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Roman Pre-History

Triumphs of Romulus

Triumphs of the Kings of Rome

Opening lines of the fasti Triumphales (Musei Capitolini)

From ‘Mr Jennings’ on Flickr

The opening entry in the so-called fasti Triumphales, which were inscribed on stones that were on public display (probably on Augustus’ triumphal arch) soon after 19 BC, began by recording that:

Romulus Martis F Rex An De Caeninensibus K Mar

[Romulus] Mart [is F] Rex II [....]”

“Romulus, son of Mars, [triumphed for the first time] over the Caeninenses ...

for the second time [....]”

The next eleven lines are illegible.  John Rich (referenced below, 2014, at p. 246, entries 1-15, has reconstructed the inscription for the Regal period on the basis that he set out at p. 244.  I summarise these entries below, with those lost from the fasti but attested by at least one other source in italics:

  1. Romulus (traditionally 753 - 716 BC)

  2. I: over the people of Caenina;

  3. II: [over the people of Antemnae?]; 

  4. III: over the Veientines;

  5. Tullus Hostilius (traditionally 673 - 642 BC):

  6. I: over the people of Alba;

  7. II: over the people of Alba and Veii; 

  8. III: over the Sabines;

  9. [Ancus Marcius], traditionally 642 - 616 BC):

  10. I: over the Sabines and Veientines;

  11. Tarquinius Priscus, traditionally 616 - 579 BC:

  12. I: over the Latins;

  13. II: Etruscans (588 BC);

  14. III: Sabines (585 BC)

  15. Servius Tullius, traditionally 579 - 534 BC:

  16. I: over the Etruscans (571 BC);

  17. II: over the Etruscans (567 BC); 

  18. III: over the Volsci;

  19. Tarquinius Superbus, traditionally 534 - 509 BC:

  20. I: over the Volsci;

  21. II: over the Sabines.

The first point to make is that all of the dates in this list were deduced in the late Republic and were probably published (perhaps for the first time) in the ‘Liber Annalis’ (47 BC) of  T. Pomponius Atticus or by one of his contemporaries (see, for example, Gary Forsythe, referenced below, .  Moreover, the modus operandi of this construction was probably as follows:

Sketch of a fresco of Romulus on the facade of the house of Fabius Ululitremulus at Pompeii

From Josepine Shaya (referenced below, at p. 98, Figure 12)

Some 15 years later, a number of statues of Roman heroes were unveiled in the new Forum Augustum: conspicuous among them was statue of Romulus (which had probably inspired the fresco above).  A copy of the inscription under it (again, known from a later copy, CIL X 0809, from Pompeii) commemorated:

  1. “Romulus the son of Mars.  He founded the city of Rome and reigned for 38 years.  He was the first dux (commander) who, having killed Acron, king of Caenina, duce hostium (the commander of the enemy), consecrated spolia opima to Jupiter Feretrius.  After being received among the gods, he was called Quirinus”, (based on the translation by John Rich, referenced below, 1998, at p. 95).

The fresco above (and thus, presumably the statue in the Forum Augustum) depicted Romulus carrying the spolia opima (i.e., the arms that he had taken from King Acron), which he would soon dedicate to Jupiter Feretrius.  Livy had described these events in his earlier narrative: after Romulus’ victory over the Caeninenses, he:

  1. “... routed their army, ... killed their king in battle and despoiled him [of his armour]”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 10: 3-4). 

Since Romulus had killed the enemy king in single combat, the arms that he took from the dead king as were designated as spolia opima.  After this victory:, Romulus would have carried them as a trophy of war as he:

  1. “... he led the victorious army [back to Rome].  Magnificent in action, he was no less eager to display [the evidence of] his achievements.  To this end, he hung ... [the spolia] of the dead dux  on a ferculum (frame) made for the purpose and, having ascended the Capitol, set it down by an oak tree sacred to the shepherds.  At the same time, he marked out the boundary of a templum to Jupiter and, addressing the god by a new title, uttered the following invocation:

  2. ‘I, Romulus, victor and king, fero (bring) the arms of a king ... to you, Jupiter Feretrius and, on this site, I vow to build a templum, which I have marked out in my mind, a place for dedicating the spolia opima, which later men, following my example, will bring here, having killed enemy kings and commanders’.

  3. This was the origin of the first templum that was consecrated in Rome”, (‘History of Rome, 1: 10: 5-7).

Frances Hickson Hahn (referenced below, at p. 95) pointed out that this account:

  1. “... contains the primary features found in later triumph notices: the return of the army; the procession with commander; the display of captured spoils.”

