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History of the Temple

Foundation by Romulus

The oldest surviving reference to the tradition that Romulus founded this temple is an epic poem written by Ennius in the 2nd century BC.  Although this work is lost, the fragment below, which refers to the temple, is from a surviving manuscript by  a now-unknown grammarian that refers to it:

  1. “When Romulus had built a temple to Jupiter Feretrius, he caused greased hides to be spread out and held games [in which] men fought with gauntlets and competed in running races; Ennius bears witness to this fact in the ‘Annales’”, (from the Warmington translation in the Attalus webpage   ‘Ennius: Annales (fragments): Books 1-6’. 

In fact, Jackie Elliott (referenced below, at p. 256) recorded three separate manuscripts in which this wording, or something very like it, survives.  

The only other surviving record of the temple before its Augustan restoration (see below) is in a record of Livy, to the effect that:

  1. “... the temple of Jupiter Feretrius was enlarged in consequence of the brilliant successes in the war [of Ancus Marcius, the legendary fourth king of Rome]”, (‘History of Rome’), 1: 33: 9).

Caesar’s Association with the Temple

Restoration by Augustus

The earliest reference to this restoration came in the biography of the antiquarian Titus Pompinius Atticus the Cornelius Nepos wrote shortly after Atticus’ death in 32 BC.   In it, Nepos recorded that the triumvir Octavian (the future Emperor Augustus) had been on excellent terms with Atticus, to the extent that:

  1. “... scarcely a  day passed in which he did not write to Atticus, sometimes asking him something relating to antiquity ... Thus it was that, when the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, which had been built on the Capitol by Romulus, was unroofed and falling down through age and neglect, Octavian, on the suggestion of Atticus, took care that it should be repaired”, (‘Lives of Eminent Commanders: Titus Pomponius Atticus’, 20).

Augustus himself recorded this renovation (among others) in his autobiography (‘Res Gestae’, 4:19).  I discuss the reasons for Augustus’ interest in the temple below.


The choice was a deliberate one: as Beatrice Poletti (referenced below, at p. 129) pointed out:

  1. “Augustus styled himself after the first king throughout his career by means of continuous reminders of Romulus’s legendary deeds and achievements.  Augustus’ own surname was a second choice, for the senators initially proposed to call Octavian by the honorific title of ‘Romulus’, so as to underscore [his] role as the second founder of the city.”

She cited, inter alia, Cassius Dio:

  1. “... the name Augustus was at length bestowed upon [Octavian] by the Senate and by the people.   ... [Octavian himself] was exceedingly desirous of being called Romulus, but when he perceived that this suggested that he desired the kingship, he desisted from his efforts to obtain it and took [instead] the title of "Augustus," signifying that he was more than human (since all the most precious and sacred objects are termed augusta).  For the same reason, he was addressed him also in Greek as Sebastos, which means an august personage and comes from the passive of the verb sebazo (to revere)”, (‘Roman History’, 51: 24: 3) .

She also noted that:

  1. The aspects of the Romulus myth that were most emphasised in this period were, besides his founding of the city, his role as first augur (and thereby his ability to communicate with the gods and govern by divine consent) and his outstanding military prowess, especially evident in his triple triumph and his dedication of the spolia opima.”

As we shall see, both Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Livy, the two Augustan historians to whom we owe our knowledge of the mythical foundation of Rome, included Romulus’ building of the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius and associated it with his military prowess.

Augustus and the Spolia Opima

Cassius Dio recorded that, in 29 BC, Marcus Licinius Crassus, as proconsul of Macedonia, defeated the Bastarnae in an engagement  in which:

“Crassus himself killed their king Deldo and would have dedicated his armour as spolia opima to Jupiter Feretrius had he been general in supreme command”, (‘Roman History’, 51: 24: 3).

