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 p846  Ovatio

Article by William Ramsay, M.A., Professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow
on p846 of

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

OVA′TIO, a lesser triumph; the terms employed by the Greek writers on Roman history are εὔα, εὐαστής, πεζὸς θρίαμβος. The circumstances by which it was distinguished from the more imposing solemnity [Triumphus] were the following:— The general did not enter the city in a chariot drawn by four horses, but on foot; he was not arrayed in the gorgeous gold embroidered robe, but in the simple toga praetexta of a magistrate; his brows were encircled with a wreath not of laurel but of myrtle; he bore no sceptre in his hand; the procession was not heralded by trumpets, headed by the senate and thronged with victorious troops, but was enlivened by a crowd of flute-players, attended chiefly by knights and plebeians, frequently without soldiers; the ceremonies were concluded by the sacrifice not of a bull but of a sheep (Plut. Marcell. c22; Dionys. V.47; Gell. V.6; Liv. III.10, XXVI.21). The word ovatio seems clearly to be derived from the kind of victim offered, and we need pay little respect to the opinion of Festus (s.v. Ovantes), who supposes it to have been formed from the glad shout O! O! frequently reiterated, nor to that of Dionysius, whose system required him to trace every custom to a Grecian origin, and who therefore maintains that it is corrupted from the Bacchanalian εὔοι. Dionysius makes another mistake in assigning a laurel chaplet to the conqueror on these occasions, since all the Roman writers agree with Plutarch in representing that the myrtle crown, hence called Ovalis Corona, was a characteristic of the ovation (Festus, s.v. Ovalis Corona; Plin. H. N. XV.29; Plut.; Gell. ll. cc.). Compare Corona, p361.

In later times, the victor entered upon horseback (Serv. in Virg. Aen. IV.543), and the ovations celebrated by Octavianus, Drusus, Tiberius, &c., are usually recorded by Dion Cassius by a reference to this circumstance (Dion Cass. XLVIII.31, XLIX.15, LIV. 8, 33, LV.2).

An ovation was granted when the advantage gained, although considerable, was not sufficient to constitute a legitimate claim to the higher distinction of a triumph, or when the victory had been achieved with little bloodshed, as in the case of Postumius Tubertus, who first received this honour (Plin. H. N. XV.29); or when hostilities had not been regularly proclaimed (Festus, Gell. ll. cc.); or when the war had not been completely terminated, which was one of the ostensible reasons for refusing a triumph to Marcellus on his return from Sicily (Plut. l.c.; Liv. XXVI.21); or when the contest had been carried on against base and unworthy foes, and hence when the servile bands of Athenion and Spartacus were destroyed by Perperna and Crassus, these leaders celebrated ovations only (Florus, III.19; Plin. Gell. l.c.), although the latter by a special resolution of the senate was permitted to wear a laurel crown.

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Page updated: 19 Oct 08