Be that as it may, all that Livy actually said about Romulus’ triumphant return to Rome after his defeat of King Acron was that exercitu victore reducto (the victor led back the army). 

Livy (ca. 28 BC) seems to have believed that the Roman triumph was instituted at a relatively late date in the Regal period: as Miriam Pelikan Pittenger (referenced below, at p. 33, note 2) pointed out, his first use of the word triumphans came in the following passage:

  1. “After bringing the Sabine war to a conclusion, Tarquinius Priscus, [traditionally the 5th king of Rome], triumphans Romam redit (returned to Rome in triumph)”, (History of Rome’, 1: 38: 3). 

The following passage by the grammarian Solinus (3rd century AD, possibly following Varro), perhaps provided the basis for this completion:

  1. “Romulus reigned for 37 years. 20 He held his first triumph over the Caeninenses, and took booty from their king, Acron: this he dedicated to Jupiter Feretrius, and called it ‘opima’. His second triumph was over the people of Antemnae, and the third over the people of Veii.   He disappeared at the swamp of Capra, on the Nones of July”, (‘Polyhistor’, 1: 17).

As discussed below, Dionysius of Halicarnassus (who arrived in Rome in 30/29 BC and published his ‘Roman Antiquities’ in 7 BC) recorded a slightly different list:

  1. After back-to-back victories over Caenina and Antemnae, Romulus:

  2. “... led his army home, carrying with him he spoils of those whom had been slain in battle and the choicest part of the booty as an offering to the gods;  ... Romulus himself came last in the procession, clad in a purple robe and wearing a crown of laurel upon his head.  So that he might maintain the royal dignity, he rode in a chariot drawn by four horses.  The rest of the army ...  followed, ... praising the gods in songs of their country and extolling their general in improvised verses. ... When the army entered the city, they found that mixing bowls filled to the brim with wine and tables loaded down with all sorts of food were placed before the most distinguished houses, in order that all who pleased might take their fill.  Thus, the victory procession, as it was first instituted by Romulus, which the Romans call a triumph, was marked by the carrying of trophies and concluded with a sacrifice”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 34: 1-3).

  3. After Romulus then suppressed a revolt at the Roman colony at Cameria:

  4. “ ... he celebrated a second triumph.  Out of the spoils, he dedicated a chariot and four [horses] in bronze to Vulcan and, near it, he set up his own statue with an inscription in Greek characters setting forth his deeds”, (‘Roman Antiquities, 2: 54: 2).

  5. In the last war of his reign. Romulus then defeated  the Etruscan city-state of Veii, which opposed the Romans’ control over nearby Fidenae.  This victory culminated in:

  6. “... the third triumph that Romulus celebrated, which was much more magnificent than either of the [other two]”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 55: 5).

  7. Plutarch explicitly contradicted Dionysius:

  8. “... Dionysius is incorrect in saying that Romulus used a chariot [in this procession]: for, it is matter of history that Tarquin, the son of Demaratus, was first of the kings to lift triumphs up to such pomp and ceremony (and indeed, others say that Publicola was first to celebrate a triumph riding on a chariot) and all the statues of Romulus bearing the trophies that may be seen in Rome [portray him] on foot”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 16: 8).

  9. Gavin Weaire (referenced below, at pp. 109-10) suggested that:

  10. “Plutarch’s account may, in fact, have been his own creation, inspired by artistic images of the tropaiophoric (trophy-bearing) Romulus.”

  11. Weaire also noted (at p, 116, with references at note 34) that the most famous image of this kind stood in the Forum Augustum from at least 2 BC: this statue is lost, but it is known from later copies (which include the one from Pompeii illustrated above).

Plutarch is our only other surviving source for Romulus’ victory over Cameria after the death of Tatius.  he recorded that, after this victory:

  1. “Among other spoils, [Romulus] brought a bronze, four-horse chariot from Cameria and dedicated it in the shrine of Vulcan.  He also had a statue of himself made for this shrine, with a figure of Victoria crowning him”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 24: 5).

Although this account is very similar to that of Dionysius, there are a number of important differences between the two accounts:

  1. While Dionysius recorded only that Romulus dedicated a captured chariot to Vulcan, Plutarch was explicit that he made this dedication at the shrine of Vulcan. 

  2. Dionysius is our inly surviving source for the ‘inscription in Greek characters setting out his achievements’ that stood beside the statue of Romulus (discussed further below).