His claim, though, was rejected by Augustus, on the basis that, he did not enjoy full impérium and was therefore not entitled to the honour. Since Crassus was descendent of Caesar's rival -he was grandson of the triumvir -, his claim was a real danger to the emperor's military prestige. Even worse, Augustus himself was never in the position to dedicate spolia opima and had to resort to what he thought of as their equivalent, the return of the Parthian standards by diplomacy in 19 B.C., which were then housed in the temple of Mars Ultor.11 As a matter of fact, after the rejection of Crassus' claim, the number of the sets of spoils dedicated to Jupiter Feretrius has been fixed at three: only those gained by Romulus, Cossus and Claudius Marcellus could find a place within this temple.12 Yet, Cossus' case could be used as a precedent

Heroism of the Military Tribune Aulus Cornelius Cossa

According to Livy, the hero of this battle was:

  1. “... a military tribune named Aulus Cornelius Cossus ... When he saw that the Roman squadrons [were being] shaken by the repeated charges of [Lars] Tolumnius, ... he exclaimed:

  2. ‘Is this the breaker of treaties between man and man, the violator of the law of nations?  If it is the will of Heaven that anything holy should exist on earth, I will slay this man and offer him as a sacrifice to the [souls] of the murdered envoys.’

  3. Spurring his horse, he charged with levelled spear against this single foe and, having struck and unhorsed him, he leaped ...  to the ground.  As the king was attempting to rise, he pushed him back with the boss of his shield and pinned him to the ground with repeated spear-thrusts.  He then despoiled the lifeless body, cut off the head and stuck it on his spear.  Carrying it in triumph, he routed the enemy, who were panic-struck at the king's death”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 19: 1-5).

This was the decisive factor in the Romans’ subsequent victory.  Livy noted that

  1. “Successful in all directions, [Mamercinus] returned home to enjoy the honour of a triumph granted him by decree of the Senate and resolution of the people”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 20: 1).

However, he observed that:

  1. By far the finest sight in the procession was Cossus bearing the spolia opima (i.e. the head of Lars Tolumnius, which he had taken in single combat - see below]  ... The soldiers sang rude songs in his honour and placed him on a level with Romulus.  He solemnly dedicated the spoils to Jupiter Feretrius and hung them in his temple near those of Romulus, which were the only ones which at that time were called spolia opima prima.  All eyes were turned to him from the chariot of [the triumphant Mamercinus] ... By order of the people, a crown of gold, a pound in weight, was made at the public expense and placed by the Dictator in the Capitol as an offering to Jupiter.”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 20: 2-4).

Spolia Opima

Livy now made a famous digression:

  1. “I have followed all the existing authorities in stating that Cossus placed the spolia opima secunda [i.e. the spoils from the second occasion on which a Roman commander had defeated an enemy commander in single combat] in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius when he was a military tribune.  ... [However, there are two problems with this]:

  2. the designation of spolia opima [is] restricted to those [spoils] that a [Roman] commander-in-chief has taken from [an enemy] commander-in-chief ... ; and

  3. my sources are also confuted by the actual inscription on the spoils [taken by Cossus and dedicated in the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius], which states that [he] took them when he was consul [and this, potentially, the commander-in-chief of a Roman army].  Augustus Caesar, the founder and restorer of all the temples, rebuilt the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, which had fallen to ruin through age, and I once heard him say that, after entering it, he read the inscription on the linen cuirass with his own eyes. 

  4. After [hearing of this testimony of the Emperor Augustus], I felt that it would be almost a sacrilege to withhold [his] evidence from Cossus ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 20: 5-8).

This passage suggests that Livy was swayed by Augustus’ view that Cossus had killed Lars Tolumnius as consul in 428 BC rather than as a mere military tribune in 437 BC.  However, he then added to the weight of evidence against Augustus’ view:

  1. “Every man must judge for himself whether the mistake, if there be one, may have arisen from the fact that the ancient annals ... have an A. Cornelius Cossus as consul ... ten years later.  [However], there is [another] reason why so famous a battle could not be transferred to this later date: during the three years that preceded and followed Cossus’ consulship, war was impossible owing to pestilence and famine, so that some of the annals, as though they were records of deaths, supply nothing but the names of the consuls.  The 3rd year after his consulship has the name of Cossus as a consular tribune, and in the same year he is entered as Master of the Horse, in which capacity he fought another brilliant cavalry action.  In my view, every one is at liberty to form his own conjecture; these doubtful points can be made to support any opinion”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 20: 8-11).

