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Despite a recent spate of scholarship on the Roman triumph (Ostenberg 2009; Pittenger 2008; Beard 2007; Itgenshorst 2005) one important variable in the award of this honor has not been taken sufficiently into account: the location of the triumphator’s provincia. In Contested Triumphs, Miriam Pittenger complies an extensive list of the candidates for triumph from the classical Republic’s best documented period. While other factors she explores such as the nature of the candidate’s imperium (consular or praetorian, as magistrate or privatus) seem to have an effect on the likelihood of triumphal honors, I argue that the single most important variable is geography. Among the 50 candidates she considers from the period 200-167 B.C., commanders in Spain have a low success rate in obtaining a full triumph (just 7 out of 19 commanders or 37%), commanders in Gaul have an average success rate (12 out of 19 commanders or 63%), but commanders in the Greek East have an unbroken record of success in claiming full triumphs (10 out of 10). Nor can this difference be explained by the rank of their commands alone. The low rate of triumphs awarded for Spanish victories no doubt owes something to the praetorian rank of many of these imperatores, but four praetors were among the commanders in the Greek East awarded triumphs, including the only three naval triumphs in the period. Moreover, these Eastern triumphs were awarded despite often fierce opposition, including the lengthy debates over the triumphs for M. Fulvius Noblior and Cn. Manlius Vulso in 187.

The expectation that success in the Greek East would lead to gloria back in Rome inspired several efforts to convince the senate to choose Eastern provinciae for the consuls. P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus tried to get Macedonia declared a senatorial provincia for his second consulship in 194 with hopes of prosecuting a war against Antiochos (Liv. 34.43). M. Aemilius Lepidus tried to overturn the senate’s decision to give both consuls Italian provinciae in 187, seeking a preferred Eastern command (Liv. 38.42). As war with Perseus loomed in 172, a dispute with the outgoing consul, M. Popillius, led the senate to appoint both consular provinciae in Italy instead of Macedonia, to the outrage of the new consuls (Liv. 42.10). When Macedonia was made a consular provincia the next year, the consul alotted the Italian provincia, C. Cassius Longinus, tried to march through Illyria to fight in the East despite the senate’s decision (Liv. 43.1).

Greek commands were more highly sought than other commands, and were more likely to win gloria for the commander, but why? Certainly Livy and our other sources point out the great wealth displayed in these triumphs, but even more noteworthy, in contrast to triumphs over Spain or Gaul, is the display of captured art. I posit that the very cultural complexity betokened by these despoiled statues and paintings was what distinguished the Greeks as worthy adversaries in contrast to the tribesmen of Spain or Gaul. No small share of this cultural importance the Romans ascribed to the East was owed to the Hellenistic kingdoms seen as heirs of Alexander the Great. The Romans regarded the East as the most advanced empire ever achieved, and their commander’s victories a sign of Roman greatness and expansion more important than achievements of equal strategic import in other spheres.


  • Mary Beard, The Roman Triumph (Harvard 2007).
  • Tanja Itgenshorst, Tota illa pompa: Der Triumph in der römischen Republik (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2005).
  • Ida Ostenberg, Staging the World (Oxford University Press 2009).
  • Miriam Pelikan Pittenger, Contested Triumphs (University of Calidornia 2008).

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