The Roman Triumph

The Roman Triumph

by Mary Beard


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It followed every major military victory in ancient Rome: the successful general drove through the streets to the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill; behind him streamed his raucous soldiers; in front were his most glamorous prisoners, as well as the booty he’d captured, from enemy ships and precious statues to plants and animals from the conquered territory. Occasionally there was so much on display that the show lasted two or three days.

A radical reexamination of this most extraordinary of ancient ceremonies, this book explores the magnificence of the Roman triumph, but also its darker side. What did it mean when the axle broke under Julius Caesar’s chariot? Or when Pompey’s elephants got stuck trying to squeeze through an arch? Or when exotic or pathetic prisoners stole the general’s show? And what are the implications of the Roman triumph, as a celebration of imperialism and military might, for questions about military power and “victory” in our own day? The triumph, Mary Beard contends, prompted the Romans to question as well as celebrate military glory.

Her richly illustrated work is a testament to the profound importance of the triumph in Roman culture—and for monarchs, dynasts and generals ever since. But how can we re-create the ceremony as it was celebrated in Rome? How can we piece together its elusive traces in art and literature? Beard addresses these questions, opening a window on the intriguing process of sifting through and making sense of what constitutes “history.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674032187
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 05/31/2009
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 653,833
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Mary Beard has a Chair of Classics at Cambridge and is a Fellow of Newnham College. She is classics editor of The Times Literary Supplement and author of the blog “A Don’s Life.” She is also a winner of the 2008 Wolfson History Prize.

What People are Saying About This

Robert Harris

Occasionally one comes across a work of history which lights up a whole era as if by a lightning flash. Mary Beard's new book falls into this rare category. By focusing on the specific ritual of the triumph, she brilliantly illuminates the Roman world in all its aspects - military and political, social and literary, religious and geographical - and also reminds us how much of our own language and culture of success is drawn from this gaudy and often bloody spectacle.
Robert Harris, author of Imperium

William V. Harris

In this highly individual book Mary Beard plays havoc with conventional ideas about the Roman triumph, while at the same time scrupulously presenting the evidence with which we can make up our own minds. It is the most important statement to date by a major historian of Roman culture.
William V. Harris, Shepherd Professor of History, Columbia University

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