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Roman Army - Honors

Soldiers who distinguished themselves might be awarded decorations, such as medals (phalerae), bracelets (armillae), necklets (torques), etc. Crowns of various kinds were given to officers and generals. Pensions were not given under the republic, but veterans, after the time of Marius, were provided for by grants of land in military colonies, such as that which pounced on Vergil's land at Mantua.

Besides a share in the booty taken from an enemy, the Roman soldiers received as rewards garlands of leaves or flowers. The principal were:

  1. Corona civica, a crown of oak-leaves, presented to one who saved the life of a citizen;
  2. Corona castrensis, given to the soldier who first forced an entrance into an enemy's camp;
  3. Corona mvralis, for him who first scaled the walls of a besieged city ;
  4. Corona obsidionalis or graminea (grass), given to the commander who had relieved a besieged city, or an army surrounded by an enemy;
  5. Corona oleagina (olive-leaves), presented by their commanders to soldiers who had distinguished themselves.
The other rewards were weapons of honour, hasta pura; vexilla, standards; phalerce, trappings; aurece torques, gold chains; armillce, bracelets, &c., &c.

The military punishments were deprivation of pay, degradation of rank, to be beaten with rods, to be scourged and sold as a slave, to be stoned, to be beheaded, &c., &c. Punishments, such as degradation, beating or execution, were inflicted for various offences at the discretion of the tribuni mililum and pratfecti socium.

The highest honour a general could obtain was a triumph, and to be saluted as Imperator by his army. A triumph was the most magnificent reward which Rome could give to a successful commander. To secure it, various conditions had to be satisfied:-

  1. The general must have been dictator, consul, or praetor, for these magistrates alone could retain imperium inside the city.
  2. He must have actually commanded in the battle and commenced it, himself taking the auspices.
  3. The battle must have been decisive and have ended the campaign.
  4. The foes must have been foreigners and at least 5,000 of them must have been slain.
  5. It was necessary that the general should in a just war have extended the bounds of the empire
If these conditions were fulfilled and the senate decreed a triumph, the general was allowed to bring his army into the city and to ride up to the Capitol as the representative of Jupiter Capitolinus. On a triumph being decreed, the procession proceeded from the Campus Martius to the Capitolium, and consisted of musicians, oxen for sacrifice, the spoils taken in war, models of the captured cities, the captives, the lictors (their fasces being wreathed with laurel), and the general (dux) dressed in purple embroidered with gold (togA picid et tunica palmatd), crowned with a laurel wreath, and in an ornamented chariot drawn by four white horsea - his captives marching before, his troops following behind.

The appearance that Rome presented on the occasion of a triumph, especially in later times, was joyous in the extreme. All work was suspended ; the temples were thrown open, and decorated with flowers ; the populace were clad in holiday attire, and crowded the steps of all the public buildings in the Pit Sacra, and the forum, or mounted the scaffoldings erected for the purpose of viewing the procession ; banquets were spread before every door. As for the imperator himself, after having pronounced a eulogy on the bravery of his soldiers, he ascended his triumphal car, entered the city by the porta triumphalis, where he was met by the senate, and now the procession began.

First marched the senate, headed by the magistrates ; next came a body of trumpeters; then a train of carriages and frames laden with the spoils of the vanquished ; then a body of flute-players, followed by the oxen doomed to be sacrificed, and the sacrificing priests, then the distinguished captives with bands of inferior prisoners in chains; after whom walked the lictors of the imperattor, having the fasces wreathed with laurel. Next came the hero of the day - the imperator, in a circular chariot, attired in an embroidered rolie (toga picla) and flowered tunic, bearing in his right hand a laurel bough, in his left, a sceptre, and having his brows garlanded with Delphic laurel. He was accompanied by his children and his intimate friends. His grown-up sons, the legates, tribunes, and eqnites, rode behind; and the rear was brought up by the rest of the soldiery, singing or jesting at their pleasure, for it was a day of carnival and licence. When the procession had reached the Capitoline, some of the captive chiefs were taken aside, and put to death; iho oxen were then sacrificed, and the laurel wreath placed in the lap of Jupiter. In the evening, the imperator was publicly feasted, and it was even customary to provide him a site for a house at the public expense.

Ben Hur 1960

Under the Empire, generals serving abroad were considered to be the Emperor's lieutenants, and therefore, however successful in their wars, they had no claim to a triumph. They received instead trimphal decorations and other rewards. Generals who did not obtain a grand triumph sometimes were allowed an inferior celebration on the Alban Mount, or were honored by a public thanksgiving (supplicatio).

There was also an inferior sort of triumph, ovation, in which the general entered the city on foot, crowned with a wreath of myrtle, and sacrificed a sheep. The ovation, or lesser triumph, differed from the greater chiefly in these respects; that the imperator entered the city on foot, clad in the simple toga of a magistrate: that he bore no sceptre, was not preceded by the senate and a flourish of trumpets, nor followed by his victorious troops, only by the equites and the populae, and that the ceremonies were concluded by the sacrifice of a sheep instead of a bull, whence, doubtless, the name ovation (from ovis, a sheep). The ovation, it is scarcely necessary to add, was granted when the success, though considerable, did not fulfil the conditions specified for a triumph.

In the highly individual book The Roman Triumph, Mary Beard plays havoc with conventional ideas about the Roman triumph. It is the most important statement to date by a major historian of Roman culture, according to William V. Harris, Shepherd Professor of History, Columbia University. A radical reexamination of this most extraordinary of ancient ceremonies, this book explores the magnificence of the Roman triumph--but also its darker side. What did it mean when the axle broke under Julius Caesar's chariot? Or when Pompey's elephants got stuck trying to squeeze through an arch? Or when exotic or pathetic prisoners stole the general's show? And what are the implications of the Roman triumph, as a celebration of imperialism and military might, for questions about military power and "victory" in our own day? Romans came to think of the triumph as a bundle of victory rites that could be repeatedly improved upon, as generals fought and lobbied for their moment in the limelight. At every turn Beard happily strips away misconceptions and hypotheses, emphasizing the fragility of the facts, a world of invented precedent and "convenient amnesia". Conventional wisdom states that triumphant generals in Rome painted their faces red. They rode in a chariot with a slave who whispered to them: "Remember that you are a man." For that one day, they impersonated the king of the gods, Jupiter Best and Greatest, wearing his costume, consisting of a purple toga and a tunic decorated with a palm-leaf pattern, a laurel wreath and other accessories...If you thought you knew some or all of these facts, Mary Beard's book will prove you wrong.

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Page last modified: 22-11-2017 14:03:41 ZULU