Josephus' Portrait of the Flavian Triumph: in Historical and Literary Context

Steven Neil (Steve) Mason

Research output: Contribution to conferenceUnpublished paper


The relatively recent recognition that Josephus' portrait of the Flavian triumph (B.J. 7.121–57) is a crucial source for triumphs has not yet encouraged a contextual reading of his account. (This neglect reflects an oft-discussed methodological problem in ancient history.) My contribution offers preliminary thoughts toward an interpretation of the passage in the context of the Bellum Judaicum, written in Flavian Rome shortly after the decisive celebration of 71 CE. Both the triumph itself and its fallout in coins and monuments allowed Flavian supporters to submerge the more important civil war, from which Vespasian had emerged triumphant, in this victory over an alleged foreign menace. Profound humiliation of the eastern barbarian was an unavoidable part of the therapeutic image. Josephus wrote his War in large measure to puncture, undermine, and qualify the prevailing image of his ethnos, albeit in a way that avoided embarrassing the Flavians personally (quite the opposite). Coming near the end of his account, his portrait of the triumph crowns his ironic programme. It furnishes both the representation and (in Books 1 to 6) the reality, both the comforting portrait and the tools to dismantle it. The ceremony was based on untruth -- though Josephus and his audience understood the need for untruth in political affairs.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 4 Oct 2012
EventThe Roman Triumph in Principate and Late Antiquity - Berlin, Germany
Duration: 4 Oct 20126 Oct 2012


ConferenceThe Roman Triumph in Principate and Late Antiquity

Bibliographical note

A version of this presentation will appear as a chapter in the volume of conference proceedings, edited by Johannes Wienand and Fabian Goldbeck.


  • Roman history
  • Flavius Josephus
  • triumph
  • principate


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