Scars, spoils and splendour.

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Scars, spoils and splendour.

Postby Tiberius Dionysius Draco on Fri May 18, 2007 2:28 pm

Salvete omnes,

Allow me to quote a member of a newslist I'm subscribed to:

I received the introductory brochure to the new magazine "Ancient
Warfare" and found its special article "Scars, Spoils, and Splendour"
fascinating. It gave a number of interesting examples of how "scars of
honour" were repeatedly used to sway public opinion or escape
prosecution all together. Even Gaius Marius, McCullough's "first" First
Man in Rome, used the physical symbols of his personal prowess to win
voters and approval when running for one of his seven consulships. The
article quotes Sallust's "The War With Jugurtha, "I cannot, to justify
your confidence, display family portraits or the triumphs and
consulships of my forefathers; but if occasion requires, I can show
spears, a banner, horse trappings, and other military prizes, as well as
scars on my chest. These are my portraits, my patent of nobility, not
left to me by inheritance as theirs were, but won by my own innumerable
efforts and perils."

The article also describes the trial of Manius Aquilius, a former consul
who was charged with corruption and extortion while governor of Sicily.
Despite overwhelming evidence presented by witnesses, Aquilius was
acquitted. His lawyer, the grandfather of Marc Antony, "suddenly ripped
open Aquilius' clothing to reveal a scarred torso, shouting "See how all
the scars are at the front of his body - they are distinguished marks of
combat, the wounds sustained by a man who has never turned his back to
the enemy. Antonius then directed the jury to examine a scar on
Aquilius' head and reminded them that it had been received in a
desperate single combat with Athenion, leader of a slave rebellion in
Sicily." It sounded like a tactic right out of Cicero's repertoire
except Cicero was born two generations later. It is these types of
anecdotes, supported by quotes from the ancient sources, that bring
history alive for me.

The article then went on to discuss the spolia opima or spoils of honor
taken from an enemy king in single combat. One aspect of this tradition
that I found interesting was the decapitation of the enemy and
brandishing of his head. If I remember right, Romans in later centuries
appeared to associate "head taking" with barbarism and the honor of
single combat gave way to emphasis on fighting as part of a closely knit
unit. The article said the first historic example of taking spolia
optima occured in 437 BCE when Cornelius Cossus unhorsed the king of
Veii at the battle of Fidenae. After killing Lars Tolumnius with a
lance, Cossus stripped him, decapitated him, and impaled the king's head
on the end of Cossus' lance. This procedure was again followed when
Manlius Torquatus defeated a Gallic champion in 361 BCE, when Claudius
Marcellus defeated Viridomarus, king of the Gaesati in 222 BCE, and even
as late as Caesar's campaigns when his men stacked enemy corpses into a tropaeum crowned with heads taken in battle.

The last part of the article talked about combat "splendor". I know I
have seen ornately decorated armor and cuirass in different museums I
have visited and many times the identification cards speculate that the
armor was probably used only for parade dress. This article's author,
Ross Cowan, says it is a common misconception. He points to the account
of Lucullus' battle of Tigranocerta in 69 BCE.

"Lucullus marched on the enemy in line of battle. When a river
obstructed his line of advance, the legionary cohorts wheeled into a
column to make the crossing. Tigranes saw the Romans begin their
manoeuvre and though they were in the process of turning about. He
poured scorn on them for retreating, but the Romans forded the river and
came on, and his minister Taxiles, evidently knowledgeable in Roman
battle customs, said to the king: 'When these men are merely on the
march they do not put on gleaming armour, nor have their shields
polished and helmets uncovered, as they have now taken the leather
covers from their armour. No, this splendour means they are going to
fight, and are now advancing on their enemies.' - Plutarch, Lucullus

He also pointed out that at the battle of Munda one of Caesar's
centurions, who had been assigned to cover a momentary retreat, was
wearing his full insignia. He also described how the hilts and
scabbards of Caesar's veterans were embellished with gold and silver, as
a symbol of their prowess.

I especially found the part about the consuls trial interesting. Just showing his scars had a major impact on the trial even though they had nothing to do with the case itself.

To learn more about the magazine, their official website can be found here:

Valete bene,
Tiberius Dionysius Draco
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Postby Cleopatra Aelia on Fri May 18, 2007 4:53 pm

Since I'm also a member on the RAT board and the editors of this magazine are also RATers I already subscribed to it. Also I hope that I could contribute articles to this magazine in the near future.
Cleopatra Aelia
alias Medusa Gladiatrix
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