In ancient Rome, military commanders who had been victorious in battle, killing at least 5,000 enemy troops, were honored publicly in a huge civil and religious ceremony called a Roman Triumph. The “triumphator,” as he was called, was paraded through the city ahead of his troops. In front of him were the chiefs of the conquered peoples, who were followed by wagons of gold, jewels, and other spoils of war. The products of his great victory were directly in front of his eyes throughout the parade.
In the chariot with him was a slave who held a laurel crown directly over the triumphator’s head. As he was holding the crown, the slave would repeat continuously, “Memento mori, (Remember you are mortal)” or “Respica te, hominem te memento (Look behind you, you are only a man).”