  3. Plutarch is our only surviving source for the figure of Victory crowning Romulus, and she might have been his own invention.  The cult of Victoria was probably introduced to Rome only in ca. 305 BC, when L. Postumius Megellus vowed her temple on the Palatine.  Interestingly, we know of a statue of Victoria that stood in the Forum: according to Zonaras, in 296 BC (two years before Megellus’ temple was dedicated), a number of prodigies were reported in Rome, one of which took place:

  4. “... in the Forum,  [where] a bronze statue of Victoria [that had been] set upon a stone pedestal was found standing on the ground below, without any one's having moved it; and, as it happened, it was facing in that direction from which the Gauls were already approaching [the city]”, (‘Epitome of Cassius Dio, 8: fragment 36).

  5. We also know that the motif of Victoria crowning Romulus appeared elsewhere in Roman art, at least from the late Republic.  For example, Philip Holliday (referenced below, at p. 97 and figures 8 and 9) described a cylindrical relief at Faleri, (modern Cività Castellana) that still survives in the atrium of the Duomo there, in which Victoria crowned Romulus as he made a libation over a flaming altar (with Mars, Venus and Vulcan looking on).  Holliday dated this relief to some time after 46 BC and suggested that at least the figure of Mars, which dominates the composition, probably derived from a freestanding Roman prototype.  It is possible that Plutarch had seen a free-standing statue of Victoria crowning Romulus in another context and had imagined that the statue of Victoria in the Forum (which might have still survived), had come from the Volcanal.

However, the most significant difference between Plutarch and Dionysius is that Plutarch recorded only two occasions on which Romulus triumphed: over Caenina and over Veii.  Raymond Bloch (referenced below, at p. 327) argued that, in the passage above, Plutarch had implied that:

  1. “... Romulus [also] triumphed ... at the end [of the engagement at Cameria], albeit that [he] did not explicitly use the term [triumph]”, (my translation). 

Be that as it may, only one other of our surviving sources states explicitly that Romulus triumphed on three occasions: in his brief summary of Romulus’ 37 year reign, C. Iulius Solinus (3rd century AD) recorded that:

  1. “He held his first triumph over the Caeninenses, and took spolia from their king, Acron.  This he dedicated to Jupiter Feretrius, and called it [spolia opima - see below].  His second triumph was over the people of Antemna and his third over the people of Veii”, (‘De mirabilibus mundi’, 1: 20).

The first entry in the fasti Triumphales (ca. 18 BC) recorded Romulus’ triumph over Caenina  (see the illustration above), but the entries that followed it are now missing.  It is usually assumed (following Attilio Degrassi, referenced below) that these missing entries included Romulus’ second and third triumphs: Degrassi assumed that the second was over Antemna (probably because Livy recorded this victory at ‘History of Rome’, 1: 11: 1, but made no mention of Romulus’ putative engagement at Cameria) and the third (unsurprisingly) was over Veii.  However, it is important to note that these fasti (whether or not they recorded any triumphs of Romulus after that over Caenina) did not represent a universally-accepted tradition: for example, the first Roman triumph recorded by Livy (at ‘History of Rome’, 1: 38: 3) was celebrated by Tarquinius Priscus (traditionally the 5th king of Rome) over the Sabines.  (Interestingly, Livy recorded (at ‘History of Rome’, 1: 37: 5) that, before returning to Rome in triumph after this victory, Tarquinius fulfilled a vow that he had made to Vulcan by burning some of the enemy spoils on the battlefield). 

Thus, Dionysius is the only one of our surviving sources who certainly associated the Volcanal with Romulus’ putative second triumph over Cameria.  In order to understand the significance that Dionysius attached to this association, we might usefully consider his account of Romulus’ first triumph, which (as noted above) came in the aftermath of his abduction of the Sabine women.  On this earlier occasion, Romulus:  

  1. “... fought with [the outraged king of Caenina] and, after killing him with his own hands, stripped him of his armour ... [He then] marched against the [similarly outraged] Antemnates, and, having also conquered their army,  ... he led his own army home, carrying with him the spoils of those who had been killed in battle, [together with the other] choicest part of the booty, as an offering to the gods”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 33:2 - 34: 1).

Dionysius then described what was, in effect, a triumphal procession, in which:

  1. “Romulus himself came last ... , clad in a purple robe and wearing a crown of laurel upon his head.  He rode in a chariot drawn by four horses so that he might maintain the royal dignity.  ... Such was the victorious procession ... that the Romans call a triumph, as it was first instituted by Romulus”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 34: 2-3).

