Sunday, September 5, 2004

O Divine Titus! A Roman Triumph

Evan Xu
Honors in Rome - Summer 2004

I. Introduction
The year 70 A.D.

Jerusalem fell. No matter how zealous they were, or how determined they were, those barbaric Jews should never even dreamed of challenging the absolute right of Roman rule.

"Debellare Superbos!"

The great poet Virgil had made this point clear in his Aeneid nearly a century ago. Those who question the rule of the Empire will vanquish! Fools! How dare they shame our Gods! We privileged them to be a self-governed section, and this is how these arrogant fools repay the favor? Our Gods will not allow such disgrace! If their temples do not honour our Gods, then let them burn! Let this be an example for all!
Temple of Solomon
Artist's sketch of Solomon's Temple looking Northwest

In 66 the Jews declared independence from the Roman Empire. This action infuriated the emperor; Roman legions led by Titus Flavius were sent to punish the Jews. After four years Titus's army sacked the city of Jerusalem, putting an end to the bitter rebellion. Titus burned the Jewish Holy Temple of Solomon and brought back to Rome the most sacred relics in Jewish faith: the Menorah, the seven-branched golden candelabrum that represented the nation of Israel. It demonstrated the idea that the nation of Israel would accomplish its goals by setting an example for other nations, not by force, hence the term "a light unto the nations".
The holy candle stick, as appeared on the Arch of titus

Now, ironically, the Menorah lay in the hands of the Romans, taken by force.

This war deserved a celebration. Romans loved seeing the Triumph, where the victorious Roman army marched in the city to show off the loot and captives.
Now Titus could parade the city with his soldiers and his spoils of war, to show the fellow Romans how valiant he had been, and how successful this war was. To have a triumph granted by the Roman Senate, all he needed was to face 5,000 enemies of a foreign nation; he captured 50,000. Even more importantly, this war protected the honor of the Empire; this war ensured the supremecy of Roman power. If this would not get him a Triumph, nothing would.

Of course, the Triumph of Titus was one of the greatest triumphs ever held.

Roman Senators, spoils of war (including the Menorah) and captured Jewish generals lead the parade; but that was but a minor part of what the citizens of Rome came for. They came out to cheer for their valiant sons and brothers, the shining future of the empire. "Here comes Titus the Imperator!" Citizens cried out as the great man's chariot finally appeared from Campus Martius. Clothed in toga made of purple silk, crowned with wreath embroidered in laurel, proudly, there rode Titus, the pride of Rome! The smile! The gestures! Citizens cried to cheer for him!
"io triumph", "Io Triumph"! Welcome back! Valiant sons of Rome!

The appearance of Titus and his soldiers marked the peak of the parade. Musicians blew their horns, dancers showed their moves, commoners cheered and yelled, and children chased after the chariots: this procession absorbed everyone; everyone loved this celebration.

The Temple of Jupiter lay in front of the procession. Here the procession marched into a complete stop, and Titus offered two giant white bulls to Jupiter, thanking the God for watching over Rome. In addition to the appeasement and the show of gratitude, Titus also asked for a favor from Jupiter: the soldiers justly and honorably protected the Empire by plunging into the river of blood and guilt; only Jupiter could cleanse them and purify them.

Temple of Jupiter
Today's Remains of the magnificent temple dedicated to Jupiter

After the purification and sacrifice, the last of the rituals began. For the Roman citizens it was merely a performance, yet for the captured generals it marked the end of their lives.

O great Jupiter, here we present you the leaders of the enemies of state! Those who dare to offend you must not live. Off, off with their heads!

"Celebrate! Citizens! This, is the Triumph of Titus!"

II. Description
The Arch of Titus was erected in the year 82. Titus had only ruled the Empire for merely 3 years before the Gods reached out and invited him to Heaven. The arch was commissioned by his brother Domitian. Though Titus wasn't able to see this arch in his lifetime, this was but a minor setback. Through this arch, his honor would be retained through history, and his greatest accomplishment will be taught to the young.
Arch of Titus

The Colloseum side of the ceiling contains this inscription: "Senatus Populusque Romanus Divo Tito Divi Vespasiani Filio Vespasiano Augusto", or, "the Roman Senate and People to Deified Titus, Vespasian Augustus, son of Deified Vespasian". The Senate and people honoured Titus by dedicating this triumphal arch to him.
Inscription on the Arch of Titus
"Senatus Populusque Romanus Divo Tito Divi Vespasiani Filio Vespasiano Augusto" "
The Roman Senate and People to Deified Titus, Vespasian Augustus, son of Deified Vespasian"

The two relief panels on the side of the passageway make up the core of this arch. The first relief shows the spoils of war from the Temple of Solomon: The Menorah, the Altar, the trumpets, and the placards. What is remarkable about this relief is its depth and perspective. The spoils procession, heading towards a honourary arch, is lead by the Altar and followed by the Menorah, but the arch is much smaller in size compared to the Menorah; hence the arch must appear from a distance. The Menorah party is also considerably larger than the Altar carriers. As a result, the Menorah appears much closer to the observer, and this generates a sense of realism in the procession.

Spoils of War

The second relief shows Titus in his quadriga, a royal chariot drawn by four horses, riding with the winged goddess of victory on his shoulders. Similar to the first relief, Titus also appears closer to the observer. Together the two reliefs complete the core of Titus' triumph procession. Furthermore, this imaginary procession faced in the actual direction of the real triumph procession, proceeding from the Colloseum to the Palatine Hills through Via Sacra.

