IO TRIUMPHE! - Rome's Legendary First Triumph

1 March 752 BCE, Rome’s legendary first king Romulus celebrated the first Roman triumph.
“sic triumphare appellatum, quod cum imperatore milites redeuntes clamitant per urbem in Capitolium eunti IO TRIUMPHE! id a θριαμβωι a Graeco Liberi cognomento potest dictum“ (thus it is called “to triumph”, because the soldiers, returning with their commander, cried “Io triumphe” to him as he went through the city onto the Capitoline; it is possible that this is said from θριαμβός [used] as an epithet of the Greeks for Liber, Marcus Terentius Varro, “On the Latin Language“)

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 - 1812): "The Triumph of Titus" (1885)
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836 - 1812): "The Triumph of Titus"

It is rather debatable if Romulus’ victory would have qualified for holding a triumph, since one of the major prerequisites was a “just war” and the king capturing the town of Caenina whose inhabitants sought revenge for the infamous “Rape of the Sabine Women” was not exactly a retaliation from the Romans for pillaging or the breach of a treaty and just a minor invasion of Roman territory. However, Romulus returned to his city victorious, dedicated a temple to Jupiter Feretrius, the hurler, who struck down oathbreakers with his thunderbolt – according to Livy Rome’s first temple. The date was auspicious anyway, even if it was not a feast day of Jupiter himself, it was at least the beginning of the Roman New Year, when the Matronalia were held in honour of Juno, Mars’ birthday was celebrated by the Salii with their war dance and the Sacred Fire of Rome was renewed. No wonder that the second triumph was held almost 250 years later on the occasion of the defeat of the deposed last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, and his Etruscan allies at the Battle of the Arsian Forest.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640): "A Roman Triumph" (1630)
Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640): "A Roman Triumph" (1630)

Even if the triumphs of victorious commanders and emperors are an integral part of our common imagination of the splendour of Rome, with the laurel-crowned triumphator riding in a quadriga drawn by four white horses, accompanied by his troops marching through the streets of the city lined with cheering civilians, parading their spoils of war as seen on the Arch of Titus, it is highly questionable if those parades ever took place in the way they were recreated by Medieval, Renaissance and Fascist leaders centuries later. Sources are at least as scarce as the allegedly documented events about triumphs taking place and our means of reconstructing the famous pageants are sketchy at best. That does not mean that victory parades did not take place, of course. They did and were, after the end of the Republic, usually reserved for the emperor or members of his family. The possibility of holding a major public event was usually jealously guarded.

Francesco de' Rossi (1510–1563): "“Triumph of Furius Camillus“
Francesco de' Rossi (1510–1563): "Triumph of Furius Camillus“

"urbani, servate uxores: moechum calvum adducimus“ – “Home we bring our bald whoremonger; Romans, lock your wives away!” the men of Legio VII, VIII, XI Hispana and X Equestris sang when they marched through Rome in the triumph of thin haired Caesar returning from the Gallic Wars, according to Suetonius at least, who wrote about the event 150 years later. The soldiery chanting ribald tunes during the only event when they were allowed to enter the city legally under arms and the presentation of war loot and important prisoners such as Vercingetorix seems to be the most credible part of the triumphs celebrated until Constantine held the last one after his victory over Maxentius in 312 CE and Rome ceased to be the capital of the empire. But if the state slave standing behind the triumphator on his chariot, holding the laurels over his head and whispering in his ear: “Respice post te, hominem te esse memento! Memento Mori!“ ("Look behind you! Remember that you are a man! Remember that you'll die!") as Tertullian hands it down through the ages and all the other rituals are not an accumulation of various ancient customs, dimly remembered by posterity, is open to debate.

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