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Proverbs, Quotes, and Sayings of Ancient Rome

Updated Sun, Dec 20, 2009 by Ethec

There are many sayings used in the Roman world which are interesting and fun to know.  Many reflect the attitude of the culture at that time, and of the person who was quoted.  Knowing these quotes can assist in getting immersed in the culture of a game, and for those interested, in role playing.

Greetings and Goodbyes

This is fairly simple to remember.  The most common of Roman greetings was “Salve!”, which literally meant “welcome”, though it was different by class.  Slaves, for example, said “servus sum”, meaning “I am your slave.

Goodbye was often said as “Vade en pace” which means “go in peace”, though that was a bit lengthy and formal.  Vale! is a shorter way to say good bye, but later developed to mean "good evening" when parting.  The hello to go with the shorter Vale was Ave.  "Avate" is yet another short version of goodbye, without the "evening" connotations of Vale.  Another expression was "Ave atque vale", literally meaning Hello and Goodbye, but used more to mean "Hail and be well".

Proverbs of the time

The people of the time of the Roman republic and empire had a gift with words.  I think the most interesting thing when reading Roman proverbs and sayings is just how many of these are still known and used in modern times.

Romans Dancing"Deos fortioribus adesse."  - Meaning "The gods are on the side of the stronger", translate it to mean you should make your own fortune.
"Pecunia non olet" - "Money has no smell", implying that regardless of how you get money, it all spends the same.
"Festina lente" - "Make haste slowly".  Simply put, make sure to plan even when you need to act quickly.
"Una salus victis nullam sperare salutem."  - "The one well being of the defeated is to not hope for well being."  By Virgil, this particular proverb means if your defeated, hope you don't live long.
"Caelum, non animum, mutant, qui trans mare currunt." - By Horace.  It translates as "Those who run off to sea change their climate but not their mind."  Basically your troubles will follow you.
"Optimum est pati quod emendare non possis."  - "It is best to endure what you cannot change.", by Seneca.  If you cannot change something, don't try to, concentrate on what you can change.
"Do ut des" - a motto of prechristian Roman religion, meaning "I give so that you might give".  Roman religion at the time was a give and take kind of thing with ones gods, in many ways.
"Si vis pacem, para bellum." This one is a little after the Roman Republic, but still good stuff, from Flavius Vegetius Renatus.  It means "If you wish for peace, prepare for war."
"Carpe Deim" - Obviously quite familiar, Horace said this, meaning "seize the day", imploring that when the time is right, take action.
"Quod scripsi, scripsi."  - "What I have written, I have written."  By Pilate, I could not find a definitive translation for this, but I personally believe it means "What's done is done."
"Murum aries attigit" - "The ram has touched the wall."  Romans had the policy that held that once an assault has begun, accept no mercy or quarter.  The ram touching the wall referred to the battering ram in an assault.  Take it to mean "Grant no mercy!"
"Quemadmoeum gladis nemeinum occidit, occidentis telum est"  - By Seneca (he was a big provider of quotes and proverbs), it means "a sword is never a killer, it is a tool in a killer's hand".  Simply enough, it is the Roman version of "people kill people, not gun's kill people".
"Malum consilium quod mutari non potest"  This is another quote which I have taken from after Rome's republic, though very good.  It means "It is a bad plan that can't be changed".
"Flamma fumo est proxima." - "Where there is smoke, there is fire". or literally, "Flame follows smoke".
"Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.".  Virgil wrote this, meaning "Whatever it is, I fear Greeks, even bearing gifts."  Really this is more of a quote, it has changed in time to "beware strangers bearing gifts".
"Multi famam, conscientiam pauci verentur." - "Many fear their reputation, few their conscience"  By Pliny, it basically says people often just care about appearances.

Famous Quotes of The Time

Scout"Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" - by Horace, meaning "It is a sweet and seemly thing to die for ones country".
"Veni, vidi, vici." - "I came, I saw, I conquered".  It seems a bit like bragging, spoken by Gaius Julius Caesar
"Silent enim leges inter arma" - "Laws are silent in times of war" spoken by Cicero.  I don't call it a proverb, since while known, it never seems to have passed up into our modern lexicon of proverbs.
"Roma locuta est. Causa finita est" - I am afraid I don't have a person to credit for this quote, though it is from imperial Rome.  Simply put, it translates as "Rome has spoken, the cause has finished".  Basically it means what the emperor says goes.
"Nos morituri te salutant!"  -  "We, who are about to die, salute you".  Used by gladiators about to enter battle when speaking to the Roman emperor.  Frankly my comment would be a bit more virulent, but evidently the gladiators of the time were good sports.  There is no direct person to credit for this quote.
"Multa ferunt anni venientes commoda secum, Multa recedentes adimiunt." - "The years as they come bring many agreeable things with them; as they go, they take many away."  Horace wrote this, and while more or less obvious, I included this because it sounds cool.
"Non omnia possumus omnes." - "We all cannot do everything".  Something of a proverb, it means you can't be good at every skill.
"Exegi monumentum aere perennius." - "I have erected a monument more lasting than bronze".  By Horace, it refers to more than physical legacies.
"Alea iacta est." - "The die is cast".  Contributed to Gaius Julius Caesar as he cross the rubicon during his bid for emporership of Rome.
"Sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt."  -  "These are the tears of things, and our mortality cuts to the heart." - By Virgil, from the Aeneid.  Another cool sounding but unexciting quote.

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