To the victor go the spoils (or to the victor belong the spoils) is a proverbial expression, meaning that the winner of a contest not just wins the subject of the contest, but receives all additional benefits as well.
The expression can be used in all situations where a race, conflict or competition is involved.
For instance, if a sports team wins a high-level competition, we can say to the victor go the spoils, because the team will surely receive all financial bonuses atop of the title win.
Historical literature shows that “spolia optima” (“very best spoils” in Latin) was a commonly used term in Roman times.
It referred to victorious commanders, who would receive the defeated officers’ goods and riches.
The actual origin of the expression, however, comes from American politics from the 19th century.
It was a reference to the spoils system, which was a political agenda that was situated around cronyism and nepotism.
The first known user of to the victor go the spoils was William L. Marcy, a New York senator, who uttered the expression in 1828.
The proverb then became increasingly popular in politics, featuring in numerous speeches and caricatures alike.
It is also sometimes featured in TV and cinema. For example, the term appeared in the TV series The Sopranos, uttered by Tony Soprano during the second episode of Season 2.