The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

Augustus, the Poets, and the Spolia Opima*

S. J. Harrisona1

a1 Corpus Christi College, Oxford


The winning of the ultimate military honour of spolia opima, spoils taken personally from an enemy commander killed by a Roman commander, traditionally occurred only three times in Roman history, the winners being Romulus in the legendary period, A. Cornelius Cossus in either 437 or 426 and M. Claudius Marcellus in 222 B.C.1 The dedication-place of these special spoils was the temple of Jupiter Feretrius on the Capitol, traditionally founded by Romulus for the purpose, and considered the oldest temple in Rome (Livy 1.10.7): the god was said to draw his name either from the fact that the spolia opima were carried (ferre) up to the Capitol by the victorious general in person, or from the fact that the general had to strike down(ferire) his opposite number before such spoils could be won.


* My thanks to Professor R. G. M. Nisbet for his comments on an earlier draft, and to the referee for CQ for some helpful remarks. This article is dedicated to the memory of Elizabeth Rawson, Corpus colleague and friend, in qua multum nuper amisimus; she showed a lively interest in it, and gave characteristically generous aid.