In other words, Aulus Cornelius Cossa could have killed Lars Tolumnius as Master of Horse and Consular Tribune in 326 BC, which (as we shall see) was the year in which Fidenae finally fell to the Romans (who destroyed it).

Finally (and probably wisely), Livy repeated Augustus’ testimony:

  1. “The fact remains that:

  2. the man who fought the battle [and killed Lars Tolumnius in single combat] placed the newly-won spoils in the sacred shrine with two witnesses to be dreaded by any forger:

  3. Jupiter himself, to whom they were consecrated; and

  4. Romulus [or, at least the spolia Opima prima] in full view; and

  5. [according to Augustus], he described himself in the inscription [on Tolumnius’ linen cuirass] as ‘A. Cornelius Cossus, Consul”, (‘History of Rome’, 4: 20: 11).

As John Bishop (referenced below, at p. 187, note 2) pointed out:

  1. “Livy's quandary is this:

  2. the authority of Augustus and the tradition that only a commander suo auspicio may dedicate [spolia Opima] in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius; versus

  3. omnes ante me auctores (some of whom certainly had unimpeachable sources) and the inadvisability of transferring a campaign into the middle of a period of famine and plague, when Cossus was consul (although we must admit that a campaign during famine could be for the purpose of taking food by force).

He pointed out (at p. 187) that Cossus was consul in 428 BC (when, as Livy noted, no wars were recorded) and that:

  1. “... the consular lists as we have them show that he was not tribunus militum consulari potestate until 426 BC”.

Gary Forsythe (referenced below, at pp. 321-2) pointed out that Rome’s conquest of Fidenae was the most important military event described in Livy’s Book 4, and that:

  1. “Later historians possessed only three basic data concerning this conflict ...:

  2. the statues of four Roman ambassadors slain by King Lars Tolumnius of Veii, [which were] set up in the Roman Forum;

  3. a gold crown in the Capitoline temple dedicated by the dictator Mamercus Aemilius Mamercinus, to mark the victorious conclusion of this war; and

  4. the spolia Opima stripped from Lars Tolumnius by Aulus Cornelius Cossus and dedicated in the small shrine of Jupiter Feretrius on the Capitoline in single combat.

  5. According to [Livy], Lars Tolumnius was responsible for murdering the four Roman ambassadors in 438 BC, and this led to the outbreak of war in the following year, in which Cossus, serving as a mere military tribune under the dictator Mamercus Aemilius, killed Tolumnius... .  The war, however, did not end until 426 BC, then Mamercus Aemilius, serving as dictator again with Cossus as his master of horse, finally captured and annexed the town [Livy, 4: 31-34]”


Although there is no doubt that Augustus did indeed restore an ancient temple on the Capitoline Hill that was attributed to Romulus, no archeological evidence of its existence has yet been found.


Jupiter is called Feretrius from ferendo (“bringing”), because he is considered to bring (ferre) peace. It is in his temple that the fetial priests involved in external affairs keep the scepter for swearing oaths and the flint for striking treaties (81 Lindsay)

[Concluding the formula for striking a treaty, one of the fetial priests spoke as follows:] “If the Roman people are the first to break this treaty with public consent and conscious deception, then may you, Jupiter, so smite the Roman people as I now strike this pig!…” So speaking, the priest slashed the sacrificial pig's neck with the flint.

Livy, History 1.24.8-9

Jupiter Feretrius in Roman Historiography

The earliest surviving narratives of the early history of Rome both belong to the Augustan period:

  1. Dionysius of Halicarnassus:  ‘Roman Antiquities’; and

  2. Livy (Titus Livius): ‘History of Rome from its Foundation’.

Both of them were writing at about the time of the Augustan restoration of the temple.  In addition, we might usefully consider the testimony of:

  1. Propertius, another Augustan writer, albeit that his medium was poetry; and

  2. Plutarch, who had access to all three of these sources (and others) about a century later.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus

Dionysius tells us that:

  1. “I arrived in Italy at the very time that Augustus Caesar put an end to the civil war, in the middle of the 187th Olympiad [ca. 30 BC].  I have lived at Rome from that time until the present day (a period of 22 years), learning the language of the Romans and acquainting myself with their writings.  I have devoted myself during all that time to matters bearing upon my subject.  Some information I received orally from men of the greatest learning, with whom I associated; and the rest I gathered from histories written by the approved Roman authors: Porcius Cato; Fabius Maximus; Valerius Antias; Licinius Macer; the Aelii; the Gellii, the Calpurnii and many others of note; with these works (which are like the Greek annalistic accounts) as a basis, I set about the writing of my history”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 1: 7: 2-3).

Interestingly, in his surviving book, Dionysius never referred by name to Livy, who (as we shall see) had the first books of his ‘History of Rome’, about 16 years before Dionysius published his ‘Roman Antiquities’. 

According to Dionysius, the events that led to Romulus’ building of the temple began with his abduction of the Sabine women.  The people of Caenina, Crustumerium and Antemnae, who were particularly incensed (or pretended to be so), initially sought help from the Sabines but, when this was not immediately forthcoming, they decided proceed without them:

  1. “... believing that their own strength ... was sufficient to conquer one inconsiderable city [such as Rome. ... However], the Caeninenses, who seemed to be most eager in promoting the war, rashly set out ahead of the others.  When they had taken the field and were wasting the country that bordered on their own, Romulus led out his army, ... [drove them back to  Caenina, which] they took by storm; and when the king of Caenina met [Romulus] with a strong body of men, [Romulus] fought with him and, after slaying him with his own hands, stripped him of his arms”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 33: 1-2).

He then marched against the Antemnates, whom he also defeated.  Then:

  1. “... he led his own army home, carrying with him the spoils of those who had been slain in battle and the choicest part of the booty as an offering to the gods ... Romulus himself came last in the procession, clad in a purple robe and wearing a crown of laurel upon his head.  He rode in a chariot drawn by four horses so that he might maintain the royal dignity.  The rest of the army ... followed, ... praising the gods in songs of their country and extolling their general in improvised verses.  They were met by the citizens with their wives and children, who ... congratulated them upon their victory and expressed their welcome in every other way.  When the army entered the city, they found mixing bowls filled to the brim with wine and tables loaded down with all sorts of viands, which were placed before the most distinguished houses in order that all who pleased might take their fill.  Such was the victorious procession ... that the Romans call a triumph, as it was first instituted by Romulus.  But, in our day, the triumph ... has departed in every respect from its ancient simplicity”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 34: 1-3).

Only at this point did Dionysius describe the foundation of the temple, which he might have seen during its restoration:

  1. “After the procession and the sacrifice, Romulus built a small temple to Jupiter, whom the Romans call Feretrius, on the summit of the Capitoline hill; indeed, the ancient traces of it still remain, of which the longest sides are less than 15 feet.  In this temple, he consecrated the spoils of the king of Caenina, whom he had slain with his own hand.  As for Jupiter Feretrius, to whom Romulus dedicated these arms, one will not be far from the truth whether one wishes to call him Tropaiouchos [to whom trophies are dedicated], ... Skylophoros [he who bears the sceptre of power] or ... Hyperpheretês [the supreme one]”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 34: 4).

Beatrice Poletti (referenced below, at p. 129) observed that:

  1. “Dionysius’s treatment of these ... events stands out for:

  2. the unusual downplaying of [the killing of the king of Caenina and the dedication of his armour at the newly built Temple of Jupiter Feretrius]; and

  3. the detailed description of Romulus’s triumphal procession [the first in Roman history], which surpasses in narrative weight and significance the moment of the spoils’ dedication.

