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A Mock Triumph

Contributed by David Verne

The emperor, Domitian, has always been jealous of the military glory won by his father and brother. Even though he believes in Augustus' advice to not expand the Empire further, he decides to embark on a military campaign of his own. On the pretense of conducting a census in Gaul, he gathers a couple legions, including transferring units from other commanders that needed them. He decides to pick a target that would be easy to defeat and launches an attack on the Chatti, a Germanic tribe that been allied with Rome for several years. After regrouping following the initial assault, the Chatti begin harassing Roman supply lines and launching guerrilla attacks, but the Roman numbers are too great. Domitian pushes the Roman frontier into the area of modern day Bavaria and begins the construction of forts and roads.

With winter approaching, Domitian decides that it would be best to gain a victory, so he declares a victory and leaves. In Rome, he celebrates a Triumph for his "victory" over the Chatti and gives himself the title Germanicus. Tacitus calls the whole thing a "mock Triumph" and claimed that Domitian dressed slaves from the marketplace in German clothing and had them grow beards to make it look like large amounts of prisoners had been captured. [1]

My Take by David Verne
Although this story of Domitian attacking an ally could be dismissed as senatorial historians trying to tarnish his reputation, there is evidence from later in his reign that lends credence to this attack. While attacking an ally wasn't a smart move, a benefit from this campaign was the strengthening of the Limes Germanicus. This was a 353 mile fortification network of 60 forts and over 900 watchtowers that served not as a prevention against invasions, but as an early warning system of invasions and gave the Romans knowledge of all traffic along the border. Domitian didn't begin or finish this project, but he made important contributions to it's construction.

See Also


  1. Dando-Collins, Stephen (2010). Legions of Rome. St. Martin's Press. 

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