It is the third orchestral work in Respighi's "Roman trilogy", preceded by Fountains of Rome (1916) and Pines of Rome (1924). Each of the four movements depict a scene of celebration from Ancient Rome. It is the longest and most demanding of the trilogy.
The first movement, Circuses (Circenses), depicts the ancient contest in which gladiators battled to the death, with the sound of trumpet fanfares. Strings and woodwinds suggest the plainchant of the first Christian martyrs which are heard against the snarls of the beasts against which they are pitted. The movement ends with violent orchestral chords, complete with organ pedal, as the martyrs succumb.
Next, the Jubilee (Giubileo), portrays the every-fiftieth-year festival in the Papal tradition (see Christian Jubilee). Pilgrims approaching Rome catch a breath-taking view from Mt. Mario, as church bells ring in the background.
The third movement, Harvest of October (L’Ottobrata), represents the harvest and hunt in Rome. The French horn solo celebrates the harvest as bells portray love serenades.
The final movement, Epiphany (La Befana), takes place in the Piazza Navona. Trumpets sound again and create a different clamour of Roman songs and dances, including a drunken reveler depicted by a solo tenor trombone.