Plutarch objected that:

  1. “...Dionysius is incorrect in saying that Romulus used a chariot [in this procession].  For, it is matter of history that [Tarquinius Priscus] was first of the kings to lift triumphs up to such pomp and ceremony, although others say that Publicola, [one of the first consuls after the expulsion of the kings], was the first to celebrate a triumph riding on a chariot.  And the statues of Romulus bearing the trophies [of his victories] are, as may be seen in Rome, all on foot”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 16: 8).

It seems to me that Dionysius had probably relied on some sort of theatrical performance for his description of the procession in which Romulus rode in a chariot during his first triumph.  Nevertheless, he stopped to lament how the practice of his own day had moved away from what he still regarded as its ancient simplicity, before recording that:

  1. “After the [first triumphal] procession and the sacrifice, Romulus built a small shrine to Jupiter, whom the Romans call Feretrius, on the summit of the Capitol ... In this temple, he consecrated the [armour] of the king of Caenina, whom he had killed with his own hands ... [and dedicated it to] Jupiter Feretrius ... ”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 34: 4).

Archaic Shrine and Romulus’ Second Triumph: Conclusions

In summary, according to Dionysius:

  1. after his first triumph over Caenina and Antemna, Romulus dedicated the armour that he had stripped from the body the king of Caenina (which was characterised by other sources as the spolia opima, because Romulus had killed the enemy king in single combat) to Jupiter Feretrius, and built a new shrine on the Capitol to house both the cult and the spolia opima; and

  2. after his second triumph, he dedicated a bronze, four-horse chariot that he had taken as booty from Cameria to Vulcan, presumably in the shrine of Vulcan that (in his account) Tatius had built on a site that was ‘a little above the Forum’.

Thus, it seems that Dionysius regarded both the armour of the king of Caenina and the bronze four-horse chariot taken from Cameria as trophies of war that were dedicated to the god who had brought victory: Jupiter Feretrius on the first occasion and Vulcan on the second.  He described the dedication to Jupiter Feretrius as the culmination of a triumphal procession, and it seems likely that this is also how he understood the dedication to Vulcan at the Volcanal.  Before the dedication of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capital (traditionally in 509 BC, immediately after the expulsion of the kings), triumphal processions (if they had ever actually taken place in the regal period) must have ended with sacrifices to other gods at other, even older cult sites.  For the Greek Dionysius, Vulcan would have been an obvious dedicatee for a bronze chariot, since his Greek equivalent, Hephaestus, was thought to have built chariots for some of the gods, and he himself was sometimes depicted using a winged chariot to overcome his lameness. 


Marie Ver Eeck (referenced below, at pp. 375-8) suggested that Caesar drew on the precedent of Romulus’ triumphs in order to justify the extraordinary honours that he received after his definitive victory over the Pompeians at Thapsus in April 46 BC.  When the news reached Rome, the Senate decreed, inter alia, that:

  1. “... one of his chariots should be placed on the Capitol facing the statue of Jupiter; [and] that his statue in bronze should be mounted upon a representation of the inhabited world [presumably a globe], with an inscription to the effect that he was ημίθεος (a demigod) ... ”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 14: 6)).

Dio subsequently recorded that:

  1. “... on the first day of [Caesar’s subsequent quadruple triumph in August/ September 46 BC],  ... he climbed up the stairs of the Capitol on his knees, without noticing:

  2. the chariot that had been dedicated to Jupiter in his honour;

  3. the image in which the inhabited world lay beneath his feet; or

  4. the inscription upon it, [from which he later] erased ... the term ημίθεος”, (‘Roman History’, 43: 21: 1-2).

Scholars have long-debated how the word ημίθεος in Cassius Dio’s record (which would have been rendered in Latin as hemitheus).  After discussing the various possibilities, Duncan Fishwick (referenced below, at p. 628) suggested that the word that Caesar erased was in fact the name of a specific ‘demigod’ with whom he had been associated, in which case:

  1. “...the likeliest candidate would appear to be Romulus. ... An inscription ‘Caesari Romulo’ would ... tally nicely with the information Dio provides.  Furthermore, on this view, it would be easy to see why Caesar had the name removed [after his arrival in Rome, when] to be compared with Romulus could provoke hostility and play into the hands of adversaries ... It is significant ... that Dio describes the atmosphere of Caesar's entry into Rome [on this occasion] as one of sullen hostility ... Proof of the point is naturally out of the question, but the possibility seems worth stating, if only by way of rounding out a long-standing controversy.  I suggest that the epithet that Caesar removed could well have been, not a common noun, but [rather] a proper name, [that] of the demigod Romulus.”