Titus in his Chariot

When a traveler walks under the arch, he could look up into the vault and find the carving of Titus riding on an eagle. The sacred eagle is the messenger sent by the Gods. It would carry Titus to Heaven, where the deceased emperor shall continue to watch over the people from above.

Eagle Carrying Titus to Heaven

Although the arch today seems to have survived two thousand years of wear and tear, and it may appear in a great shape, it actually is not. The first major reconstruction came during the Middle Ages when the Frangipani family, then ruler of Rome, incorporated the arch into their city wall. Huge holes were punched into the wall to make places for beams. Later the wall was taken down and the arch was saved, though in quite a mess. Miraculously, the reliefs were preserved in great condition.

In the early 19th century the arch was breaking apart. The condition was so terrible that major reconstruction projects were inevitable. In fact when Giuseppe Valadier tried to repair the arch in 1822, he decided to break down the entire arch and then rebuilt it with frame support of travertine stones. Travertine stone was more durable than marble, and Valadier wanted to distinguish the repaired arch from the original marble monument.

III. Function
During the Roman Republic people too built arches, but often times for less significant reasons. Sometimes a rich man would raise an arch in the middle of road just to show off his wealth. Such arches were named fornices and were despised by Augustus. He reasoned that such magnificent structures should only be used in remembrance of great events. Augustus ordered that all future arches would be only used in the Etruscan way: they shall be triumphal arches to remember the honours of the Emperors. And so they were.

One other important function of the Roman arches were as base support for statues, but during the Dark Ages most of the bronze statues were taken down and melted to build something more pious by the Catholic Church. There is hardly any written record on what statues were on the Arch of Titus, and over time the arch itself became more important as a historical monument.

IV. Patron
Besides its festive role, the Roman Triumph was really meant to justify the war and purify its soldiers. Roman economy was very much based on the spoils of war; hence winning wars was essential to the expansion of the empire. However, the Roman theory of non-aggression states that unless there was absolute need, a war should be avoided. By showing the loots and enemy generals to the people, the general declared that he had done good to the empire by eliminating possible threats while providing a source of treasures and slaves to the people.

With same reasoning, Domitian built the Arch of Titus not only to remember Titus, but also to show the rewards of winning a war. He had been waging wars abroad; in particular he moved to expand the empire eastward and met with heavy resistance. By using the Jews as an example, Domitian hoped the to send a message to the resisting countries: join the civilization, or prepare to die! The best situation, of course, would be when the enemies falter with fear and submit to Roman rule. If the enemies still wish to fight, the reminder of the Triumph of Titus will definitely motivate more Romans to volunteer for war. Look at what war could bring to the Empire! Fame, wealth, women, slaves, secret treasures of the east...Join the army and you can take a share! For the Empire! For Rome!

V. Conclusion
Today, whenever a traveler passes through this arch, he or she will always be reminded the triumph of Titus. When one walks from the Colloseum to the Foro Romana, that person is actually walking on Via Sacra, the vary route which Titus had ridden to the Temple of Jupiter. And as one approaches the entrance to the forum, one would pass under the Arch of Titus and feel the magnificent Roman army, the festive parade, the graceful Titus, the Winged Symbol of Victory, all engraved besides him: the entire triumphal procession came to life and engulfed the traveler. Roman Empire had fallen, but the spirit of Rome shall live, forever.


VI. Personal Observations
The sack of Jerusalem had such an incredible traumatic effect both in magnitude and in length. Two thousand years is a long time: empires and dynasties flourish and collapse; religion lived on. Rome continued in the world of religion: Emperors became Popes, Senators became Bishops, political empires turned into religious regimes. The power of religion must not be underestimated.

My own research had shown that the seven-branched golden Menorah was the core relic for Jewish faith. The Holy Book prohibited the remake of seven-branched holy Menorah with any material, yet Professor Michael and Debra both told me the holy Menorah had nine branches.

Confused, I looked up more information: the Menorah in Solomon's Temple was originally seven branched, but in re-dedication of the Temple the new Menorah had nine branches. Legend has it that the candles of Menorah lasted eight days, even though supposedly they were meant to last for only one day. So the new Menorah had nine branches, where one central branch was used to light the other eight. The name of the central branch is Shamash, name for the Jewish God of Sun.

Out of curiosity I also found an interesting decoration pattern that appeared not only on the Arch of Titus but also appeared on several other triumphal arches as well. None of the sources I read about took note on this pattern, and I want to find out if this pattern really expressed any specific connotation, and if so, what did it mean? Why was it there in this way?
Arch of Titus
The highlighted part appears in several other arches. Its symbolism is unclear.
Interested students could try to look up the information.

VII. Bibliography
Brilliant, Richard. "'Let the Trumpets Roar!' The Roman Triumph".

Bergmann, Bettina and Christine Kondoleon, Ed. Studies in the History of Art, Vol 56 The Art of Ancient Spectacle. National Gallery of Art, 1999.

Macadam, Alta. "Blue Guide: Rome". A&C Black: 2003.

Steves, Rick. "Rick Steves' Italy 2004". Avalon Travel Publishing, 2003

Yarden, Leon. "The spoils of Jerusalem on the Arch of Titus : a re-investigation". Stockholm, 1991.

Zaho, "The History of the Roman Triumph". Honors Summer Italian Packet 1, University of Washington Copy Center, 2003.

Other Resources
on Arch of Titus:
on Roman Triumph:
Online Encyclopaedia: