veni vidi vici / by Anthony Gibbins

veni vidi vici I came, I saw, I conquered is among the very best known of Latin phrases, second only perhaps to et tu, Brute! It is attributed to Caesar by one historian, Appian of Alexandria, and two biographers, Suetonius and Plutarch. Let us look at what each had to say;

Appian:  Agitated by Caesar’s approach, [King Pharnaces of Syria] repented, and when Caesar was twenty-five miles away sent ambassadors to arrange peace, who took him a golden crown and foolishly offered him Pharnaces’ daughter in marriage. When Caesar discovered what the gifts were, he advanced with his army and walked forward in conversation with the ambassadors until he reached the defences of Pharnaces’ camp. Then he simply…leapt on his horse, and as soon as the war-cry was uttered, routed Pharnaces and killed a large number of his men, although accompanied by only about 1 000 cavalry who formed a vanguard with him… And his dispatch to Rome about the battle ran: ‘I came, I saw, I conquered.’ Book II. 91

Suetonius: Caesar’s first and most glorious Triumphal Procession was for the victories he gained in Gaul; the next for that of Alexandria, the third for the reduction of Pontus, the fourth for his African victory, and the last for that in Spain; and they all differed from each other in their varied pomp and pageantry… Amongst the pageantry of the Pontic triumph, a tablet with this inscription was carried before him: I CAME, I SAW, I CONQUERED; not signifying, as other mottos on the like occasion, what was done, so much as the speed with which it was achieved. Life of Caesar, 37

Plutarch: On leaving that country and traversing Asia, he learned… that Pharnaces, using his victory without stint, and occupying Bithynia and Cappadocia, was aiming to secure the country called Lesser Armenia... At once, therefore, Caesar marched against him with three legions, fought a great battle with him near the city of Zela, drove him in flight out of Pontus, and annihilated his army. In announcing the swiftness and fierceness of this battle to one of his friends at Rome, Amantius, Caesar wrote three words: I came, saw, conquered. In Latin, however, the words have the same inflectional ending, and so a brevity which is most impressive. Life of Caesar, 50

Note that Plutarch, who wrote in Greek, admired how snappy veni, vidi, vici sounded in Latin. Each of them is the First Person Perfect Tense Form of these three verbs; venio, venire, veni, ventum - video, videre, vidi, visum - vinco, vincere, vici, victum. You may remember that the Third Principal Part of any Verb is the First Person Perfect Tense Form. vidi I saw appears on today’s page.

Miranda ran to Jessica without delay. ‘How do you have yourself [i.e. How are you?]’ she asked her. ‘What were you doing? I saw you descending from the roof.’