In ancient Rome, it became common to honor successful military leaders with a parade in their honor. The standard form might involve the general getting snazzy clothes and a gilt chariot, his soldiers enjoying the city's praise, and showing off all the bullion, treasure, and slaves taken as plunder.

In ancient Greece, things certainly varied from city to city but they must have had some usual honors they bestowed upon their military leaders. Do any of y'all know what Athens and Sparta's celebrations or awards would have usually been? and any special or well-known examples from other Greek cities?

  • 1
    If it matters, I've already seen the Wiki entry on thriambos. It's the Greek word that gets used for triumph but its use by Alexander is possibly apocryphal and in any case not from the classic era of Greece that I'm asking about here. For them, it would've just been a Dionysian hymn and nothing about honoring military leaders.
    – lly
    Apr 24, 2020 at 17:44
  • 6
    please, by the sacred name of Clio, don't modify your question in a comment. The question should contain all the information needed.
    – MCW
    Apr 24, 2020 at 18:30
  • @MarkC.Wallace As I already told you in an apparently deleted comment, it does. Discussing what answers are unhelpful is not part of the question itself.
    – lly
    Apr 28, 2020 at 15:18

1 Answer 1


Our sources on how the Greeks in classical times celebrated their military leaders’ victories are scattered and, with rare exceptions, singularly lacking in detail. Enhanced reputation and prestige, along with booty, land, dedications, money, crowning with garlands and invitations as guest of honour at the homes of the most eminent citizens, could be among the rewards for success on the battlefield. The victorious general, of course, also had the honour of setting up the trophy (tropaion) on the battlefield.

Although we can probably assume that the victorious general (assuming he had survived and that he was not still abroad) would have had a prominent place in any triumph or parade, the focus was more on dedicating the spoils of war to the gods at temples and honouring those who had died bravely in battle. A paean might also be sung, although it was perhaps more commonly used just before a battle. Captives and slaves might be paraded, but most Greek battles were local affairs and the Greeks were often reluctant to enslave or humiliate other Greeks, in part because shifting alliances often meant that yesterday's defeated enemy might be tomorrow's valued ally.

Credit for victories achieved belonged not just to their leaders but also to the hoplite citizen army and the polis as a whole. Garlands were not just worn by the victorious leader but also by those who had distinguished themselves in battle. Special prizes (aristeia) for bravery were awarded; on occasion, these went to the leader but more often they were given to other individuals or groups. These prizes were also sometimes awarded by allies (the case of Themistocles being perhaps the most famous). During the later classical period, though, it would appear that victorious leaders did gain more credit than they had in earlier times, particular in the years after the Peloponnesian War.

What is also noticeable about surviving victorious generals (notably Themistocles and the regent Pausanias) during the classical era is how quickly and how many were brought down – disgraced, exiled, and / or condemned – by jealous rivals and / or by their own arrogance and / or later conduct. Contrast these with the near untarnished reputations of Leonidas (though he lost), Brasidas and Epaminondas, all of whom died bravely in battle. In short, the honouring of a victorious leader above all others seems to have happened primarily upon their deaths.


The three main contemporaneous, or near contemporaneous, historical accounts – Herodotus’ Histories, Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War and Xenophon’s Hellenica – have (with a few exceptions) little to say on either victory ceremonies or the details of how victorious leaders were honoured, but there are a few useful passages. Further snippets of evidence can be gleaned from plays (e.g. Aechylus, Euripides), archaeological evidence such as inscriptions, and from later writers such as Plutarch (e.g. Life of Aristides) and the geographer Pausanias' Descriptions of Greece. Also, when considering the examples below, consider the words of the Athenian orator Demosthenes (died 322) in Demosthenes against Meidias, Androtion, Aristocrates, Timocrates, Aristogeiton:

...no man would say that the battle of Salamis belonged to Themistocles, - it was the battle of the Athenians; or that the victory at Marathon belonged to Miltiades, - it was the victory of the commonwealth.

Demosthenes then contrasts this with more recent times:

But today, men of Athens, it is commonly said that Corcyra was captured by Timotheus, that the Spartan battalion was cut to pieces by Iphicrates, that the naval victory off Naxos was won by Chabrias. It really looks as though you disclaimed any merit for those feats of arms by the extravagant favours that you lavish on the several commanders.

