"To the victor the spoils": in ancient times, heroes who had won battles for the state were often rewarded with goods and money by the people or their grateful rulers, as well as symbolic awards such as laurel wreaths, processions or special titles or clothes; in Rome, for example, a purple border on a tunic.
Special coins might be struck to commemorate victories; for example, Alexander's conquest of Persia. In the Middle Ages, religious services were held, and stone monuments and stained-glass windows were created in cathedrals; and chains and medallions were struck giving credit to God as well as the individual.
In Europe in the 18th century, national medals were more frequently issued to recognise exceptional conduct in war, particularly in the empires of Austro-Hungary, France and Britain.
In Britain today, there are more than 50 awards for extraordinary conduct - in war, in civilian life and at work. They are given twice a year in the Honours Lists.
The Victoria Cross has been awarded to only 1,355 people, 14 of whom are still alive, since its foundation after the Crimean War (1854-56). Medals are cast from melted-down cannon captured at the siege of Sebastopol.