The Triumphales were originally engraved on marble tablets, which decorated one of the structures in the Roman forum. They were discovered in a fragmentary state as the portion of the forum where they were located was being cleared to provide building material for St. Peter's Basilica in 1546. Recognized by scholars as an important source of information on Roman history, they were taken to the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the nearby Capitoline Hill, and reconstructed. As part of the collection of the Capitoline Museums, the Fasti Triumphales are one of the most important sources for Roman chronology.
The Fasti Triumphales were probably engraved in 18 BC, in order to adorn the Arch of Augustus, which had recently been constructed in the forum. They were contemporary with the Fasti Capitolini, or Capitoline Fasti, a list of the chief magistrates at Rome from at least the beginning of the Republic down to the same period as the Triumphales. Alternately, they may have built into the wall of the Regia, an ancient building that was reconstructed in 36 BC, which was the official residence of the Pontifex Maximus, and the site where the Annales Maximi, official records of Roman history from at least the fifth century BC down to the second, were stored. The Fasti Capitolini were most likely on the west and south sides of the Regia, and the Triumphales may have occupied part of the south wall.
Both lists were discovered by the scholars Onofrio Panvinio and Pirro Ligorio, as they observed the demolition of ancient structures in the forum by a local company of quarrymen working to obtain building material for St. Peter's Basilica. Some of the stone would be reused in the structure, while other portions would be used to make cement. Recognizing the value of the inscriptions, the two ordered the sinking of new trenches, in hopes of recovering additional fragments. In all, they rescued thirty pieces of the Fasti Capitolini, and twenty-six of the Triumphales, which they brought to the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the instructions of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese. The lists were then reconstructed by Ligorio and Michelangelo.
With additional excavations, the number of fragments of the Triumphales has grown to thirty-eight. The known portions of the fasti were published in the first volume of the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum in 1863, and together with the Capitolini, they form part of the collection of the Capitoline Museums, where they are displayed in the Sala dei Fasti, the Salon of the Fasti.
The Triumphal Fasti list all of the magistrates who celebrated a triumph from the legendary founding of the city by Romulus down to 19 BC. The earliest entries record triumphs by the Roman kings. The Fasti also include entries for magistrates who received an ovation, or "lesser triumph". They were evidently carved on four pilasters, each eleven feet tall. The first covered the years down to 302 BC, the second to 222, the third to 129, and the last to the end.
Each entry gives the full name of the magistrate who triumphed, beginning with his praenomen (normally abbreviated), nomen gentilicium, filiation, and cognomina (if any). Following these names are the magistracy or promagistracy held, the names of the defeated enemies or conquered territories, and the date that the triumph was celebrated. Roman numerals indicate those individuals who held the magistracy in question multiple times, or who received multiple triumphs.[ii] Each entry also has the year of the triumph indicated in the right margin.[iii] The years given in the Triumphales are one year earlier than those of the Varronian chronology.
There are several gaps in the Fasti Triumphales. The first occurs following the second triumph attributed to Romulus, and presumably would have included further triumphs attributed to Romulus, or to Tullus Hostilius, the third King of Rome. Major gaps occur from 437 to 369 BC, from 291 to 282, 222 to 197, 187 to 178, 81 to 62, and 54 to 45. The missing sections include three of the triumphs of Camillus, the entire period of the Second Punic War, and all but the last triumph celebrated by Caesar. Shorter gaps occur from 502 to 496, 494 to 486, 329 to 326, 263 to 260, 191 to 189, 104 to 98, and 34 to 29 BC.