  4. The discrepancy is particularly manifest in comparison with Livy’s account [see below]”.

Particularly surprising are the facts that Dionysius did not ‘the spoils of the king of Caenina’ as the spolia Opima [see below]. In other words, for Dionysius, the only significance of the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius was that:

  1. “After the [first triumphal procession in Roman history] and the sacrifice, Romulus built a small temple to Jupiter, whom the Romans call Feretrius, on the summit of the Capitoline hill. ... In this temple, he consecrated the spoils of the king of Caenina, whom he had slain with his own hand.”

Furthermore, Dionysius did not envisage this temple as inextricably linked to triumphal processions, albeit that he went on to describe Romulus’ celebration of two more triumphs:

  1. After he suppressed a revolt at the Roman colony at Cameria:

  2. “ ... he celebrated a second triumph.  Out of the spoils, he dedicated a chariot and four [horses] in bronze to Vulcan and, near it,  he set up his own statue with an inscription in Greek characters setting forth his deeds”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 54: 2).

  3. He then successfully engaged with the Etruscan city-state of Veii, which opposed Rome’s control over nearby Fidenae.  This engagement culminated in:

  4. “... the third triumph that Romulus celebrated, which was much more magnificent than either of the [other two]”, (‘Roman Antiquities’, 2: 55: 5) .

Dionysius is, in fact, the only surviving source for the often-repeated ‘fact’ that Romulus celebrated three triumphs.  However, he did not mention the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius in connection with either of the subsequent triumphs.  (The dedication to Vulcan after the second triumph was probably associated with the site of the Vulcanal, a shrine to Vulcan that was located on the future site of the Roman Forum, at the foot of the Capitol.) 


Livy, as we shall see, was on the point of publishing (or perhaps revising and republishing) the first books of his ‘History of Rome’ at about the time that the triumvir Octavian became the Emperor Augustus (i.e., 27 BC).  His account of the events that culminated in Romulus’ building of the temple is essentially the same as that of Dionysisus: Romulus’ abduction of the Sabine women had particularly affected the people of  Caenina, Crustumerium and Antemnae, who  initially sought help from Titus Tatius, the king of the Sabines.  However, when his efforts to mobilise an army seemed to be taking too much time:

  1. “... the men of Caenina made an attack upon Roman territory on their own account ...  Romulus put them to flight ..., killed their king and despoiled his body, and took their city at the first assault”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 10: 1). 

Unlike Dionysius, Livy did not have Romulus defeat the Antemnates before returning to Rome.

In Livy’s account, immediately after Romulus had taken Caenina:

  1. “He led back the victorious army.  Magnificent in action, he was no less eager to publicise his achievements.  So, he hung the spoils [i.e. the armour] of the dead [king of Caenina] on a frame made for the purpose and ascended to the Capitol, where he set it down by an oak tree sacred to the shepherds ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 10: 5). 

Again unlike Dionysius, Livy did not explicitly identify this as a triumphal procession, albeit that, as Frances Hickson Hahn (referenced below, at p. 95 pointed out, his account:

  1. “... contains the primary features found in later triumph notices: return of the army; procession with commander; and display of captured spoils.”

She also noted (at p. 96) that:

  1. “[Livy’s] description of the framework in which he hangs the enemy armour is... confusing for modern readers, but the 1st century audience would have  ... [seen]  similar trophies displayed in triumphal processions and [depicted] on coins.”

As Beatrice Poletti pointed out (see the section above), Livy gave little narrative weight to his account of what was (as Dionysius claimed) arguably the first triumphal procession in Roman history. 