On the immediate, tangible rewards for the general Miltiades’ key role in the defeat of the Persians at the Battle of Marathon (490 BC), Herodotus says little directly:

After the Persian disaster at Marathon, the reputation of Miltiades, already great at Athens, very much increased.

Miltiades’ main reward for the victory was reputation and the benefits it could bring, rather than public inscriptions in his honour (which were denied). The benefits of reputation in Miltiades’ case were considerable:

He asked the Athenians for seventy ships, an army, and money, not revealing against what country he would lead them, but saying that he would make them rich if they followed him; he would bring them to a country from which they could easily carry away an abundance of gold; so he said when he asked for the ships. The Athenians were induced by these promises and granted his request.

However, the expedition was a failure, Miltiades’ motives for it were questioned and he ended up dying from his wounds in an Athenian prison.

Themistocles, despite his key role in the defeat of the Persians at sea, was actually denied aristeia by his own people. Herodotus explains:

After the division of the spoils, the Greeks sailed to the Isthmus, there to award the prize of excellence to him who had shown himself most worthy of it in that war. But when the admirals came and at the altar of Poseidon gave their votes to judge who was first and who second among them, each of them voted for himself, supposing himself to have done the best service. The greater part of them, however, united in giving the second place to Themistocles. So they each gained but one vote, while Themistocles far outstripped them in votes for the second place.

The Greeks were too jealous to assign the prize and sailed away each to his own place, leaving the matter undecided; nevertheless, Themistocles was lauded, and throughout all of Hellas was deemed the wisest man by far of the Greeks.

Understandably displeased, Themistocles turned to the Spartans for recognition. According to Herodotus, they rewarded him handsomely:

The Lacedaemonians welcomed him and paid him high honor. They bestowed on Eurybiades [the Spartan navarch] a crown of olive as the reward of excellence and another such crown on Themistocles for his wisdom and cleverness. They also gave him the finest chariot in Sparta, and with many words of praise, they sent him home with the three hundred picked men of Sparta who are called Knights to escort him as far as the borders of Tegea. Themistocles was the only man of whom we know to whom the Spartans gave this escort.

Back in Athens, though, Themistocles’ arrogance and the envy of his enemies eventually led to him being ostracized.

Pausanias, who led the Greeks at the decisive Battle of Plataea (479 BC), was rewarded with a large amount of Persian booty (there was a lot to go around) and recognition throughout Greece, but it wasn’t long before he was being censured by his own city for a stunningly arrogant inscription (subsequently erased) on a monument celebrating the victory over the Persians. He ended up a condemned man.

At the end of his relatively successful year as navarch (388 BC), the Spartan Teleutius was, according to Xenophon in Hellenica, honoured by his men:

Here one presented him with a crown, and there another with a victor's wreath; and those who arrived too late, still, as the ship weighed anchor, threw garlands into the sea and wafted him many a blessing with prayerful lips.

Also in Hellenica, there is the example of the Spartan King Agesilaos II (c.444/443 – c.360 BC) being honoured by his allies on the battlefield, thinking that the battle was already over:

At this moment some of the foreign division were already in the act of crowning Agesilaus with the wreath of victory, when some one brought him word that the Thebans had cut through the Orchomenians and were in among the baggage train. At this the Spartan general immediately turned his army right about and advanced against them.

When, indeed the battle was finally over,

Gylis the polemarch received orders to draw up the troops in battle order, and to set up a trophy, every man crowned with a wreath in honour of the god, and all the pipers piping.

That wreaths were common is not in doubt. In the aftermath of the Athenian victory at Battle of Arginusae (406BC), in a speech in defence of the generals at their trial, Euryptolemus - in the generals' defence - argued that

…you will better satisfy the demands of justice by crowning these conquerors with wreaths of victory than by punishing them with death at the instigation of wicked men.

The Athenian general Iphicrates (c.418 BC – c.353 BC) was mentioned by Demosthenes. Again, details are lacking, but the orator considered the general to be

a very fortunate man, with his bronze effigy, his free board at the Town Hall, and other grants and distinctions.

