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Roman Empire - Historical Flags (Italy)


Last modified: 2005-03-12 by dov gutterman
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Marcus Agrippa's Flag

A special case must be Marcus Agrippa's flag, awarded by Augustus. This is mentioned in Suetonius' "The Twelve Caesars", I quote from the Robert Graves translation (rev. Michael Grant), issued in Penguin Classics, ch. 25 of 'Augustus': "Marcus Agrippa earned the right to fly a blue ensign in recognition of this naval victory off Sicily."
I can provide more bibliographical info here but the interesting thing is to compare this version with others (and with the original text).
See, for instance at <> "The Lives of the Twelve Caesars", a Gutenberg e-text (translation Alexander Thomson rev. T. Forester): XXV. (...) "He presented M. Agrippa, after the naval engagement in the Sicilian war, with a sea-green banner."
Jan Mertens, 7 February 2005

The original text refering to the vexillum of Marcus Agrippa is indeed from C. Suetonius Tranquillus: "De Vita Caesarum", chapter 25: "M. Agrippam in Sicilia post navalem victoriam caeruleo vexillo donavit." [1] (He awarded M. Agrippa in Sicily after the naval victory with a sky-coloured vexillum) (my translation)
It is important to stress the fact, that this vexillum (flag) was obviously awarded as a military decoration, because in the sentences before Suetonius described the other military decorations that had been awarded (several crowns, collars etc.). There are other instances known of the awarding of a vexillum as military decoration to high-ranking officers [2]. However, it is totally unknown, how this decoration was displayed, i.e. if the actual flag was openly displayed or if some miniature form was worn with the uniform, for instance.
The colour of the vexillum awarded to Agrippa is certainly a problem, because the word "caeruleus" literally means "sky-coloured". The word, however, was used in a wide variety of contexts, meaning very different, usually rather dark colours: "dark-colored, dark blue, dark green, cerulean, azure, dark, gloomy, dun, sable, black, dark green, green, greenish". [3]
[1] C. Suetonius Tranquillus: De Vita Caesarum. at <>.
[2] [mxf81].
[3] Charlton T. Lewis, Charles Short, A Latin Dictionary. at <>.
Marcus Schmöger, 7 February 2005

As far as my limited knowledge goes, the word vexillum referred specifically to the flag carried by the Roman cavalry. If there was no other usage, would it not be reasonable to assume that this decoration was displayed in a similar manner? For example that he could have been preceded by a bearer carrying this caeruleun vexillum before him in processions or on parades like the triumph? Did he have one for this victory? Presumably we can only speculate at this distance in time unless some one can come up with a classical reference explaining the whole thing.
Andries Burgers, 8 February 2005