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Bill Thayer

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 p1168  Tropaeum

Unsigned article on pp1168‑1169 of

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

TROPAEUM (τρόπαιον, Att. τροπαῖον, Schol. ad Aristoph. Plut. 453), a trophy, a sign and memorial of victory, which was erected on the field  p1169 of battle where the enemy had turned (τρέπω, τρόπη) to flight, and in case of a victory gained at sea, on the nearest land. The expression, for raising or erecting a trophy, is τροπαῖον στῆσαι or στήσασθαι, to which may be added ἀπὸ or κατὰ τῶν πολεμίων (Wolf, ad Dem. in Lept. p296).

When the battle was not decisive, or each party considered it had some claims to the victory, both erected trophies (Thucyd. I.54, 105, II.92). Trophies usually consisted of the arms, shields, helmets, &c., of the enemy that were defeated; and from the descriptions of Virgil and other Roman poets, which have reference to the Greek rather than to the Roman custom, it appears that the spoils and arms of the vanquished were placed on the trunk of a tree, which was fixed on an elevation (Virg. Aen. XI.5; Serv. ad loc.; Stat. Theb. III.707; Juv. X.133). It was consecrated to some divinity with an inscription (ἐπίγραμμα), recording the names of the victors and of the defeated party (Eurip. Phoen. 583; Schol. ad loc.; Paus. V.27 § 7; Virg. Aen. III.288; Ovid. Ar. Am. II.744; Tacit. Ann. II.22); whence trophies were regarded as inviolable, which even the enemy were not permitted to remove (Dion Cass. XLII.48).º Sometimes, however, a people destroyed a trophy, if they considered that the enemy had erected it without sufficient cause, as the Milesians did with a trophy of the Athenians (Thucyd. VIII.24). That rankling and hostile feelings might not be perpetuated by the continuance of a trophy, it seems to have been originally part of Greek international law that trophies should be made only of wood and not of stone or metal, and that they should not be repaired when decayed (Plut. Quaest. Rom. c. 37, p273C; Diod. XIII.24). Hence we are told that the Lacedaemonians accused the Thebans before the Amphictyonic council, because the latter had erected a metal trophy (Cic. de Invent. II.23). It was not however uncommon to erect such trophies. Plutarch (Alcib. 29, p207D) mentions one raised in the time of Alcibiades, and Pausanias (II.21 § 9, III.14 § 7, V.27 § 7) speaks of several which he saw in Greece (Wachsmuth, Hell. Alt. vol. II pt. I p424, 1st ed.; Schömann, Ant. Jur. Publ. Graec. p370).

The trophies erected to commemorate naval victories were usually ornamented with the beaks or acroteria of ships [Acroteria; Rostra]; and were generally consecrated to Poseidon or Neptune. Sometimes a whole ship was placed as a trophy (Thucyd. II.8492).

The following woodcut taken from a painting found at Pompeii (Mus. Borbon. vol. VII t. 7) contains a very good representation of a tropaeum, which Victory is engaged in erecting. The conqueror stands on the other side of the trophy with his brows encircled with laurel.

[image ALT: An engraving of a man and a woman to the viewer's right and left, respectively, of an empty suit of ancient Roman armor. The man is also armored, wearing the tunica loricata, and holds a spear in his left and a guideon in his right; a large oval shield rests quite implausibly supported against his right knee. The woman has a large pair of wings and a round cap on her head; she holds a small hammer in her right, and with her left she embraces the central armor; a second oval shield is behind her, resting on the back of her left leg, and on the ground next to her right foot is a curious pot on a stand, surmounted a plume or maybe a spurt of water. The central suit of armor has arms but no legs, is set against a third oval shield, wears an exotic mitre-like headdress with horns, straps, and small plant branches projecting in various places; and holds a spear or javelin in each hand: they are of different kinds. It is a depiction of an ancient Roman trophy from a painting in Pompeii, and is discussed in the text of this webpage. The impression produced on today's viewer is freakish.]

The Macedonian kings never erected trophies, for the reason given by Pausanias (IX.40 § 4), and hence the same writer observes that Alexander raised no trophies after his victories over Dareius and in India. The Romans too, in early times, never erected any trophies on the field of battle (Florus, III.2), but carried home the spoils taken in battle, with which they decorated the public buildings, and also the private houses of individuals [Spolia]. Subsequently, however, the Romans adopted the Greek practice of raising trophies on the field of battle: the first trophies of this kind were erected by Domitius Ahenobarbus and Fabius Maximus in B.C. 121, after their conquest of the Allobroges, when they built at the junction of the Rhone and the Isara towers of white stone, upon which trophies were placed adorned with the spoils of the enemy (Florus, l.c.; Strabo, IV p185). Pompey also raised trophies on the Pyrenees after his victories in Spain (Strabo, III p156; Plin. H. N. III.3; Dion Cass. XLI.24; Sall. ap. Serv. in Virg. Aen. XI.6); Julius Caesar did the same near Ziela, after his victory over Pharnaces (Dion Cass. XLII.48), and Drusus, near the Elbe, to commemorate his victory over the Germans (Dion Cass. LI.1; Florus, IV.12). Still, however, it was more common to erect some memorial of the victory at Rome than on the field of battle. The trophies raised by Marius to commemorate his victories over Jugurtha and the Cimbri and Teutoni, which were cast down by Sulla and restored by Julius Caesar, must have been in the city (Suet. Jul. 11). In the later times of the republic, and under the empire, the erection of triumphal arches was the most common way of commemorating a victory, many of which remain to the present day [Arcus]. We find trophies on the Roman coins of several families. The annexed coin of M. Furius Philus is an example; on the reverse, Victory or Rome is represented as crowning a trophy.

[image ALT: An engraving of a coin seen obverse on our left and reverse. The obverse depicts the two-faced head of an old man, surrounded by the legend 'M FOVRI L. F.'; the reverse shows a scene in which a woman crowns an empty suit of armor, which has been made to stand by being affixed to a tree trunk, with a leafy crown. Various curious objects are also in evidence, as well as two inscriptions: 'ROMA' and something that may be 'HLI'. It is a coin of M. Furius Philus and the reverse depicts an ancient Roman trophy, the subject of this webpage.]

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Page updated: 9 Apr 10