The climax of Livy’s account came with the foundation of the temple: as Romulus offered the armour that he had taken from the king of Caenina to the gods:

  1. “... he marked out the boundary of a temple to Jupiter, to whom he gave an additional name, declaring:

  2. ‘To you, Jupiter Feretrius, I, Romulus, victor and king, bring spoils taken from [another] king.  On this site ... , I dedicate a temple that will be the place to which posterity [i.e., later Roman commanders], will bring the spolia opima (supreme spoils) when they have killed enemy kings and commanders as I have done.’

  3. Such was the origin of the first temple that was consecrated in Rome”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 10: 5-7).

He then added to the narrative weight of this passage by describing how the gods would preserve the importance of this temple over time:

  1. “In later years, it has been the will of the gods that:

  2. while the words of [Romulus] ... should not be in vain when he declared that posterity would bring spoils to this place; [but that]

  3. the glory of that gift should not be debased by too many sharing it.

  4. [Indeed], so rarely have men had the good fortune of winning this honour that the spolia Opima been won [and dedicated at this temple] only twice since then, over so many years and so many wars”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 10: 7).

In other words, for Livy, the significance of the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius lay in the facts that:

  1. Romulus had built it on the spot at which he had dedicated the first spolia Opima (the arms of an enemy king whom he had killed in single combat); and

  2. the gods had granted his wish that other Roman commanders who emulated his achievement should have the honour of similarly dedicating the spolia Opima (albeit that Fortuna would ensure that only rarely would later commanders find themselves in circumstances in which they might win this honour).


Propertius included the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius in his fourth book of elegies, which Thomas Hendren (referenced below, at p. 6) described as:

  1. “A professed aetiology of monumental Rome ...”

In other words, by explaining (albeit poetically) how the ancient monuments of Augustan Rome had been conceived and what they had originally signified, Propertius explained what it had originally meant, and what it should still mean, to be Roman.  The book contains eleven poems, and the elegy devoted to the Temple of Jupiter Feretriusis is at 4: 10.  The last poem laments the death in 16 BC of Cornelia, the wife of Aemilius Paullus: since Propertius himself died soon after, the book was probably published at about this time.  In what follows, I have extracted the key points from 4:10 to tease out the underlying information (which obviously does no justice to their poetic value). I have adapted the translation by Vincent Katz (referenced below, at pp. 407-9), although there is a convenient on-line version in the website Poetry in Translation.

The poem begins as Propertius ascends the Capitol from the Roman Forum:

  1. “Now I begin, revealing the stories of Jupiter Feretrius and the three sets of armour captured from three [enemy commanders].  I climb a steep path [to the Capitol], but the glory of it gives me strength ...”, (4: 10: 1-4)

Propertius naturally began with Romulus’ foundation of the temple:

  1. “You, Romulus, provide the example of the first such prize [i.e., the first of these captured sets of armour] when you returned laden with enemy spoils ... [having] routed ... Acron of Caenina ... when he was attacking the gates [of Rome] ... Romulus sees [Acron] testing his spear before the hollow towers [of Rome] and attacks first, ...[vowing]: ‘Jupiter, this Acron falls before you today.’  He vowed it, and Acron fell, an offering to Jupiter.  [This was how] the founder of the city, and of its virtus (valour), was used to winning: ...”, (4: 10: 5-17). 

We saw above that Livy had alluded to two later occasions on which a Roman commander won the honour of dedicating the spolia Opima at this temple: Propertius described them in turn at this point (see below).   He then concluded:

  1. “Now, three [sets of captured enemy armour] are preserved in the temple, [which is] why it is called the Feretrius:

  2. because a leader striking (ferit) a leader with his [own] sword is a clear omen; or

  3. perhaps because [the three victorious Roman commanders] carried (ferebant) the captured arms on their shoulders ...”, (4: 10: 49-52).

