Arma virumque: The Significance of Spoils in Roman Culture

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Arma virumque: The Significance of Spoils in Roman Culture

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Title: Arma virumque: The Significance of Spoils in Roman Culture
Author: Katz, Rebecca Aileen
Citation: Katz, Rebecca Aileen. 2016. Arma virumque: The Significance of Spoils in Roman Culture. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: This dissertation explores the significance of spoils and the practice of spoils-taking in Roman culture. Working from the premise that spoils in the classical sense (Latin spolia, exuviae) are items singled out for their symbolic value and accordingly subjected to different treatment than other war booty (Latin praeda, manubiae), I begin by examining arma, one of the primary targets of despoliation, in order to show how this symbolic value is generated based on the identity of the spoils’ original owners. From there I show that the value of spoils depends directly upon the virtus (i.e. “manliness” as demonstrated primarily through courage or prowess in combat) of the parties involved in taking and giving them, as shown by cases involving male figures who lack this quality or female figures who exhibit it. In the following two chapters I propose a model of “inheritance by conquest”: that spoils are earned through successful acts of virtus and can thereafter be deployed as handles by which to manipulate the identity of their original owners. In order to demonstrate this model at work, I trace several case studies that highlight the role of spoils as symbolic capital in the context of aristocratic competition, as well as the transformation of two spoils traditions (the laurel-wreath and the spolia opima) during the transition from Republic to Empire. Finally, I look to related phenomena, including headhunting and other human trophy collecting, relic culture, and architectural spolia, to help illuminate the dual nature of spoils as both proofs and remembrances of victory and victim.
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