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 is generally thought of as a modern parade. 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, with this path 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.
If one was to take the position of a spectator of the Roman “triumph,” and found himself in a position to view the entirety of the procession and offer a description of what was being seen, with this sight fused with knowledge of what all would take place in association with the procession and the symbolism at work by what was being seen, and then offered a report on what we witnessed, it might go something like this: “I was so excited for the events that were about to unfold before my eyes. Truly this was a banner day for Rome and its glory. From what I understood, the war had been fierce. Some thought it would never end, but eventually the general triumphed. There were some rumors that Caesar intervened and took command of the army, directing it to its victory, and I can believe it; but if he did, he’s allowing the general to receive all the credit and be the subject of today’s ‘triumph.’
So even though this general was being honored today, and even though we eventually looked to him as a ‘god for a day,’ or ‘king for a day,’ there was a bit of an undercurrent amongst the populace that it should have been the Caesar himself riding at the head of this procession. Along those lines, it’s interesting that, with all he has done for the empire, it’s the Caesar that is truly responsible for the victory that was celebrated here today, but he has never once insisted upon his own ‘triumph.’ What humility. It tends to make one think that he truly is a son of the gods.’
I had a great seat. I could not believe it when Caesar himself sent a royal messenger to bring me to the place from which I could watch the whole thing. Then, when I was asked to write an account of it, from the people’s point of view, well, wow! How could I refuse? Me, of all people. It was all a bit overwhelming. I was so stunned by the news that I think I fainted. I could have kissed the messenger’s feet, but he wouldn’t let me. I was day-dreaming, thinking about my good fortune, and I almost missed the beginning of the parade. It’s a good thing I came to myself when I did. That would not have been a good thing.