Thus, while:

  1. Dionysius’ account of Romulus victory over the king of Caenina privileged his triumphal procession over his subsequent building of the temple and made only passing reference to the captured enemy armour; and

  2. Livy’s account privileged Romulus’ foundation of the temple as the locus for his own and two later dedications of the spolia Opima;

for Propertius, the temple was, first and foremost, the place where the three Roman commanders who won the spolia Opima dedicated them (starting with Romulus).  Propertius, who is our earliest source for the information that the king of Caecina was called Acron, describes his engagement with Romulus without any reference to the presence of the respective armies.  In other words, for Propertius, the significance of the Temple of Jupiter Fertrius lay in the fact that, from the time of Romulus, it was the place where Roman commanders who killed  enemy commanders in single combat were allowed to dedicate the army of their victim.


As noted above, Plutarch had the three sources above (a well as to the work of Varro, which he mentions, and and surely others like them) when he produced his biography of Romulus in ca. 100 AD.  In his account, after having seized the Sabine women, Romulus refused to return them and instead:

  1. “... demanded that the Sabines should allow community of marriage with the Romans, whereupon they all held long deliberations and made extensive preparations for war.  But, there was one exception. Acron, king of Caenina, a man of courageous spirit and skilled in war ... at once rose up in arms, and with a great force advanced against him.  Romulus also marched out to meet him ... and they challenged each other  to single combat before battle, ... Romulus made a vow that, if he should conquer and overthrow his adversary, he would personally carry home his armour and dedicate it to Jupiter.  He then not only conquered and [killed king Acron] but also routed his army in the battle that followed and then took his city.  ... after considering how he might perform his vow in a manner most acceptable to Jupiter ... he cut down a huge oak that grew in the camp.  He then hewed it into the shape of a trophy and  fastened Acron’s armour to it, each piece in its due order.  Then, girding his raiment about him and wreathing his flowing locks with laurel, he set the trophy on his right shoulder, where it was held erect, and began a triumphal march ... [during which] his army sang as it followed under arms.  [This procession, which ] the citizens received with joyful amazement, was the origin and model of all subsequent triumphs.  The trophy [i.e. the armour of king Acron that Romulus carried on his right shoulder] was designated as a dedication to Jupiter Feretrius, so-named from the Roman word ‘ferire’ (to smite); for Romulus had vowed to smite his foe and overthrow him.  Such spoils were called ‘opima’ because, as Varro says, ‘opes’ is the Roman word for richness; but it would be more plausible to say that they were so called from the deed of valour involved, since ‘opus’ is the Roman word for deed or exploit.  And, [since the time of Romulus],  the privilege of dedicating the ‘spolia opima’ has been granted only to a general who has killed an enemy general with his own hands”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 16: 5-8).

Interestingly, Plutarch gave great narrative weight to Romulus as the instigator of the first Roman triumphal procession and of the privilege granted to Roman commanders who had killed an enemy commander in single combat of dedicating the armour of the victim to Jupiter Feretrius.  However, he did not mention the Temple of Jupiter Feretrius at all.


  1. Cossus comes second [in 437 BC]: he killed Tolumnus of Veii [in the days] when to conquer Veii was indeed a task.  Alas, ancient Veii, you [like Rome, were] a kingdom then, and a golden throne was set in your market place: now the horn of the careless shepherd sounds within your walls, and they reap the harvest over your bones.   It happened that Veii’s chieftain was standing on the gate-tower, speaking, not fearing for his city ... [although the Romans were] battering the walls ...Cossus cried:

  2. ‘It’s better to meet brave men in the open.’

  3. Without delay, [Cossus and Tolumnus] placed themselves on level ground.  The gods aided Latin hands and Tolumnius’ severed head washed Roman horses in blood.

  4. [Then came]  Claudius [in 222 BC]: he drove the enemy back when they had crossed the Rhine, at that time when the Belgic shield of the giant chieftain Virdomarus was brought here.  He boasted  ... [of his prowess] at throwing Gallic javelins from an unswerving chariot.  Hurling them, he advanced ... in front of the host: [Claudius engaged with him and] the engraved torque fell from his severed throat.


