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p894 Phaleraa

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p894 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

PHALERA (φάλαρον), a boss, disc, or crescent of metal, in many cases of gold (Herod. I.215; Athen. XII p550; Claudian, Epig. 34) and beautifully wrought so as to be highly prized (Cic. Verr. IV.12). Ornaments of this description, being used in pairs, are scarcely ever mentioned except in the plural number. The names for them are evidently formed from the term φάλος, which is explained under Galea (compare Hom. Il.  XVI.106). Besides the metallic ornaments of the helmet similar decorations were sometimes, though very rarely, worn by warriors on other parts of their dress or armour, probably upon the breast (Virg. Aen. IX.359, 458). The negro slavesb who were kept by opulent Romans wore them suspended round their necks (Sueton. Nero, 30). Also the tiara of the king of Persia was thus adorned (Aeschyl. Pers. 668). But we most commonly read of phalerae as ornaments attached to the harness of horses (Xen. Hellen. IV.1 § 39; Virg. Aen. V.310; Gell. V.5; Claudian, Epig. 36), especially about the head (ἀμπυκτήρια φάλαρα, Soph. Oed. Col. 1069; Eurip. Suppl. 586; Greg. Cor. de Dialect. p508, ed. Schäfer), and often worn as pendants (pensilia, Plin. H. N. XXXVII.12 s74), so as to produce a terrific effect when shaken by the rapid motions of the horse (turbantur phalerae, Claudian in IV. Cons. Honor. 549).º These ornaments were often bestowed upon horsemen by the Roman generals in the same manner as the Armilla, the Torques, the hasta pura [Hasta], and the crown of gold [Corona], in order to make a public and permanent acknowledgment of bravery and merit (Juv. XVI.60; Gell. II.11).


Thayer's Notes:

a A handsome example, nicely photographed, of a phalera that once belonged to C. Aquillius Proculus, a centurion of the 1c A.D. may be seen on Jona Lendering's page of Roman inscriptions at Nijmegen (click thumbnail there to open the photo larger). My intro page to Tacitus may also be of interest.

b This has to qualify as an inexplicable "oops" on the part of the normally careful dictionary. There is (1) no clear indication in the passage of Suetonius that the people who wore the phalerae were Negroes, and (2) no indication at all that they were slaves, rather the contrary; and further, (3) the passage describes the doings of the emperor Nero, not "opulent Romans", and (4) Suetonius puts the Mazaces — a cavalry unit from a Mauretanian tribe — on the same plane as cursores, messengers or couriers (the "carriers" seen on Questia by the way is a typo, introduced by that site in their slight massage of the Loeb translation), and the Latin can only be read to mean that the armillae and phalerae were worn by both groups of men (armillae, as this article notes, are decorations for bravery) so that the implication in our dictionary that the phalerae were a mark of ownership also falls: these Mazaces were free cavalrymen honored exactly as in the last sentence of the article.


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Page updated: 21 Jun 09