, whence English "trophy") is an ancient Greek
and later Roman
monument set up to commemorate a victory over one's foes. Typically this takes the shape of a tree (or, in later times, a pair of stakes set crosswise) upon which is hung the arms of a defeated and dead foe. The tropaion
is then dedicated to a god
in thanksgiving for the victory.
In the Greek city-states
of the Archaic
period, the tropaion
would be set up on the battlefield itself, usually at the site of the "turning point" (Gk. tropê
) at which the enemy's phalanx
broke and ran. It would be dressed in the typical hoplite panoply
of the period, including (at different times), a helmet
(either of bronze
), and a number of shields
would be piled about the base. It remained on the battlefield until the following season's campaigns (since battles were often fought in the same, relatively few plains amid Greece's numerous mountains), where it might be replaced with a new trophy.
In later eras in the Greek world, these tropaia might be vowed at the battle-site, but in fact erected at pan-Hellenic sanctuaries such as Olympia or Delphi to further increase the prestige of the victorious state.
The significance of the monument is a ritualistic notification of "victory" to the defeated enemies. Since warfare in the Greek world was largely a ritualistic affair in the archaic hoplite-age (see Hanson, The Western Way of War for further elaboration of this idea), the monument is used to reinforce the symbolic capital of the victory in the Greek community.
Ancient sources attest to the great deal of significance that early Greek cities placed upon symbols and ritual as linked to warfare--the story involving the bones of Orestes, for example, in Herodotus 1 which go beyond the ritualistic properties to even magically 'guaranteeing' the Spartan victory, displays the same sort of interest in objects and symbols of power as they relate to military success or failure.
in Rome, on the other hand, would probably not
be set up on the battle-site itself, but rather displayed prominently in the city of Rome. Romans were less concerned about impressing foreign powers or military rivals than they were in using military success to further their own political careers
inside the city, especially during the later years of the Republic
. A tropaeum
displayed on the battlefield does not win votes, but one brought back and displayed as part of a triumph
can impress the citizens (who might then vote in future elections in favor of the conqueror) or the nobles (with whom most aristocratic Romans of the Republican period were in a constant struggle for prestige).
The symbolism of the tropaeum became so well known that in later eras, Romans began to simply display images of them upon sculpted reliefs (see image and Tropaeum Traiani), to leave a permanent trace of the victory in question rather than the temporary monument of the tropaeum itself.
The name "Tropaeum" was neoclassically applied by paleontologist James De Carle Sowerby
in 1837 to certain ammonite
fossils dating from the Cretaceous
Period. His genus name Tropaeum
remains in use to this day.
- Hanson, Victor Davis. The Western Way of War: Infantry Battle in Classical Greece. ISBN 0-520-21911-2.