Book Review: Rituals of Triumph in the Mediterranean World


by Anthony Spalinger & Jeremy Armstrong, editors

Leiden & Boston: E.J. Brill, 2013. 158. Pp. viii, 160. $127.00. ISBN: 9004251006

How the Ancients Celebrated Victory

This work takes a serious look at the different ways in which triumphal celebrations were held in the ancient civilizations around the Mediterranean, based on the proceedings of a conference held in 2008.  That conference was inspired in part by Mary Beard’s outstanding 2007 book The Roman Triumph, which broke considerable new ground in our understanding of that most famous of ancient victory celebrations. 

After a short introduction, the editors, professors at the University of Auckland,  examine the character of the triumph in several cultures at various times in a series of essays by noted specialists in their fields.  Coverage is not chronological, however, but rather are arranged so that readers can compare different approaches to triumphal observances in the different cultures.  The editors chose “The Early Roman Triumph” to be the first essay because it is the ritual most likely to be familiar to most readers.  There then follow essays on Egyptian triumphal observances under Ramesses III, a contrast between Hellenistic victory parades and Roman triumphs (the former a display of royal greatness, the latter “all about warfare”), the curious lack of interest displayed by Greek historians toward victory celebrations, the Assyrian “triumph,” victory celebrations in New Kingdom Egypt, and finally the Greek practice of erecting “trophies” on the battlefield.  Oddly, although individual essays often make comparisons between observances in different cultures, there is no conclusion that tries to pull together some common themes. 

Nevertheless, while intended primarily for a scholarly audience, Rituals of Triumph in the Mediterranean World, a volume in the Brill series “Culture and History of the Ancient Near East,” may be read with profit by the layman with an interest in ancient military history. 

Note: Rituals of Triumph in the Mediterranean World is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978-9-0042-5117-5.  In addition, individual chapters are available in electronic format directly from E. J. Brill.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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