The Tarot trump cards—carte da trionfi—have the concept of triumphs at their heart. As first pointed out by Gertrude Moakley, the brilliant conceit was to make the hierarchy of trump cards a hierarchy of triumphs, an allegorical concatenation in the tradition of Boccaccio's Amorosa Visione and Petrarch's I Trionfi. Those 14th-century works, and even Tarot itself, (created around 1440), predate the pervasive triumphalism that began in the late 15th century. That motif for both honorific and allegorical displays continued through the 16th and 17th centuries, and began over two thousand years earlier.
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1/19/09 A couple postscript revisions: I'm going to discuss triumphalism and related iconographic motifs in five posts, although the division is naturally somewhat arbitrary. For example, Helios in his chariot continued to be depicted in the Middle Ages as a holdover from ancient times; but it was also a precursor of the Renaissance fondness of the quadriga and a cognate for medieval images of Elijah's fiery translation. This first post will deal with ancient Roman triumphs a bit, with quotes from Margaret Ann Zaho's Imago Triumphalis. The second post will examine the transmission and transition of triumphal motifs in medieval Christian works beginning with Prudentius' Psychomachia, the most prominent early Christian example outside of the Bible (which I'm largely ignoring). It will continue through Pope Innocent III, Dante, and Giotto in the early 14th Century. Petrarch's Triumphs: Allegory and Spectacle, edited by Konrad Eisenbichler and Amilcare A. Iannucci will be the source for much of that. The third post will talk about the revival of triumphalism in the later 14th Century as allegory (i.e., Triumph of Death frescoes), as homage (i.e., Cola di Rienzi's 1354 entry into Rome), and as literary devices in Boccaccio and Petrarch. This too will rely largely on Petrarch's Triumphs. The fourth post will present some material on Renaissance triumphalism in Italy, the fashion for trionfi in the 15th and 16th centuries. This will draw mainly from Imago Triumphalis but also including comments and images regarding Durer and Mantegna. The fifth post will show some images of 17th-century German pageant wagons which illustrate how allegorical figures in such a procession might have appeared at the time Tarot was invented. Those images are from Triumphal Shews: Tournaments at German-speaking Courts in their European Context 1560-1730, by Helen Watanabe-O'Kelly.
The word "triumph" has two very different but directly connected meanings. It refers to both victory and the celebration of victory. Moreover, the symbolism of triumph was varied. The triumphal arch was a monumental symbol of victory often depicted in illustrations. Trophies of victory, including weapons, armor, and captives, were also commonplace symbols of triumph. One of the most striking depictions of triumph is the calcatio colli, the pose in which the triumphator is standing with his foot on the neck of the defeated. It was a common practice in the Byzantine world and widely known. The upright victor and prostrate vanquished are also illustrated in other scenes of trampling, by foot, by horse, or by chariot. Riding a horse was itself, like riding the chariot, a common triumphal symbolism. Another Roman triumphal tradition was the use of allegorical hunting scenes, “where equestrian victory over real and mythical wild beasts signified both political conquest and apotheosis.” Both military and hunting scenes might also include or presage the coup de grace, the death stroke with sword, bow, spear, or mace.
Iconographically, the most characteristic depiction of conquest shows the victor standing triumphant over the fallen vanquished. Another famous motif is the calcatio colli or foot on the neck of the vanquished. Any image where the victor is shown delivering a coup de grâce is equally symbolic, immediately recognizable as a triumph. The subsequent glorification of the victor is most typically shown as a coronation or procession, with crown and chariot as corresponding symbols of dominion. Other well-known motifs of triumphant glorification include enthronement, coronation, a triumphal arch, and so on. A common, somewhat intermediate motif is the heroic equestrian. In addition to the obvious indication of a mounted warrior and battlefield leader, this alludes to the ultimate bloody triumph and perfect justice of Christ, the conqueror described in Revelation 19:11-13.
Just as the concept of triumph has many symbolic representations, a given motif may have various meanings, each appropriate to a different context. To give a few examples, the chariot of Mars suggests battle itself rather than victory (although that is implicit in the god of war) or glorification (again implied—he is a god!) The chariot of Helios (or Selene) is essentially transportation, albeit suitable for a god. Conversely, triumph as both victory and glorification can have many different representations. It is not restricted to just images of coronation, enthronement, royal entry, a particular coup de grâce, or any other specific subject. A mounted reaper menacing (i.e., coup de grâce motif) nobles, clerics, and riff-raff, for example, is immediately recognizable as a triumph of Death. Nonetheless, given the provenance of Tarot, the canonical form of cognate for our discussions is the chariot in procession reflecting the Renaissance revival of Roman triumphs. Given the placement of the chariot within the trump cycle, the essential meaning is the success of military victory, reflected in such a procession.
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The archetype of the Roman triumphal procession did not originate in Italy. Instead it was an amalgamation of early Near Eastern military parades and Greek religious processions that were then filtered through the Etruscan civilization. The Greeks and Etruscans derived the Near Eastern influence from Asia Minor. Assyrian relief panels from the palace of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, Mesopotamia, show an early example of a military victory procession. [c.650 B.C.]
