This Ancient Roman Soldier Won the Equivalent of the Medal of Honor 6 Times

Cato the Elder was ruthless against his enemies, but would have been an exceptional leader to be around. Spurius likely had a few one-on-one conversations with the great statesman. Wikipedia

Off to Spain with Cato the Elder

Spurius was then sent back to Italy where the army disbanded. Eager for more glory, Spurius immediately volunteered to join a young Cato on campaign in Spain. Cato had grown up in Sabine territory after inheriting some land at a very young age, and may have had some things in common with our Spurius. Spurius seems to have enjoyed his time with Cato as he had this to say of his commander: “of all living commanders not one has shown himself a keener observer or more accurate judge of military valor.”

A brutal campaign saw the Romans tear up and down southeast Spain, winning battles and destroying towns. Throughout this Spurius was likely promoted through the Centurion ranks of the Hastati, starting from the 10th maniple until he reached the post of centurion of the 1st maniple, the best of the Hastati.

After Roman Spain was pacified, Spurius again volunteered to fight the Seleucids in Greece. Like the Spartans centuries before, the Seleucid army under Antiochus the Great prepared to meet the larger Roman army in the narrow pass of Thermopylae.

Centurions were Supposed to Lead from the Front and Often Died Trying

Here Spurius, now a centurion of the second-line Princeps, attacked the Seleucids head-on while more Romans used the now well-known goat path to hit the army from multiple sides, winning a decisive victory. Here it is important to note the astounding skill and luck that Spurius must have possessed. Centurions were seen as leaders and expected to be examples of bravery and martial skill to their men.

a fairly accurate depiction of what a centurion could look like at the time. Centurions stood out by having a sideways crest. This allowed them to be identified through the dust and chaos of battle. Pinterest

Infantry rotated frequently to keep fresh troops on the front, but Centurions rarely stepped far away from the action and were often in the thick of the fighting to inspire their men. The death rate for centurions was staggering, even for those in the Princeps.

Centurions could be appointed by superiors or voted into position by their peers, Spurius could have been prompted both ways through his career. Centurions also had to be able to read, so we can assume that Spurius was literate, or got literate just two years into his service. This would be a rare ability among small farmers.

Despite this, Spurius survived and thrived as a centurion. At Thermopylae, the Romans won an easy and complete victory. From there Spurius headed back to Italy and disbanded. He didn’t rest long before going out to Spain again.

Off to Spain Again

Under Consul Flaccus, the Romans faced Celtiberians in Spain. Celtiberians were, unsurprisingly, a blend of Celtic and Iberian (Spain/Portugal) cultures, and were well known as some of the best fighters of the Western Mediterranean. In one battle, Flaccus was able to lure a huge force of Celtiberians into the attack before a reinforcing army approached from the Celtiberian rear, annihilating them.

Spurius was a major part of this battle, having to lead and cooperate with an allied army to complete the encirclement of the enemy. Experienced centurions were crucial to the mobility and adaptable tactics of the Roman army, many times they were given general orders with the expectation that they would change tactics whenever they saw better options.

When Flaccus and his army were marching through a pass to the coast to be replaced by the incoming Gracchus and his army, the Celtiberians launched a massive ambush. The Romans faced complete destruction approaching the scale of the Teutoburg disaster many years later. A Celtiberian infantry wedge punched deep into the surrounded Roman formation, but fierce and unyielding fighting won the day for the Romans. The Celtiberians lost 20,000 men in their failed ambush and Spurius was likely promoted again.


  • Ben Barger

    Great piece. Always good to read what is known and speculated about real heroes of old.