So what was this “triumph”? The “triumph” was perhaps the greatest honor that could be bestowed upon a citizen of the empire. The “triumph” would generally be connected to the leading of an army to victory over an enemy of Rome. Also known as the “triumphus”, it was a both a civil ceremony and a religious ritual. As just indicated, it was held in order to celebrate the celebrate the military achievement of an army commander who had posted significant military successes. By origin and by tradition, the triumph would be held at the successful completion of a war on foreign soil---enemy conquered.
Though there are records indicating the celebration of hundreds of “triumphs,” in line with the elevation of the Caesar to the status of “son of god,” in connection with Augustus Caesar (the reason that Augustus began to be referred to in this way, with this epithet falling to the emperors to follow him, is that Julius Caesar, who was essentially deified at his death, was also said to have adopted Augustus as his son via his last will and testament, thus he could be referred to as the “son of god.” Augustus is not the given name of the emperor, but rather, it means “revered one”), the number of “triumphs” dropped dramatically. Between 27 B.C. and 166 A.D., there are only five recorded “triumphs.” Therefore, in the time of John the Revelator, though few such events had taken place, such events were accorded a place within the civil and religious liturgy of the Roman Empire. The number of “triumphs” dropped dramatically upon Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire.
On the day that the “triumph” would take place, the one being so honored, if not the emperor---in the vast majority of cases, a general---would wear clothing that would readily identify him as semi-divine or kingly. Essentially, the one that would be referred to as the “man of triumph,” was being trumpeted as something close to “king for a day.” The clothing that he wore would be that which was traditionally associated with the statue of “Jupiter Capitolinus,” the supreme deity of Rome. This would include a pure and gold toga, a laurel crown, and red boots. He might even have his face reddened, in honor of the god whose garments he was presumed to be wearing, albeit briefly. Obviously, if it was the emperor himself, then his divinity, along with his kingly status, would be a given and implied.
The one being celebrated, the man of triumph, would ride through the streets of Rome in a chariot. He would do so at the head of a procession with his army and the spoils of his victorious campaign of warfare trailing behind him. His army would be unarmed. The only weapon (or weapons, as there would often be more than one) to be found within the procession would be something known as the “fasces,” carried by the bodyguard of the honoree. Though carried by his guard, it would be understood that this weapon is one that had been truly wielded, and would be well handled, by the celebrant. The “fasces” is a bundle of sticks, tied together, with the blade of an axe emerging from the center of the bundle. Traditionally, this symbolized power and jurisdiction, and the power of life over death. It often served as a symbol of Rome itself.
The ceremony would commence outside the walls of Rome, on the western bank of the Tiber River. The “triumphal entry” would enter the city of Rome by means of a gate that was only opened for these specific occasions. The procession would not only include the army and the spoils of war, but it could also be replete with floats that depicted battles won, and groups of captives consisting of enemy soldiers and famous leaders of the now vanquished foe. Naturally, this can be recognized as the forerunner to what we generally think of as a parade, in our own time. At the head, or sometimes at the center of all of this, would be the celebrant, as cheering crowds often showered him with flowers. A winding path would be followed through the city, known as the “sacred way.”
The climax of the procession would occur at Capitoline Hill. There, in devotion to Jupiter, white bulls would be sacrificed to Jupiter. On some occasions, the vanquished leader of Rome’s enemy would be slain before the eyes of the cheering masses. Then, if the celebrant was a general (rather than the emperor), he would enter into the temple of Jupiter so as to offer his laurel wreath (his celebratory crown) to the god, doing so in order to signal that he had no intentions of becoming the king of Rome. With this portion of the ceremony brought to a close, the temples were kept open, incense was burned at the altars, soldiers would disperse throughout the city in order to properly celebrate, and a great banquet would be provided for the citizens of Rome.