Sorry-looking barbarians in chains and the glorious generals who brought them to their knees are the stars of a new exhibition celebrating Roman triumphs that has opened here in Rome.
Awarded to military leaders in ancient Rome who had won a particularly impressive victory against a foreign enemy, a triumph was a lavish public parade that saw the winning general and his army marching through the city with white sacrificial bulls, showing off the treasures they had snatched as well as humiliated leaders and their families.
Around 100 works including bas-reliefs, sculpted marble slabs, statues, bronzes and coins are on loan from the largest Italian and international archaeological museums for the show at the Colosseum, tracing triumphs from the time of the Etruscans up until the reign of the Emperor Constantine (272-337 AD).
''This is the first time an exhibition has focused on conveying the significance of a Roman triumph in the ideology of the western world,'' said Rome Cultural Heritage Superintendent and curator Eugenio La Rocca ''Similar symbolism and rituals can be found from Byzantine iconography right through the Renaissance era up to the parades of the Third Reich or those of Labour Day and military displays,'' he added.
The first section of the Rome show is dedicated to the triumphs themselves, with marble scenes portraying prisoners in chains, reproductions of conquered cities and above all images of the enormous piles of booty accumulated during the course of successful campaigns.
The second section focuses on the conquering heroes, from busts of generals such as Caesar, Pompey and Octavian to marble reliefs recording bloody battle scenes. On display here are other objects loaded with symbolic meaning, including armour and helmets richly decorated with battle scenes and portraits of victorious generals.
The exhibition closes with a selection of images showing populations defeated by the might of the Roman army including Greeks, barbarian chiefs, Dacians and Jews, trussed up and with their heads bowed low in front of their captors.
Among the highlights is a statue of a wild-bearded barbarian prisoner with his hands tied behind his back found in Alexandria, Egypt, and dating to the reign of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD); and a tiny gold coin minted under the Emperor Vespasian (9-79 AD) depicting a defeated barbarian leader on his knees offering up his army's standard. Organisers pointed out that the Colosseum was an ideal venue for the show because it is so close to triumphal arches built to celebrate imperial victories that are still standing today among the ruins of the Roman Forum.
Nearby is the arch of Constantine - the largest triumphal arch known - as well as those of Titus (39-81 AD), celebrating the future emperor's destruction of the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and of Septimius Severus (146-211 AD), with its reliefs showing winged victories ready to crown the emperor after he defeated the Parthians twice.
Roman Triumphs runs at the Colosseum in Rome until September 14.