill.
  • Bergmann, B. and Kondoleon, C. (1999). The Art of Ancient Spectacle. Washington: National Gallery of Art.


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