A few years ago Mary Beard and Keith Hopkins wrote a fascinating book about that most famous monument of imperial Rome, the Colosseum. They asked just what exactly went on there. Now Mary Beard has turned her attention to the most celebrated ritual in Roman life: the Triumph granted to a victorious general. It’s not only celebrated, but is something we know, or think we know, a lot about. For one thing, we have a list of Triumphs, the ‘Fasti Triumphales’, which she calls ‘an extraordinary achievement of Roman historical reconstruction and the backbone of many modern studies of the ceremony’s history’.
For another, some elements of the ceremony are common knowledge that goes beyond the narrow field of classical scholars. Take, for instance, the slave, who stood behind the triumphant general in his chariot, and repeatedly reminded him that he was only a mortal man who must die some day. We’ve