Marcus Claudius Marcellus: Difference between revisions

== Middle life: the spolia opima ==
Following the end of the [[First Punic War]], in which Marcellus fought as a soldier, the [[Gauls]] of northern Italy declared war on Rome in 225 BC. In the fourth and final year of the war, Marcellus was elected consul with Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus. The previous consuls had defeatedpushed the [[Insubria]]ns, the primary [[Gauls|Gallic]] tribe involved, all the way up to the [[Po River]]. Following such terrible defeats, the Insubrians surrendered, but Marcellus, not yet consul, persuaded the two acting consuls not to accept the terms of peace. As Marcellus and his colleague were ushered into office as the new consuls, the Insubrians mustered 30,000 of their Gallic allies, the Gaesatae, to fight the Romans.<ref name="Polyb. 2.34">Polyb. 2.34.</ref> Marcellus invaded Insubrian lands up to the Po River, just as the previous consuls had done. From here, the Gauls sent 10,000 men across the Po and attacked [[Clastidium]], a Roman stronghold, to divert the Roman attacks.<ref name="Polyb. 2.34"/> This battlefield was the stage for Marcellus’ confrontation with the Gallic king, Viridomarus, which cemented his place in history.
The confrontation, as told by Plutarch, is so heavy in detail that one might question the veracity of his narration. Plutarch recounts that, prior to the battle, Viridomarus spotted Marcellus, who wore commander's insignia on his armor, and rode out to meet him. Across the battlefield, Marcellus viewed the beautiful armor on the back of the enemy riding toward him. Marcellus concluded that this was the nicest armor, which he had previously prayed would be given by him to the gods. The two engaged in combat whereupon, Marcellus, “by a thrust of his spear which pierced his adversary's breastplate, and by the impact of his horse in full career, threw him, still living, upon the ground, where, with a second and third blow, he promptly killed him.”<ref name=Plutarch/> Marcellus extracted the armor from his fallen foe, upon which he pronounced it as the ''spolia opima''. The ''spolia opima'', meaning "ultimate spoil," is known in Roman history as the most prestigious and honorable prize that a general can earn. Only a general who kills the leader of the opposing army prior to a battle may be honored with taking a ''spolia opima''.