<p>The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus</p>
  • Europe /
  • Italy /
  • Rome

A walk through the ruins of the glorious empire’s centre: a voyage to discover those monuments built for celebration.

Triumphalis Gate
Heritage place of interest.
Archaeological area of Sant'Omobono (by Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

At its greatest expansion, the empire stretched over three different continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia occupying an area that stretched from the provinces of desolate and inaccessible Britain to the Nile and Babylonian profundities, even touching the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf.

The extension of such a large empire happened thanks to the renowned and efficient Roman organisation and its legions’ power. Unstoppable under the command of the most famous leaders and emperors, Rome’s soldiers were at the forefront of both military equipment and tactics. As a result, many kingdoms fell under Rome’s overwhelming might, and that victorious Roman spirit prompted the construction of architectural works that could tell of the grandeur of the Roman Empire: the triumphal arches.

The triumphal arches are, in fact, linked to a particular and characteristic ceremony. Indeed, the Romans were known to celebrate their victories and enshrine Rome’s glory in foreign lands through military parades. More specifically, legions and other military departments would enter the capital acclaimed by the entire population. Right here on this road, we can imagine Roman auxiliaries or legionaries who, after undertaking a long journey from occupied borderlands, would enter Rome acclaimed and glorified with carpets of petals and flowers. The Romans lived for glory, and for the stability of such a large empire, it was crucial to be able to promote and celebrate victory. The victory meant peace and tranquillity. In a world where external threats and invaders were always around the corner, keeping the empire’s borders distant was not just about celebrity, luxury, exotic goods, and something to brag about. Still, it was fundamentally about having an inner freedom to prosper and belong to a solid and powerful empire. This feeling lulled the population’s minds and could assuage resentments and revolts due to dissatisfaction. The Roman aristocracy and magistracy soon learned to use the celebration of Rome as propaganda to aggrandize and control the people.

Thus, to exalt the victorious spirit of the empire, Roman generals returning from successful campaigns were hailed and celebrated through a so-called “pompa triumphalis” or a celebratory procession through the centre of the capital ending at the Capitol. Banquets, colourful flags, trumpet blasts, flowers and cries of victory accompanied these parades. Today we can only imagine the emotional power and sense of belonging sparked during these events in the population. Citizens could observe veterans of distant wars bearing scars and glimpse in their bearing and eyes exotic lands subjugated to the might of Rome. In addition to the army display, these parades were adorned with chariots laden with spoils of war, followed by prisoners from distant provinces. Thus, the populace felt a sense of pride and belonging that extended from the remote conquered territories to the individual citizen. The means of communicating this “greatness” were precisely these parades that exhibited examples of what Rome had achieved. 

This ceremony began at the Porta Triumphalis, which was one of Rome’s historic gates, probably located in the Forum Boarium between the temples of Fortuna and Mater Matuta, at this point today in that area between the Capitoline Hill and the Tiber. The moment the victorious general crossed this point, he effectively lost his “imperium” or that full military authority that was granted to him at the beginning of the war. This gate was thus regarded as the symbolic cessation of the conflict and the formal approval of the mission accomplished. 

Let us continue the route, following in the footsteps of the victorious parades by arriving at the renowned Arch of Constantine.


1. Triumphalis Gate

2. Arch of Constantine

3. Arch of Titus

4. Arch of Septimius Severus