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SPO´LIA Four words are commonly employed to denote booty taken in war,--praeda, manubiae, exuviae, spolia. Of these, praeda bears the most comprehensive meaning, being used for plunder of every description [PRAEDA] Manubiae was the money which the quaestor realised from the sale of those objects which constituted praeda (Gel. 13.24; Cic. de Leg. Agr. 2.2. 2, 59). The term exuviae indicates any thing stripped from the person of a foe, while spolia, properly speaking, ought to be confined to armour and weapons, although both words are applied loosely to trophies such as chariots, standards, beaks of ships, and the like, which might be preserved and displayed. (See Doederlein, Lat. Syn. vol. iv. p. 337; Ramshorn, Lat. Syn. p. 869; Habicht, Syn. Handwörterbuch, n. 758.)

In the Heroic ages no victory was considered complete unless the conquerors could succeed in stripping the bodies of the slain, the spoils thus obtained being viewed (like scalps among the North American Indians) as the only unquestionable evidence of successful valour; and we find in Homer that when two champions came forward to contend in single combat, the manner in which the body and arms of the vanquished were to be disposed of formed the subject of a regular compact between the parties (Hom. Il. 7.77, &c.; 22.258, &c.). Among the Romans, spoils taken in battle were considered the most honourable of all distinctions; to have twice stripped an enemy, in ancient times, entitled the soldier to promotion (V. Max. 2.7.14); and during the Second Punic War, Fabius, when filling up the numerous vacancies in the senate caused by the slaughter at Cannae and by other disastrous defeats, after having selected such as had borne some of the great offices of state, named those next “qui spolia ex hoste fixa domi haberent, aut civicam coronam accepissent” (Liv. 23.23). Spoils collected on the battle-field after an engagement, or found in a captured town, were employed to decorate the temples of the gods, triumphal arches, porticoes, and other places of public resort, and sometimes in the hour of extreme need served to arm the people (Liv. 22.57, 24.21; V. Max. 8.6.1; Sil. Ital. 10.599), but those which were gained by individual prowess were considered the undoubted property of the successful combatant, and were exhibited in the most conspicuous part of his dwelling (Plb. 6.39), being hung up in the atrium, suspended from the door-posts, or arranged in the vestibulum, with appropriate inscriptions (Liv. 10.7, 38.43; Cic. Philipp. 2.28, 68; Suet. Nero 38; Verg. A. 2.504, 3.286; Tib. 1.1. 54; Propert. 3.9, 26; Ovid, Ar. Am. 2.743; Sil. Ital. 6.446). They were regarded as peculiarly sacred, so that even if the house was sold the new possessor was not permitted to remove them (Plin. Nat. 35.7). A remarkable instance of this occurred in the “rostrata domus” of Pompey, which was decorated with the beaks of ships captured in his war against the pirates; this house passed into the hands of Antonius the triumvir (Cic. Philipp. 1 c.), and was eventually inherited by the Emperor Gordian, in whose time it appears to have still retained its ancient ornaments (Capitolin. Gordian. 3). But, while on the one hand it was unlawful to remove spoils, so it was forbidden to replace or repair them when they had fallen down or become decayed through age (Plut. Quaest. Rom. 37), the object being doubtless to guard against the frauds of false pretenders.

Spolia Opima.--This term applied only to spoils which were won in the field of battle by a Roman soldier from the leader of the opposing army. It is usually (though, as will be seen, not invariably) further limited by the condition that the Roman who thus slays and strips the chief opposing general must himself be the actual commander-in-chief of the Roman army (having the auspicia). These conditions were only fulfilled on three occasions (Plut. Marc. 8; Propert. 5.11): first, when Romulus took the spolia opima from Acro, king of the Caeninenses; secondly, when A. Cornelius Cossus won them from Lar Tolumnius, king of the Veientes; and thirdly, when Marcellus won them from Viridomarus (or Βριτόμαρτος, as he is called by Plutarch), king of the Insubrians (Liv. 1.10, 4.20, Epit. xx.; Propert. l.c.; Plut. Rom. 16, Marcell. 8; Sil. Ital. 1.133, 3.587; C. I. L. 10.809). We have to notice, however, that Festus, s.v. while he confirms the above limitation, as generally recognised in the use of the term, quotes Varro as saying, “Opima spolia esse etiam, si manipularis miles detraxerit, dummodo duci hostium [sed prima esse utique, quae dux duci. Vetari enim quae a duce recepta] non sint, ad aedem Jovis Feretrii poni.” (The reading of Hertzberg, De Spoliis Opimis in Philologus, 1.331, is here followed.) The quotation from Varro goes on to distinguish the offerings made by the winners of prima, secunda, and tertia spolia opima respectively: and we gather that, though the spolia opima when spoken of without qualification meant rightly the prima, i.e. those won by general from general, [p. 2.692]yet there were also the secunda, when they were won by a Roman officer slaying the hostile commander-in-chief, and the tertia, when a common soldier performed the same exploit. In the first case alone could they be dedicated in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius: in the other two cases, though dignified by the special name, they were no doubt preserved only in the same way as other spolia. This view obtains further support from a comparison of Florus, 1.33, 11, with V. Max. 3.2, 6; and the probable meaning of D. C. 51.24 is, that when Crassus slew Deldo, king of the Bastarnae, not being αὐτοκράτωρ στρατηγός, he could not dedicate the spoils to Jupiter Feretrius, though they were opima (ὡς καὶ ὄπιμα). It should be observed in conclusion that the term was also used loosely in voting the “spolia opima” to Julius Caesar (D. C. 44.4), and by Livy in speaking of the spolia provocatoria won in single combat with a subordinate in the hostile army as though they were spolia opima, but in this latter case it is probably adopted as the expression of a braggart. The question of spolia opima is discussed by Perizonius, Animad. Hist. 100.7, and more recently by Hertzberg, in Philolog. 1.331: see Marquardt, Staatsverw. 2.579.

[W.R] [G.E.M]

hide References (23 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (23):
    • Homer, Iliad, 7.77
    • Polybius, Histories, 6.39
    • Cicero, On the Agrarian Law, 2.2.2
    • Cicero, Philippics, 1.1
    • Cicero, Philippics, 2.28
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 3.286
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 2.504
    • Suetonius, Nero, 38
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 35.7
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 38, 43
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 22, 57
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 23
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 21
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 7
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 10
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 20
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 13.24
    • Plutarch, Marcellus, 8
    • Plutarch, Romulus, 16
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.7.14
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 3.2
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 3.6
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 8.6.1
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