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SCEPTRUM In Homer the king carries a sceptre as a badge of his power (cf. Il. 2.86, σκηπτοῦχοι βασιλῆες; ib. 206, βασιλεὺς ἔδωκε Ζεὺς σκῆπτρον τ᾽ ἠδὲ θέμιστας), but it is not distinguished by name from other staves, since σκῆπτρον is used not only of those borne by men of rank and heralds, but of a beggar's cudgel (cf. Od. 17.195 and 199, where it is synonymous with ῥόπαλον). The king's sceptre, however, was richly ornamented, being covered with gold foil (χρύσεον, Il. 1.15, &c.) and studded with gold nails (χρυσεἵοις ἥλοισι πεπαρμένον, Il. 1.245), which were doubtless for the purpose of attaching the gold plating to the wood. Among the objects found at Mycenae are the head and butt of a staff of this kind, of beaten gold and decorated with a spiral and a leaf pattern

Sceptres of silver plated with gold. (Schliemann's Mycenae.

(Schuchhardt, Schliemann's Ausgrabungen, Leipzig, 1890. p. 285, fig. 251). In classical times, when kings were but little known in Greece, the chief bearers of sceptres were the gods, goddesses, and heroes in works of art. A good instance is the sceptre of the Zeus Olympios of Pheidias, which was adorned with all manner of metals, and surmounted by an eagle (τῇ δὲ ἀριστέρᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ χειρὶ ἔνεστι σκῆπτρον μετάλλιος τος πᾶσιν διηνθισμένον. δὲ ὄρνις ἐπὶ τῷ [p. 2.612]σκήπτρῳ καθήμενος ἐστὶν ἀετός, Paus. 5.11, 1). Flowers and fruit are even more common as badges, the sceptres of the gods being in fact strangely like those of men of rank in Assyria described by Herodotus (1.195), surmounted by an apple, a rose, a lily, or some such thing (cf. Murray, Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1889, vol. x. p. 251).

In the Tragedians the word σκῆπτρον, though often used metaphorically of royal power (e. g. Soph. O. C. 426), is still quite general in meaning, the old man's staff or the wayfarer's stick being both so called (Soph. O. T. 456; O. C. 84; Aesch. Ag. 75). The staff, however, that was in everyday use in the fourth and fifth centuries, was plain, and seems only in such exceptional cases as that of Parrhasius to have been of Homeric magnificence (σκίπωνί τε ἐστηρίζετο χρυσᾶς ἕλικας ἐμπεπαισμένῳ, Athen. 12.543 c).

At Rome, even more than in Greece, the sceptre, whose Latin name is scipio (a word originally borrowed from the Greek), was unknown except as a relic of the heroic and kingly age (cf. Verg. A. 12.206) and an attribute of the gods. There is one important exception, that of the magistrate, who appeared in triumphal costume in the processus consularis at the games, bearing in his hand a sceptre of ivory, surmounted by an eagle (Juv. 10.43; Prudent. Peristeph. 148, “aquila ex eburna sumit arrogantiam gestator ejus ac superbit belluae inflatus osse, cui figura est alitis” ). This, however, was an emblem of apotheosis, and, unlike the other ornamenta triumphalia, was never worn on other occasions during the life of the triumphator, nor was it carried at his funeral. Even when the emperors are represented on coins as bearing it (cf. Antoninus and Volusian's coins), the sceptre is the token of their triumph and not of supreme power.

Livy's story (5.41) of M. Papirius, the senator, striking the Gaul scipione eburneo, is held by Mommsen to be at variance with the usages of after-times and to be a poetic exaggeration, as are the many descriptions which late authors give of the costume of the early Romans. (Buchholz, Die homer. Realien, ii. p. 8; Helbig, Das homerische Epos, 1887, p. 378; Daremberg and Saglio, Dict. Antiq. art. Baculum; Mommsen, Staatsrecht, 2nd edit., 1.140; Staatsverwaltung, ii. p. 587; Marquardt, Privatleben, 2nd edit., p. 742; Mayor ad Juv. 10.35 foll.)


hide References (12 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (12):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 1.195
    • Homer, Odyssey, 17.195
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.11
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 426
    • Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus, 84
    • Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus, 456
    • Homer, Iliad, 1.15
    • Homer, Iliad, 1.245
    • Homer, Iliad, 2.86
    • Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 75
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 12.206
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