The procession of Ptolemy Philadelphus [c.275 B.C.] is an example of such a Hellenistic procession. The event was recorded in a work by Kallixeinos of Rhodes entitled About Alexandria. The very long but fragmentary text describes a large and elaborate civic procession in which is contained several smaller processions in honor of the gods, deified mortals and other personifications from nature.... The most detailed and complete section from this fragment is the portion that relates the procession of Dionysius. It is within this portion that the similarities between this Greek religious festival and the later Roman triumphal processions emerge. Most striking perhaps is the general arrangement of the procession with priests and musicians, dressed in purple robes and crowned with ivy, leading a long parade of figures and large 4-wheeled carts displaying images of the gods.
The Etruscan Connection
Evidence of a connection between a Greek historical concept and the Roman triumph comes from the Greek language itself. The Latin author Varro attributes the Latin exclamation triumpe to a Greek word thriambos. He further explains that here are no other connections made between the Latin word triumpe and any earlier Latin word. The phonetic shift from the Greek word thriambos to the Latin triumpe is not explained by Varro, since in strict translation the word in Latin should have become triambos. The shift to triumpe then can only be explained by the intervention of another form of the word which comes from the Etruscans. Due to the shift in vowel from a to u it would appear that the Greek word entered the Etruscan language at about the end of the sixth century b.c. The function of the word triumpe was originally as an exclamation. It is recorded as a shout that was repeated five times at the end of a poem entitled Carmen Arvale. The Carmen Arvale was a poem, or perhaps song, which was addressed to the god Mars and was shouted or exclaimed during a victory procession.
The Roman triumphal ceremony, like the word triumph itself, is therefore not an originally Roman phenomenon, but is instead derivative of an ancient Etruscan sacral ceremony. The form taken over by the Romans comes most probably from about the sixth century b.c. the period of the Etruscan monarchy in Rome. All of the most basic components of the Roman triumph come from the Etruscans; the name, the dress and insignia, the chariot, the organization of the procession, and the goal of the procession at the top of the Capitoline Hill. Etruscan reliefs from tombs and sarcophagi, as well as frescoes clearly depict a number of these early processions, some which appear to be religious in nature and others that are clearly more militaristic. The religious processions of the Etruscan priests, the lucumenes, clearly served as a model for the Roman triumph.... A fifth-century b.c. relief from a terracotta sarcophagus from Cerveteri, in southern Italy, depicts an early version of one of these processions.
The historian Florus records that the Romans borrowed from the Etruscans all the implements of the triumph including, fasces, robes of state, official chairs, rings, horse trappings, military cloaks, purple-bordered togas, the gilded chariot drawn by four horses, the embroidered robes and tunics adorned with palms, even the trumpeters who preceded the procession.
The Roman Triumph per se
A particularly Roman quality added to this Etruscan ceremony was the personal prestige the procession brought to the individual honored. The Etruscans had kept the focus on the god Jupiter and the sacrificial ceremonies that were performed at the Capitoline. By the second century b.c. the Romans had already begun to focus more and more on the individual victor and the emphasis of the ceremony itself as a public display and exaltation of the triumphator. The triumphator is in essence, in the earliest examples of the Etruscan triumph, the representative of the god Jupiter.
By the Republican period in Rome there was not just one event generally referred to as a triumph, there were three. There was the triumph proper, the event we are concerned with here, the ovatio, and the triumph on Mount Albanus. The three triumphs are related in that the triumph proper is both the oldest of the events as well as the most honorable, the ovatio, first held in 503 b.c. is similar to the triumph except that the victorious general is not called the triumphator and is not dressed as such nor does he ride to the capitol in a chariot. The triumph on Mount Albanus, first held in 231 b.c., is the least honorific event in that the general could celebrate this event without permission, and it is held entirely outside the city.
The preparations for the ceremony began outside the sacred boundaries of the city in the Campus Martius northwest of the city center. Here the victorious general would address his troops and here too they were required to leave all of their weapons. The triumphal procession then would enter the city proper through the Porta Triumphalis. The procession then followed a counterclockwise route past the Forum Boarium and the Circus Maximus around the Palatine Hill and finally onto the Via Sacra. Once on the Via Sacra the procession traversed the whole of the Forum Romanum passing the temple of Vesta and the Regia. The procession then led past the site of the temple of Saturn and up the steep slope to the Capitoline finally reaching the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.
The actual procession and its arrangement remained virtually unchanged from the earliest period. At the head of the procession came the magistrates and senators, as the leaders of the procession they were visible reminders of the state’s approval of the event itself. Next came the trumpeters and the first of many carts which carried the spoils of war, such as arms and armor as well as treasure, later there would be carts that served as tableau vivants with re-enactments of portions of the battles, accompanying the carts would also be paintings carried on large placards as well as slogans. Then came the laurel crowns that had been presented to the general by the defeated towns and capitals and following them came two sacrificial garlanded white oxen led by priests. Next came the triumphator himself pulled in a four-horse drawn chariot or quadriga. Following the triumphator came the lictors who carried the sacred fasces accompanied by dancers and singers and after them any Roman citizens who may have been freed from slavery as a result of the victory. Behind this grand procession marched the army who shouted praises and io triumphe.
The largest and most conspicuous record of these processions survives in the triumphal arches built and decorated to honor and mark these events. The form of the triumphal arch, like the ceremony that prompted its construction, was dependent on the Etruscans. The arch itself, most probably, derived its architectural shape from Etruscan portals. These Etruscan portals were often wide single bay arches that were elaborately decorated and served as gates or portals to cities.