Civic Crown: What was it and Why did the Romans award it?
The Civic Crown, also known as the Corona Civica in Latin, was a prestigious military decoration awarded by the ancient Romans. Made from oak leaves and acorns, the honor was considered one of the highest a Roman citizen could receive.
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Below, World History Edu presents everything that you need to know about the Civic Crown, including how a 19-year-old Julius Caesar was awarded the distinguished military honor:
How could one earn the Civic Crown?
The Romans issued the Civic Crown to recognize acts of extraordinary valor and bravery in defense of the Roman Republic or later the Roman Empire.
The military honor was specifically awarded to individuals who had demonstrated exceptional courage in saving the lives of their fellow citizens during military conflicts. This act of saving a fellow citizen’s life was considered an exceptional service to the state and was highly valued in Roman society.
It is also worth mentioning that the Civic Crown was only issued when the person whose life was saved confirmed it. What this means is that other than that person no one else could serve as a witness.
Rationale for the honor
The issuance of the Civic Crown served several purposes. First, it provided recognition and honor to the individual who had shown bravery and selflessness on the battlefield. It served as a public acknowledgement of their heroic actions and distinguished them from their peers.
Second, it motivated other soldiers to display similar acts of valor and courage, as they aspired to receive such a prestigious decoration.
Moreover, the Civic Crown symbolized the importance of unity and camaraderie among Roman citizens. By rewarding those who risked their lives to save their fellow citizens, the Roman authorities aimed to foster a sense of duty, loyalty, and mutual support within the Roman military and society as a whole.
The Civic Crown – a path to lifelong membership in the Roman Senate
During the political and military dominance of Roman general and statesman Sulla, a recipient of the Civic Crown was entitled to gain entry into the Roman Senate. The holder of the Civic Crown was required to don the crown during public events, including sporting events.
Other privileges received by Civic Crown holders in Rome
According to Pliny, recipients of the Civic Crown could receive the applause from the entire crowd/audience at the event, including applause from the Roman senators. Pliny noted that the senators would rise to their feet whenever a Civic Crown wearer made an entrance into the event.
It was also common for the Civic Crown holders to sit next to senators at those events.
Furthermore, the holders of the military honor as well as their father and paternal grandfather were exempted from all public duties.
The Civic Crown held great significance in Roman culture and was highly respected. It carried not only honor but also certain privileges and benefits. The recipient of the Civic Crown was exempted from certain civic duties and enjoyed special privileges in public assemblies.
The Civic Crown versus the Grass Crown
The Civic Crown was not the highest decoration a Roman soldier could receive in ancient Rome. The highest honor was the Grass Crown (also known as Blockade Crown).
Unlike the Civic Crown which could be presented to a soldier, the Grass Crown was only given Roman military commanders or generals whose tactics helped saved a legion or an entire army. More often than not the Grass Crown was given to a general whose effort helped relieve a blockade on his army; hence the other name, a Blockade Crown (corona obsidionalis).
Where as the Civic Crown was made from oak leaves, the Grass Crown was made from plant materials from the field of battle in which the Roman general/officer fought in. Such material could be the grass, cereals, flowers, or even wheat found on the battlefield.
According to the famous Roman philosopher and historian Pliny the Elder (i.e. Gaius Plinius Secundus), the Grass Crown was received by generals that stepped up to the plate in times of crisis. Pliny goes on to say that those brave generals often times helped in preserving an entire army that was placed under siege by the enemy.
Pliny states a number of Roman generals that received the crown of grass for their valor; they include: Lucius Siccius Dentatus, Marcus Calpurnius Flamma, Scipio Aemilianus, and Lucius Cornelius Sulla.
In Scipio Aemilianus’ case, his Grass Crown came for his heroic actions in 148 BC, i.e. during the Third Punic War against Carthage. Also known as Scipio Africanus the Younger, the Roman general would go on to oversee the complete annihilation of the north African kingdom of Carthage in 146 BC. Pliny also noted that Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, received a crown of glass from the Roman Senate.
How Roman emperors came to be eligible for the Civic Crown
The honor was more in honor of Augustus’ political contributions rather than his military feats. Augustus was deemed a worthy recipient of the Civic Crown for his role in bringing an end to tumultuous era that marked the demise of the Roman Republic. As a result, subsequent Roman emperors were entitled to the honor.
Related: The Five Good Roman Emperors and their Accomplishments
Questions and Answers
Who were some of the notable figures that won the Civic Crown?
According to Pliny, Lucius Siccius Dentatus, the famous Roman soldier and later tribune, won a number of Civic Wreaths, including the Civic Crown and the Grass Crown.
Pliny also stated that Scipio Africanus, Rome’s hero and leading general of the Second Punic War, won the Civic Crown for saving his father at the Battle of Ticinus in 218 BC. However, Scipio declined the honor, claiming that he did not see why an honor should be given for rescuing a citizen.
Perhaps the most notable figure from ancient Rome to receive the Civic Crown was Julius Caesar, Rome’s distinguished general and later dictator. Julius Caesar’s military honor came in 81 BC during the Siege of Mytilene in which he rescued the life of a fellow citizen. Caesar’s involvement in the siege was one of his first major military services. He was in his late teens at the time.
Other than the Civic Crown and the Grass Crown, were there any other military honors and crowns awarded in Rome?
Ancient Rome had a number of military awards other than the Grass Crown and the Civic Crown. Examples of those military honors that we know of include:
- Naval crown: This Roman military honor was awarded to the first man who managed to go aboard an enemy ship during a naval battle. The crown was made of gold adorned with designs of the bow of ships.
- Camp crown: Also made from gold, this military crown was given by the Romans to the first man who successfully broke into the enemy camp or field during battle. The crown had designs of a palisade (i.e. a stakewall) placed on it.