Imperial Triumph, Funeral and Apotheosis: The Arch of Titus in Rome

Naomi Norman

University of Georgia

Spectacle punctuated life at Rome, especially the life of the emperor. From the triumph to the funeral, the figure of the emperor occupied center stage in the capital city. His triumphal processions celebrated his military prowess and equated him with Jupiter Optimus Maximus; his funeral commemorated his life and served as a succession drama for the inheritor of his imperium. At the funeral, final judgment was passed on the emperor and his rule: "good" emperors were divinized, "bad" emperors suffered a condemnation of memory, and others just faded away. Emperors who celebrated triumphs were more likely to be divinized than were those who did not. Indeed, for the emperor, apotheosis was directly connected to triumph—the one completed the process begun by the other. Their shared iconography and ritual show that they were two halves of the same idea, one eloquently articulated in the Arch of Titus on the Sacra Via. This paper demonstrates how the sculptural decoration, architectural form, and, especially, the physical location of the arch work together to reify this link between imperial triumph and apotheosis. It takes as its starting point the imperial funeral and apotheosis of Augustus, looks in detail at the architecture and decoration of the arch and articulates the relationship between imperial triumph and apotheosis, suggesting that apotheosis is viewed as the culmination of a process begun at the celebration of an imperial triumph. The imperial funeral procession completed the circuit begun earlier by the triumphal procession and the act of apotheosis completed the process begun by the triumph. The goal of the triumph was to make the emperor a god for one day; the goal of apotheosis was to make him a god forever. For the "good" emperors, the triumph was but a taste of the divinity that awaited them at apotheosis.


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