Modeling the Enemy

[Image: “Soldiers in the triumphal entry of Henri II into Rouen in 1550,” engraver unknown, from Mary Beard, The Roman Triumph].

In Mary Beard’s recent book The Roman Triumph, we read the interesting story of conquering armies parading architectural models of the forts they’ve destroyed through the streets of their own home city.

These triumphant returning soldiers would sometimes “carry models of forts captured by the victorious army,” she explains. “Enthusiastic accounts of the procession held these models to be so accurate that the places were ‘easily recognizable’ to the participants in the various battles.” It was about “the success of display no less than the display of success,” she quips.

These parades—called triumphs, in the case of imperial Rome, and the subject of Beard’s book, which falls somewhere between classical history and spatial anthropology—both “re-presented and re-enacted the victory.” A military triumph—the victorious parade—thus “brought the margins of the Empire to its center, and in so doing celebrated the new geopolitics that victory had brought about,” Beard adds. Orphaned objects of victory moved through the conquering city, embattled remnants as diverse as “the beaks of wrecked pirate ships” and “exotic trees”—amidst, of course, the architectural models pictured above. Urban simulations, hoisted high above the crowds in an apotheosis of spatial doubling.

One wonders what such a practice might result in today, on the other hand. What expertise in modeling the enemy might be required in our own era’s case, with military operations now running through drug tunnels, feral cities, and mountain caves, amongst many other such complex terrains?

(Read BLDGBLOG’s two-part interview with Mary Beard, published back in 2007, here and here).

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