Michael Koortbojian (referenced below, at pp. 256-7, note 23) referred to this as an ‘intriguing suggestion’.  Stefan Weinstock (referenced below, 1971, at p. 53) observed that, however the term was actually rendered on the inscription:

  1. “... the problem of Caesar’s divinity was ... raised for the first time in public; and it never disappeared again.”

Putting the inscription to one side, the chariot and the statue of Caesar might have alluded to the tradition of Romulus’ chariot and statue at the Volcanal.  Stefan Weinstock (referenced below, 1971, at p. 59)doubted this”

  1. “Caesar’s chariot ... was certainly not, like that of Romulus, a trophy.  The two [groups of objects had  ... the statue and inscription in common, but probably nothing else: there was no Victoria with Caesar and no globe with Romulus; [and the former] was in the Forum [while] the other was in the Capitol.”

Marie Ver Eeck (referenced below, at p. 377) disagreed, arguing that:

  1. “... the Romans were, without doubt, more conscious of the visual similarities between the two statues and their common triumphal symbolism than of the more  pointed questions as to their origins and their respective significance.  Furthermore, both were intended to assert the image of the charismatic leader whose triumph they commemorated ... in the politico-religious centre of the city, whether it is the Volcanal for Romulus or the Capitol for Caesar.  The group that commemorated the victory at Thapsus was therefore, in my opinion, the first example of the monumental ‘Romulism’ on which Caesarean propaganda was based”, (my translation).

It seems to me that that Marie Ver Eecke is right to stress that each statue commemorated its subject as a triumphant general, and that each had a similar location: indeed, each was located at the end point of the triumphal procession.  She might be correct in assuming that a statue of a figure identified as the triumphant Romulus stood in the Volcanal in 46 BC, that it had come to symbolise Romulus’ triumphs at Caenina, Antemna/ Cameria and Veii prior to his apotheosis, and that this in some way justified the award to Caesar of four triumphs and a quasi-regal status, since he had arguable conquered much of the ‘inhabited world’.  However, it is important to bear in mind that Dionysius and Plutarch are our only surviving sources for the tradition attached to this putative statue, of Romulus and neither of them gave any indication that he had actually seen it.  Thus, the most that we can say is that the source(s) on which Dionysius relied could have represented a tradition that was strong enough in 46 BC to serve the propaganda purpose that she envisaged (although, in that case, it is hard to understand why Livy, for example, had ignored all three of romulus’ putative triumphs).


As noted above, conical column was erected very close to the inscribed cippus some decades after the erection of the cippus itself. There are a number of possible candidates for the statue that might have stood on this column.  As noted above, Dionysius of Halicarnassus recorded that, after Romulus suppressed a revolt at the Roman colony at Cameria:

  1. “ ... he celebrated a second triumph.  Out of the spoils, he dedicated a chariot and four [horses] in bronze to Vulcan and, near it, he set up his own statue with an inscription in Greek characters setting forth his deeds”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 54: 2).

It is possible that Dionysius or his source(s) imagined that this statue of Romulus stood on this column and that the nearby inscription in ‘Greek’ letters recorded his deeds: as Filippo Coarelli (referenced below, 2014, at p. 57) pointed out:

  1. “Certainly, the letters of the cippus might ... easily have been construed [as ‘Greek’ in the light of] ... the script derived from the archaic Chalcidian alphabet brought to Italy by the Greek colonists”, my translation).

Read more:

Russell, A., “The Augustan Senate and the Reconfiguration of Time on the Fasti Capitolini”, in:

  1. Gildenhard I. (editor), “Augustus and the Destruction of History : the Politics of the Past in Early Imperial Rome”, (2019), Cambridge, at pp. 157-186.

Hickson Hahn F., “Livy's Liturgical Order: Systematisation in the History”, in:

  1. Mineo B. (editor), “A Companion to Livy”, (2015) Chichester

Rich J., “The Triumph in the Roman Republic: Frequency, Fluctuation and Policy”, in:

  1. Lange C. J. and Vervaet F. (editors), “The Roman Republican Triumph: Beyond the Spectacle”, (2014 ) Rome, at pp. 197-258

Pelikan Pittenger M., “Contested Triumphs: Politics, Pageantry and Performance in Livy's Republican Rome”, (2008) Berkeley, Los Angeles and London

Forsythe G., “Critical History of Early Rome”, (2005)  Berkelely, Los Angeles and London

Rich J. W., “Augustus's Parthian Honours, the Temple of Mars Ultor and the Arch in the Forum Romanum”, Papers of the British School at Rome, 66 (1998) 71 - 128

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