  1. Addressing the god by a new title, [Romulus] uttered the following invocation:

  2. ‘Jupiter Feretrius, I, Romulus, a king and conqueror, offer you the arms that I took from [another] king, and ... dedicate a temple to receive these spolia Opima [supreme spoils of war].  Hereafter, other Romans who emulate me will bring to you the spoils of the enemy kings and leaders that they themselves have killed.’ 

  3. Such was the origin of the first temple dedicated in Rome.  And the gods decreed that, although its founder [Romulus correctly asserted] that posterity would thither bear their spoils, the splendour of that offering would not be dimmed by the number of those who would [achieve the honour of making it].  Thus, after so many years and so many wars [since the time Romulus], the spolia Opima [have been won and] offered only twice”, (‘History of Rome’, 1: 10: 5-7).

  1. Plutarch 

  2. “Only three Roman leaders have attained this honour: Romulus first, for slaying Acron the Caeninensian; next, Cornelius Cossus, for killing Tolumnius the Etruscan; and lastly, Claudius Marcellus, for overpowering Britomartus, king of the Gauls.  Cossus indeed, and Marcellus, already used a four-horse chariot for their entrance into the city, carrying the trophies themselves, but Dionysius is incorrect in saying that Romulus used a chariot: for it is matter of history that Tarquin, the son of Demaratus, was first of the kings to lift triumphs up to such pomp and ceremony (and indeed, others say that Publicola was first to celebrate a triumph riding on a chariot) and all the statues of Romulus bearing the trophies that may be seen in Rome [portray him] on foot”, (‘Life of Romulus’, 16: 5-8).


“Plutarch, in turn, describes Romulus’s carrying of the trophy with Acron’s spoils on his shoulder as the highlight (and even origin) of his triumphal march (Rom. 16.5-6).148 Dionysius emphasizes many particulars of Romulus’s procession, his appearance, and his attire,149 but oddly has very few words to say about the circumstances of the dedication of the enemy’s spoils in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius, and limits his account to a brief mention of it (cf. RA 2.34.4). “

Valerius Maximus:

  1. “Challenged to mortal combat by Acro, king of Caenina, ... [before his whole army had arrived, Romulus] ... preferred to seize the omen of victory with his own right hand.  Nor did Fortune fail his undertaking.  With Acro slain and the enemy put to flight, Romulus brought the spolia Opima from his foe to Jupiter Feretrius.  ... Next to Romulus, Cornelius Cossus consecrated spoils to the same god when, as master of horse, he met in battle and killed the leader of the Fidenates .. Nor we  [neglect] .. the memory of Marcus Marcellus who ... attacked the king of the Gauls [on the banks of the Po] ...and straightway killed him, stripped him of his arms and dedicated them to Jupiter Feretrius.  Titus Manlius Torquatus, Valerius Corvinus and Aemilianus Scipio showed the same valour in the same kind of combat: they, too, killed enemy leaders whom they had challenged.  However, since they acted under the auspices of other men. they did not place spoils to be consecrated to Jupiter Feretrius”, (‘Memorable Deeds and Sayings’, 3: 3-6)

Florus described that Romulus’ abduction of the Sabine women:

“... immediately gave rise to wars, in which the Veientines were defeated and put to flight [and] the city of Caenina was captured and plundered.  Moreover, Romulus with his own hands bore to Jupiter Feretrius the spolia Opima won from their king Agron”, (‘Epitome of Roman History, 1: 1: 10)

  1. Read more: 

B. Poletti, “Dionysius of Halicarnassus and the 'Founders' of Rome: Depicting Characters in the Roman Antiquities, (2018, thesis of the University of Alberta

F. Hickson Hahn, “Livy's Liturgical Order: Systematisation in the History”, in:

  1. B. Mineo (Ed.), “A Companion to Livy”, (2015) Chichester

J. Elliott, “Ennius and the Architecture of the Annales”, (2013) Cambridge

T. Hendren, “Unraveling Roman Identity: Propertius, Callimachus and Elegies 4.9-11”, (2009), thesis of the University of Florida

S. Weinstock, “Divus Julius”, (1971) Oxford

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