Honors in Rome - Summer 2005
Decades prior to the destruction of the Temple, Jesus Christ prophesied its tragic destruction as He and His disciples viewed Herod’s marvelous temple.
Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” (Luke 21: 5-6)
When the view of the Temple finally reached the eyes of Titus in 70 AD, he must have marveled at the glory in a similar fashion. Titus and his father, the great Emperor Vespasian, had been squelching the rebellion throughout Palestine and Syria since 69, and when his father’s services were called upon in Egypt, Titus was entrusted with the command of the Roman Army to complete the crushing of the rebellion.
Titus marched upon Jerusalem to find the city in a state of disarray. Three separate groups of Zealots had emerged, each desiring to take control of the struggling rebellion. Furthermore, the time of year had arrived for the Jewish Passover, their largest religious holiday during which all of the Jews came into Jerusalem to make sacrifices at the Temple, making the city crowded and chaotic.
By means of a siege, Titus quickly took over the two outer walls of the heavily-fortified city, after which he came upon Herod’s Temple. Although less-grand than the original temple—that of Solomon which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC—this temple was still a sight to behold. Most importantly it was the place where the one and only God of the Jews resided, the holiest site in all of Israel, therefore the Jews fought passionately for its protection. After a failed attempt to starve out the resistance, the Romans launched a full-scale attack over the wall surrounding the temple. In the heat of battle however, a Roman soldier threw a flaming firebrand onto the roof of the temple and as the temple was burning about him, Titus entered the temple and beheld the Holy of Holies, a site previously viewed only by Jewish priests. The Romans seized several items from within the temple, most significantly a large menorah, the seven-branched candlestick symbolizing the Jews as a light to the world.
After Titus and his army finished stomping out the rebellion, they returned to Rome to find that he, his brother Domitian, and his father had each been officially awarded triumphs by the senate. Their individual efforts had each exceeded the five requirements set forth by the senate. First, they were each magistrates. Second, they had defeated the enemy in a just war against a foreign enemy, one sanctioned by the senate, thereby approved by the people and mandatory to the survival of the empire. Third, they had each killed well over 5,000 men. Fourth, and perhaps most importantly as it showed the glory of Rome and instilled pride and confidence in its people, they had returned with massive amounts of trophies and prisoners. Finally, the war was entirely complete which enabled the soldiers to return for the glorious celebration.
Rather than have three separate triumphs, the family elected to have one combined triumph, and the ensuing triumph was the greatest triumph of all time.
Like other triumphal arches in memory of triumphs such as the Arch of Constantine and the Arch of Julius Caesar, the Arch of Titus stands tall as a tangible memory of the great achievements of Titus, Vespasian, and Domitian. The inscription on the attic reads, “The Senate and People of Rome to the Divine Titus, Son of Divine Vespasian, Vespasianus Augustus,” and because it recognizes Titus as divine, it was built after his death, by Domitian in 81 AD. The surviving parts of the arch, the interior friezes, as well as the part of the attic facing the Colosseum, are made of Pantelic Marble. The rest of the arch was reconstructed by Valadier in the 1820’s using Travertine stone.
The most famous features of this magnificent arch are its intricately-detailed interior freizes. The north frieze shows Titus in the midst of his triumphal glory. He is depicted riding in his triumphal chariot drawn by four incredible, white horses. In the chariot with him rides Victory, on the verge of crowning Titus with a wreath of laurel, and the cart is being guided by Rome.
On the opposite frieze, the proud returning Roman soldiers hoist the spoils from the temple of Jerusalem. Hundreds of years later, the silver trumpets and Table of Shewbread remain clearly visible. Most impressively, however, is the enormous seven-branched menorah that lies in the center of this relief, obviously the most glorious item in the entire triumph. The prisoners of war march dejectedly before the soldiers, anticipating their approaching death.
The outside of the arch may have originally contained additional friezes showing the triumph. The arch, however, was incorporated into a wall of the Frangipane family in the middle ages when large, powerful families were battling for control of Rome. Although the outside of the arch was destroyed in the process, and even more was significantly damaged in wars of the 12th and 13th centuries, in many ways the wall around the arch served to conserve this monument just as other structures throughout Rome built over ancient structures served to preserve them.http://www.antiquemap sandprints.com/TURNER.htm
Arch of Titus Incorporated into Frangipane Wall
Arch of Titus Incorporated into Frangipane Wall
The arch itself ascends over the Via Sacra at its highest point. Approaching the arch from the East, one walks on the Via Sacra traveling along the exact route of the ancient triumphs. Deep grooves from chariots traveling this busy road remain in the large stones of which it was paved long ago.
Etruscan portals are credited as the predecessors to the triumphal arches. Although great speculation takes place over the role of different parts of Etruscan life, little is known for certain, but the portals probably served as passageways into and out of their great cities.
The function of the arch to the viewer can first be seen in the orientation of the friezes. The directed orientation shows the procession as it would have approached the completed arch, and, although the arch was completed long after the triumph took place, on the southern frieze, the prisoners of war are depicted on the verge of passing through the arch itself. This shows that the arch served as a marker of the pathway along which the triumph traveled, correlating with the idea of the Christians using churches in Rome to mark certain significant sites. The shape of the arch forms an entranceway showing that it marks not a specific location, but rather a route.
As the triumph itself was the closest thing to the true ethos of the Romans, triumphal arches served as constant reminders of past glory and present security and domination. In ancient times, mounted on top of the arch would have been a large statue made of bronze or another precious metal. An additional figure atop this already daunting monument resting at the peak of the Via Sacra would have made its presence even more well-known, serving as a constant reminder of the overshadowing presence and power of the Roman Empire.
