In December 62 BC, Pompey returned to Rome after clearing the Mediterranean of pirates and defeating the Eastern potentate Mithridates, thus laying the groundwork for Roman control of the East up to the Parthian border (roughly Iraq). At his celebratory triumph on 28 and 29 September 61 BC, Pompey had placards made to inform the crowds of precisely what he had achieved: 12,183,000 people killed, captured or defeated; 846 warships taken or sunk; 1,538 towns surrendered; every soldier given a bounty of 1,500 denarii (more than ten years’ pay); 20,000 talents of gold and silver paid into the state coffers; and Rome’s annual revenue nearly trebled from 50 million to 135 million denarii a year. Three hundred kings, queens, princesses, chieftains and generals, all wearing national costume, walked ahead of Pompey as hostages. Pompey himself rode in a gemstone-encrusted chariot, wearing a cloak taken from Mithridates and said to have been worn by Alexander the Great. The crowds went absolutely berserk: that’s what it meant to be Roman.
War crimes, triumphalism, xenophobia, racism – such a parade would be unthinkable today (in most of the West, at any rate), and its description lays bare with chilling clarity the vast abyss that yawns between the values that informed Romans of the first century BC and those that inform Westerners