This is a beautiful Triumph motorcycle. A symbol of fine British engineering. The Triumph must be one of the most important brand names in Britain, recognised around the world, it stands with Rolls Royce, Harrods and Stephen Fry as one of the great British icons.

It might be a surprise to discover that it was named after a parade.

A Roman Triumph was a city wide event granted to victorious generals on their return home. Modern parades are long if they go for an hour or so, but these went on for days. They were usually awarded to Generals who had killed at least five thousand of the Rome’s enemies.

The parade began with captured enemy leaders, their families and the leaders of their allies, all usually naked and in chains. Most of these would be executed when they arrived at Tullianum , Rome’s only prison, some were kept as hostages. If the defeated leader was dead there would be a life size model to be ritually slaughtered instead. It is thought that the reason Cleopatra killed herself was to avoid being paraded for the Roman crowds. Prisoners came next, also in chains and these were destined for the slave markets, further adding to the profitability of the campaign. Behind the prisoners came their arms – cart load after cart load of spears, shields and swords. Behind that was the loot. Gold, silver, precious gems, statues, paintings – basically everything that could be moved and stolen from the losing countries was piled into dozens of wagons and displayed. The valuables were distributed after the parade to every Roman – even slaves got some. After one triumph so much money flooded the Roman market that land prices shot up and interest rates plummeted. Exotic animals – elephants, giraffes even rhinos were there too and what could not be moved was displayed in paintings, floats and tableaux, all designed to impress the crowd.

All the city’s politicians came next all on foot, Senators Tribunes and Consuls all in their best whiter than white robes – the Latin word for ‘Bright’ is ‘Candida’ and that is where we get the word ‘Candidate’ from.

The general came next. He would have his face painted red (which apparently was to make him appear more god-like) and in the most prestigious of triumphs he would be riding through the city in a chariot pulled by four horses. A slave would stand immediately behind the general holding a wreath above his head and would occasionally whisper into his ear “Remember, you are but a man.” His soldiers marched behind – by far the biggest contingent of the parade. Roman law said that they could not bear arms in the city and on most occasions the law was obeyed. As the soldiers marched they sang dirty songs describing their general and his prowess.

The official parade concluded at the top of the Capitoline Hill at the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. Here two perfectly white and unblemished bulls were sacrificed and various propitiations made. Everyone then dispersed to attend banquets, games, performances and entertainments – at huge expense – all paid for by the general and extending over days. The extreme extravagance was legendary – in some cases fountains flowed red with free wine, everybody ate, drank and celebrated. It was a party on a scale that few people have seen since. I imagine it was like a combination of Oscars night in LA, the last night of the modern Olympic Games and Woodstock all rolled into a few days of celebration.

And for the day after they had a number of hangover cures not seen today – deep fried canary anyone?

Paul Hannah


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