Furthermore, the interior frieze depicting the presentation of the Jews’ most holy articles, intended to be viewed strictly by priests, to the entire population of Rome utterly crushed and humiliated the Jewish people. Even today, Jews often refuse to pass under the arch because of the shame which the triumph must have brought them. In a triumph, the most valuable items captured were those representing the gods of the opposition, as capture of these meant that the enemy had been completely defeated. In this way, the triumphal arches were lasting propaganda displaying the glory of Rome, and also warning all who passed through them of the consequences of failure to abide by the laws of the empire.
Domitian was one of the worst emperors the Roman Empire ever had, but to win popularity with the people, he constructed the arch as a way of solidifying his rule of the empire. Titus, whose sudden, early death brought shock to all of Rome, provided Domitian with an opportunity to ride his brother’s popularity as ruler and exploit it to secure his position. The previously discussed location and form of this arch emphasize this use. Furthermore, the arch was built with the intent of forming a lasting memory of Titus, an idea which was extremely valuable to the Romans and can be seen in the grand scale and lasting quality of their buildings.
Inscription of the Attic of the Arch of Titus
Inscription of the Attic of the Arch of Titus
Above all else, the triumph itself was a religious event. The triumphators painted their faces red to symbolize their intimate contact with the Roman god Jupiter, whose temple was the ultimate destination of the procession. They were so close to the god that they were seen as mediators between the god and the people. For this reason, they had the honor of sacrificing two huge white bulls at the Temple of Jupiter as propitiation for the crimes of war which the army had committed. Since the triumphator was in such close proximity to this powerful god, and an event as impressive as the triumph could instill pride on the one who was the focus of the parade, a slave was in the chariot with the ruler whispering, “Remember you are mortal.”
Most importantly, the triumph encapsulates the continual efforts of the Roman Emperors to present to the people an empire in which everything is under control. The procession was carried out in a grand, elaborate fashion in order to convey this idea and build the central ethos of Roman pride. Ironically, underlying this incredible display of grandeur was the insecurity of the rulers, each knowing deep down that what the slave accompanying them in the cart said was true. They were mortal and their glory was fleeting.
The triumph was the largest, most significant event to occur in the life of Romans. It truly showed their glory, victory, power, and the eternal presence of the Roman Empire. For this reason, its use has been modified over time for many different purposes. In the Middle Ages, the Christian church used the imagery powerfully, shifting the focus of the triumph from that of conquest and military victory to that of Christ and the power of the Church. In the Renaissance, the imagery was used as a decoration because of its significance and its ability to weave together classical antiquity, mid-evil times and the renaissance. This marked a shift in the focus of the imagery from the church to the person for which it honored. Soon thereafter, the triumph degraded to solely a parade and was used casually in circuses and simple decoration.
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A Modern Day Triumph: The Rose Parade
A Modern Day Triumph: The Rose Parade
The presence of the triumph can be clearly seen throughout Roman architecture today. Numerous grand monuments proudly display enormous statues of the magnificent triumphal chariot being drawn by four glorious steeds. The inscribed arch is a common motif used to mark the presence of a significant path in the lives of the Romans.
The triumph still stirs the hearts of all who encounter it today, just as it must have to the Romans of old. Its true significance of the triumph is encapsulated in the quote from Robert Payne’s The Roman Triumph.
The highest honor open to a Roman was the honor of a triumph: For this men fought, intrigued, suffered, and died. For the honor of a triumph immense sums of money were expended, innumerable people were needlessly killed, vast treasures were dissipated, and whole countries laid waste. The economy of Europe, Africa, and Asia was mercilessly disrupted, and a hundred cities and a hundred thousand towns were pillaged, so that the conquerors could return laden with plunder to Roma and show what they had accomplished. But, the same battles had to be fought over and over again, and when at last the Empire was falling into ruins, the emperors were still inscribing Pax Aeterna on their coins, when there was no peace, nor any hope of peace.
The triumph, in magnificent form, shows both the glory and the tragedy of the Roman Empire.
VI. Personal Observations
When approaching the arch for the first time, I was almost overcome by the amount of history right beneath my feet. To think of the amazing triumphs that passed over this very ground! And thse are the very rocks which their incredible chariots bounced over as the traveled through the crowds to the Temple of Jupiter! One can just feel the history of the place!
I greatly enjoyed examining the history of the destruction of the temple and of the Jewish people. The menorah, which is by far the most dominating spoil of war engraved into the arch, has been a source of immense controversy. While its base is depicted on the arch as hexagonal, in Jewish history is said to have been a tripod. The Romans could have intentionally performed this change when constructing the arch; however, as can be seen through the orientation of the figures in the friezes, Roman architects paid special attention to detail and accuracy in their work. It is hypothesized, therefore, that Roman influence entered the Jewish temple long before Titus crossed its threshold, implying that the menorah had actually been reconstructed during Herod’s temple expansion.
Jones, Brian W. “The Emperor Titus.” New York, 1984.
Payne, Robert. “The Roman Triumph.” New York, 1962.
Romae, Mirabilia Urbis. “The Marvels of Rome.” New York, 1986.
Yarden, Leon. "The spoils of Jerusalem on the Arch of Titus : A
Re-Investigation". Stockholm, 1991.
Zaho, Margaret Ann. “Imago Tiumphalis: The Function and Significance of
Triumphal Imagery for Italian Renaissance Rulers.” New York, 2004.
Arch of Titus:
The Roman Triumph: