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De triomf van de tiran - Triumphi als kritiekmiddel in Romeinse literatuur

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Abstract

Of all the rituals of ancient Rome none was more spectacular than the triumph. Scholarly attention has long been devoted to the origins and circumstances of this ritual, but lately the role of the triumph in moral discourse has also come into focus. Emperors could gain great military prestige from celebrating a triumphus, yet this prestige could (posthumously) be undermined by hostile historians and biographers who used descriptions of triumphal processions to cast unpopular emperors in a negative light. Discussing in particular the ‘bad triumphs’ of Nero, Elagabalus, and Gallienus, but also considering many other cases, this article explores how triumphal descriptions could be employed as literary weapons. Ancient authors did not hesitate to emphasize, distort, or invent certain aspects of the ritual to suit their purposes. In fact, the triumphal idiom proved such a powerful tool for the delegitimation of emperors that it was even employed to situations which did not constitute triumphal celebrations at all. Hence the cultural elite sought to control the meaning of the ritual and to establish whether emperors counted as benign rulers or tyrants.

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Compared to Republican times, triumphs were less often staged in Rome during the imperial period. The way in which this specific form of manifesting imperial victories and victoriousness was utilised between late Severan times and the Tetrarchy is the subject of the following study. However, the aim of this study is not a reconstruction of the respective triumphal spectacles. Rather, the specific semantics and the social significance of the triumphs within the context of imperial legitimisation shall be analysed by means of the triumphal ceremonies of Severus Alexander in 233, of Pupienus, Balbinus and Gordian III in 238, of Gallienus in 263, of Probus in 281, and of Diocletian and Maximian in 303.
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