Marcus Claudius Marcellus: Difference between revisions

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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 pushed 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 ''best spoils'', 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 in single combat may be considered to have gained the ''spolia opima''.
After he had slain the formidable warrior, whom he later learned was the king, Marcellus dedicated the armor, or ''spolia opima'', to Jupiter [[Feretrius]], as he had promised before the battle. Herein lies a wrinkle in Plutarch’s retelling of the event. When Marcellus first saw the finely dressed warrior, he did not recognize him as a king, but merely a man with the nicest armor. But immediately following the battle, Marcellus prayed to Jupiter Feretrius, saying that he had killed a king or ruler.<ref name=Flower>Flower, Harriet I. "The Tradition of the Spolia Opima: M. Claudius Marcellus and Augustus", ''Classical Antiquity'', Apr. 2000: 37.</ref> This inconsistency indicates that Plutarch’s story may have been exaggerated for dramatic effect, causing discrepancies. Furthermore, Plutarch had probably written the account to glorify Marcellus as a hero of Rome, instead of as a record of history. Polyb. 2.34 does not at all mention the ''spolia opima'' in relation to Marcellus.
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