We know from writers such as Suetonius in his Vita Divi Iuli that legionnaires would sing some quite raunchy and bawdy tunes, even during a triumph of their leader.

There were open allusions to sexual habits, political duplicity, such as in the Urbane:

Chap 49:

All the Gauls did Caesar vanquish, Nicomedes vanquished him;

Lo! now Caesar rides in triumph, victor over all the Gauls,

Nicomedes does not triumph, who subdued the conqueror."

Chap 51:

Men of Rome, keep close to your consorts, here's a bald adulterer.

Gold in Gaul you spent in dalliance, which you borrowed here in Rome."

I've been looking into whether this was common and considered a perk of the legions throughout the Roman Republic and Empire.

Do we have any records of this going back to, say, Marius?

Was this still permitted during a triumph of a later princeps? What about during the dominate? Are there records from that time (even if disapproving, such as by Christian writers)?


An interesting article here: Roman Military Research Society, especially on the scarcity of sources and attempts at reconstruction.

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    Of note, is that Julius Caesar was very close to his troops and was well like by his legions due to his ability to bring about victory. As you can see Caesar's tendency towards lechery was well noted by the troops and spoken somewhat fondly of. It should be worth looking into the triumphs of other commanders of the same period to compare if it is a mark of the commander or the period.
    – BOB
    Apr 22, 2016 at 12:59
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    I confess to having read the Gallic War, so I'm familiar with the mutual affection between JC and his legions, especially the X, IIRC. That makes it even more interesting: was this an additional show by Caesar, demonstrating that "these soldiers are like family, I let them get away with anything. Because they will also kill each and every one of you, on my command". There seems so little that survived. One of the Roman legion reenactment societies has an interesting, but too brief article on the scarcity of information. May edit question to add the link.
    – Marakai
    Apr 22, 2016 at 13:20
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    I might make a small note here that the English translations actually fit pretty well with some modern US marching "tunes". Apr 23, 2016 at 0:37
  • Good question. From what I've read about Augustus, Tiberius and Nero, those three emperors alone would not appreciate bawdy songs, and would - discreetly - do something about it.
    – Jos
    Jun 14, 2018 at 1:47

1 Answer 1


After a long while it seems I'll have to do my best to answer my own question.

On a whim I contacted no less than Prof Mary Beard herself. She wrote a book on the Roman Triumph in 2007, which is extensively quoted in Wikipedia. It goes into details on the religious-political meanings of the triumphs and their format.

It also describes that with the arrival of the Principate and then Dominate, the number of triumphs declined radically. Only the emperors were allowed to have them anymore - even if the victory was achieved by some general or legate.

Asking the question of Prof Beard, she kindly but briefly replied:

The truth is that we assume it was standard. But the only detailed evidence we have is re Caesar. I agree it wd be great to know what they sang about the others. M

To my clarifying question concering the distinction between the Republican era vs the Principate/Dominate, she once more replied

I guess so. It may have happened in imperial triumphs too. I don’t think there is evidence either way. M

Barring new information popping up that is likely the state of knowledge as it stands.

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