- See SpoliaSpoliaSpolia is a modern art-historical term used to describe the re-use of earlier building material or decorative sculpture on new monuments...
for Roman reuse of building rubble, and Spolia (disambiguation)Spolia (disambiguation)Spolia is a Latin word that occurs in the following contexts:*Spoils of victory, especially**Spolia opima, arms captured from the enemy commander*Spolia, building rubble re-used...
for other meanings
- See Spolia
Spolia opima (or "rich spoils/trophies") refers to the armor, arms, and other effects that an ancient Roman
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....
general had stripped from the body of an opposing commander slain in single combat
Single combat is a fight between two single warriors which takes place in the context of a battle between two armies, with the two often considered the champions of their respective sides...
. Though the Romans recognized and put on display other sorts of trophies--such as standards and the beaks of enemy ships--spolia opima were considered the most honorable to have won and brought great fame to their captor.
Over the course of their entire history, the Romans recognized only three instances of spolia opima having been taken. The first was in 752 BC by Romulus
Romulus and Remus
Romulus and Remus are Rome's twin founders in its traditional foundation myth, although the former is sometimes said to be the sole founder...
from Acro, king of the Caeninenses
Caenina was a town nearby ancient Rome, in Latium.In Rome's early semi-legendary history, the king of the Romans, Romulus, sought to obtain women as wives for his male citizens. After delegations were sent to nearby regions requesting wives and the delegations were refused, Romulus devised a...
after the Rape of the Sabine Women ; the second by Aulus Cornelius Cossus from Lar Tolumnius, king of the Veientes; the third by Marcus Claudius Marcellus
Marcus Claudius Marcellus
Marcus Claudius Marcellus , five times elected as consul of the Roman Republic, was an important Roman military leader during the Gallic War of 225 BC and the Second Punic War...
Viridomarus was a Gaulish military leader who led an army against an army of the Roman Republic at the Battle of Clastidium. The Romans won the battle, and in the process, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, the Roman leader, earned the spolia opima by killing Viridomarus in single combat....
, king of the Gaesatae
The Gaesatae were a group of Gaulish warriors who lived in the Alps near the river Rhône and fought against the Roman Republic in the Battle of Telamon of 225 BC...
The Celts were a diverse group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Roman-era Europe who spoke Celtic languages.The earliest archaeological culture commonly accepted as Celtic, or rather Proto-Celtic, was the central European Hallstatt culture , named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria....
ic warband). As the first two figures are legendary, or semi-legendary, it may be said that Marcus Claudius Marcellus is the only Roman figure ever to have accomplished this feat.
Political ImplicationsOf course, while these noted above are the only recognized instances, there is a case where the honour was not awarded despite the fact that the act itself had (it is likely) been achieved. The man concerned, Marcus Licinius Crassus (not to be confused with his grandfather the triumvir of the same name
Marcus Licinius Crassus
Marcus Licinius Crassus was a Roman general and politician who commanded the right wing of Sulla's army at the Battle of the Colline Gate, suppressed the slave revolt led by Spartacus, provided political and financial support to Julius Caesar and entered into the political alliance known as the...
) had defeated an enemy leader in single combat (in Macedonia) in 29 BC
Year 29 BC was either a common year starting on Friday or Saturday or a leap year starting on Thursday, Friday or Saturday of the Julian calendar and a leap year starting on Thursday of the Proleptic Julian calendar...
and was thus eligible to claim the honour of spolia opima.
The main reason that Crassus' victory was downplayed (he was granted a Roman Triumph
The Roman triumph was a civil ceremony and religious rite of ancient Rome, held to publicly celebrate and sanctify the military achievement of an army commander who had won great military successes, or originally and traditionally, one who had successfully completed a foreign war. In Republican...
upon his return to Italy) has a lot to do with the charged political atmosphere of Rome at the time. His victory occurring when it did, the chronological proximity to the initial settlement of the Emperor Augustus (then Octavian) meant that the spolia opima was swallowed in an effort to consolidate Octavian's position in the eyes of the Senate. The efforts and successes of other military leaders were also not recognized. This helped maintain military stability and strengthen the prestige of the Emperor. Octavian needed to unite all Roman leaders behind him and to strengthen his own military prestige (as we are told in the Res Gestae Divi Augusti
Res Gestae Divi Augusti
Res Gestae Divi Augusti, is the funerary inscription of the first Roman emperor, Augustus, giving a first-person record of his life and accomplishments. The Res Gestae is especially significant because it gives an insight into the image Augustus portrayed to the Roman people...
). The emperor also wanted to avoid the rise of powerful military commanders with their own political factions, and thus dissuade a relapse into the civil wars wrought previously by factionalism in the Roman armies.