In another example of the brevity with which rewards were treated by Thucydides in particular, the historian simply notes that, for his actions in repelling the Athenians at Methone (in Messenia), Brasidas

…won the thanks of Sparta by his exploit, being thus the first officer who obtained this notice during the war.

Following a string of successes, Brasidas found himself honoured by several cities. For example, in Scione, the people (according to Thucydides)

welcomed Brasidas with all possible honours, publicly crowning him with a crown of gold as the liberator of Hellas; while private persons crowded round him and decked him with garlands as though he had been an athlete.

This, admittedly though, was not following a specific victory; Brasidas’ greatest honour was to come only after his death in victory at the Battle of Amphipolis (422 BC):

…all the allies attended in arms and buried Brasidas at the public expense in the city, in front of what is now the marketplace, and the Amphipolitans, having enclosed his tomb, ever afterwards sacrifice to him as a hero and have given to him the honour of games and annual offerings.

Also greatly honoured in both life and death was the general Timoleon, a Corinthian active in Syracuse. Plutarch mentions that Timoleon

...lived in a house which the Syracusans had bestowed upon him as a special prize for his successes as general...

He was further honoured in death for his many actions, military and non-military, to the benefit of Syracuse:

A number of days having been allowed in which the Syracusans might prepare for his funeral, while the country folk and strangers came together, the whole ceremony was conducted with great magnificence,... The bier was escorted, too, by many thousands of men and women, whose appearance was one that became a festival, since all were crowned with garlands and wore white raiment; while cries and tears, mingled with benedictions....And finally, when the bier had been placed upon the funeral pyre, Demetrius, who had the loudest voice of any herald of the time, read from manuscript the following decree:— "By the people of Syracuse, Timoleon, son of Timodemus, from Corinth, is here buried at a public cost of two hundred minas, and is honoured for all time with annual contests, musical, equestrian, and gymnastic, because he overthrew the tyrants, subdued the Barbarians, re-peopled the largest of the devastated cities, and then restored their laws to the Greeks of Sicily."


Contrasting Hellenistic and Classical Greek practices, Tonio Hölscher in Images of War in Greece and Rome (2003) observes that:

In Hellenistic times there was a further change of attitude to both victory and defeat. Victorious kings such as Alexander the Great are represented in highly unclassical attitudes of almost supernatural and explosive individual energy.

Then, comparing Rome with classical Greece,

Roman war rituals lead us into another world. They are almost never represented in the arts of the private sphere but appear almost exclusively on public monuments. In imperial Rome wars were fought not by upper class citizens but by professional troops commanded by Roman generals and officers, so that war was not a social and cultural experience but a matter for the state. As a result, Romans do not much care for their fallen dead, because death in war - except for some great heroes of the past - was not glorious but shameful. Only victories counted. While war rituals in archaic andclassical Greece were closely focused on the social values of bravery and on the fight itself, Rome developed a much larger system of war rituals within which fighting and battles were presented as merely one aspect among many others.

Other Sources:

Daniel P. Tompkins, 'Greek Rituals of War'. In 'The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World'

A. H. Jackson, 'Hoplites and the Gods: The Dedication of Captured Arms and Armour'. In Victor Davis Hanson (ed.), 'Hoplites: The Classical Greek Battle Experience'

Tonio Hölscher, 'Images of War in Greece and Rome: Between Military Practice, Public Memory, and Cultural Symbolism'. In 'The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 93' (2003)

J. E. Lendon, 'Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity' (Yale University Press, 2005)

F. Jacoby, 'Some Athenian Epigrams from the Persian Wars'. In 'Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Vol. 14,No. 3' (Jul. - Sep., 1945)

W. K. Pritchett, 'The Greek State at War, Part II' (University of California Press, 1974)

Lucia Novakova, 'Celebrating victory: art and war booty in Classical Greece'. In 'ILIRIA International Review – Vol 9, No 2' (2019)

  • 1
    I wasn't expecting such a good and well researched answer. Thank you for that.
    – lly
    Apr 28, 2020 at 15:19

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