Carthago delenda est

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Cato the Elder (234–149 BC), the most persistent advocate in the Senate for the total destruction of Carthage, was associated with repeated use, in or out of its proper context, of the phrase Delenda est Carthago.
Ruins in Carthage
The location of Carthage in North Africa

Ceterum (autem) censeo Carthaginem esse delendam ("Furthermore, I consider that Carthage must be destroyed"), often abbreviated to Carthago delenda est or delenda est Carthago ("Carthage must be destroyed"), is a Latin oratorical phrase pronounced by Cato the Elder, a politician of the Roman Republic. The phrase originates from debates held in the Roman Senate prior to the Third Punic War (149–146 BC) between Rome and Carthage. Cato is said to have used the phrase as the conclusion to all his speeches, to push for the war.

Historical background[edit]

Although Rome was successful in the first two Punic Wars,[1] as it vied for dominance with the seafaring Punic city-state of Carthage in North Africa (now Tunisia), it suffered a number of humiliations and damaging reverses in the course of these engagements, especially at the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC. Rome nonetheless managed to win the Second Punic War thanks to Scipio Africanus in 201 BC. After its defeat, Carthage ceased to be a threat to Rome and was reduced to a small territory that was equivalent to what is now northeastern Tunisia.

However, Cato the Censor visited Carthage in 152 BC as a member of a senatorial embassy, which was sent to arbitrate a conflict between the Punic city and Massinissa, the king of Numidia. Cato, a veteran of the Second Punic War, was shocked by Carthage's wealth, which he considered dangerous for Rome. He then relentlessly called for its destruction and ended all of his speeches with the phrase, even when the debate was on a completely different matter.[2] The Senate refused to follow him though, especially Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum, the son-in-law of Scipio Africanus and the most influential senator. Corculum opposed the war to preserve Roman unity and argued that the fear of a common enemy was necessary to keep the people in check.[3] Like Cato, he ended all his speeches with the same phrase, "Carthage must be saved" (Carthago servanda est).[4][5][6]

Cato finally won the debate after Carthage had attacked Massinissa, which gave a casus belli to Rome since the peace treaty of 201 BC prevented Carthage from declaring war without Rome's assent.[7][8] In 146 BC, Carthage was razed by Scipio Aemilianus—Africanus's grandson—and its entire remaining population was sold into slavery. Africa then became a Roman province. The notion that Roman forces then sowed the city with salt is a 19th-century invention.[9][10][11]

Historical literary sources[edit]

No ancient source gives the phrase exactly as it is usually quoted in modern times. Its current form was made by English and French scholars at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, while German scholars have used the longer "Ceterum censeo Carthaginem delendam esse".[12] Ancient authors quote the phrase as follow:

Therefore, Pliny the Elder, Florus and the Pseudo Aurelius Victor quote the phrase Carthago delenda est in indirect speech.

Instead, only a paraphrastic translation is the Greek rendering of the Catonian phrase by Plutarch in his Life of Cato the Elder, 27: "Δοκεῖ δέ μοι καὶ Καρχηδόνα μὴ εἶναι" ("Videtur et hoc mihi, Carthaginem non debere esse"—"It seems to me that Carthage must not longer exist").[15]

Modern usage[edit]

The phrase is sometimes fully adopted in modern usage and sometimes paraphrased, as a learned reference to the concept of total warfare.[16] In 1673, the English minister Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury revived the phrase in the form "Delenda est Carthago" in a speech before Parliament during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, comparing England to Rome and the Dutch Republic to Carthage.[citation needed] In the 1890s, the London newspaper Saturday Review published several articles that expressed an anti-German sentiment, summed up in the quote Germania est delenda ("Germany must be destroyed").[17][18] In 1899, the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy retained the phrase's form "Carthago delenda est" for the title of a pacifist essay condemning war and militarism published in the liberal London newspaper The Westminster Gazette.[19] Jean Hérold-Paquis, a broadcaster on the German-controlled Radio Paris in occupied France between 1940 and 1944 had "England, like Carthage, shall be destroyed!" as his catchphrase.[20]

The phrase was used as the title for Alan Wilkins' 2007 play on the Third Punic War, and for a book about Carthaginian history by Richard Miles.[citation needed]

In a modern meaning, the syntagma "ceterum censeo" used by itself refers to an oft reiterated statement, usually a core belief of the one issuing it.[citation needed]

Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a Polish eurosceptic member of the eighth European Parliament (2014–2018), often paraphrased Cato the elder. At the end of his speeches, Mikke would often conclude with the words: "And besides, I believe that the European Union should be destroyed." (A poza tym sądzę, że Unia Europejska powinna zostać zniszczona")[21]

Former Dutch politician Marianne Thieme, once lead candidate for the Party for the Animals, always concluded her speeches in Parliament with the phrase: "Furthermore we are of the opinion that factory farming has to be ended" ("Voorts zijn wij van mening dat er een einde moet komen aan de bio-industrie"), referring to Carthago delenda est.[22][23][24]

Grammatical analysis[edit]

The phrase employs delenda, the feminine singular gerundive form of the verb dēlēre ("to destroy").[25] The gerundive (or future passive participle) delenda is a verbal adjective that may be translated as "to be destroyed". When combined with a form of the verb esse ("to be"), it adds an element of compulsion or necessity, yielding "is to be destroyed", or, as it is more commonly rendered, "must be destroyed". The gerundive delenda functions as a predicative adjective in this construction,[26] which is known as the passive periphrastic.

The short form of the phrase, Carthago delenda est, is an independent clause. Consequently, the feminine singular subject noun Carthago appears in the nominative case.[27] The verb est[i] functions as a copula—linking the subject noun Carthago to the predicative verbal adjective delenda—and further imparts a deontic modality to the clause as a whole.[ii] Because delenda is a predicative adjective in relation to the subject noun Carthago, it takes the same number (singular), gender (feminine) and case (nominative) as Carthago.[28]

The fuller forms Ceterum censeo delendam esse Carthaginem and Ceterum autem censeo delendam esse Carthaginem use the so-called accusative and infinitive construction for the indirect statement. In each of these forms, the verb censeo ("I opine") sets up the indirect statement delendam esse Carthaginem ("[that] Carthage is to be destroyed").[29] Carthaginem, the subject of the indirect statement, is in the accusative case; while the verb esse is in its present infinitive form. Delendam is a predicate adjective in relation to the subject noun Carthaginem and thus takes the same number (singular); gender (feminine); and case (accusative) as Carthaginem.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Est is the third-person singular present active indicative form of the verb esse; here, the person (third) and number (singular) of the verb are controlled by the subject noun, Carthago.
  2. ^ To be clear, the semantic import of "Carthage is to be destroyed" is not "Carthage is scheduled for future destruction," but rather that "Carthage must be destroyed." The former is a flaccid recital of a future eventuality; the latter is a normative statement of what needs to happen, of moral desert. That is the deontic modality. See, e.g., Risselada, Rodie. Imperatives and Other Directive Expressions in Latin: A Study in the Pragmatics of a Dead Language. Brill Academic Publishers, 1993. p. 179. Print. (noting that the periphrastic gerundival construction "has a general deontic value.")


  1. ^ "Third Punic War". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  2. ^ Astin, Cato, pp. 267–288.
  3. ^ Diodorus, xxxiv–xxxv. 33.
  4. ^ a b Florus, Epitome, i. 31.
  5. ^ O'Gorman, "Cato the Elder", p. 111.
  6. ^ John Jacobs, "From Sallust to Silius Italicus, Metvs Hostilis and the Fall of Rome in the Punica", in Miller & Woodman (eds.), Latin Historiography, p. 123.
  7. ^ Adcock, "Delenda est Carthago", pp. 125, 126.
  8. ^ Vogel-Weidemann, "Carthago delenda est", p. 87.
  9. ^ Ridley 1986, pp. 144–145.
  10. ^ Ripley & Dana 1858–1863, p. 497.
  11. ^ Purcell 1995, p. 140.
  12. ^ Vogel-Weidemann, "Carthago delenda est", pp. 79, 89 (note 4).
  13. ^ Pliny, xv. 20.
  14. ^ Aurelius Victor, 47. 8.
  15. ^ Plutarchus (1846). Theod. Doehner (ed.). Vitae. Cato major (in Ancient Greek and Latin). Vol. 1. Parisiis: editore Ambrosio Firmin Didot. p. 420. The Latin retrotranslation is by Wilhelm Xylander.
  16. ^ ""Delenda est" shouldn't be destroyed". Archived from the original on 25 June 2006. Retrieved 29 January 2007.
  17. ^ Umpenhour, Charles Merlin Freedom, a Fading Illusion
  18. ^ Kelley, Donald R. Frontiers of history
  19. ^ Tolstoy, Leo (1819). Essays, Letters, and Miscellanies Vol. I. New York: Scribners. pp. 80–89. Retrieved 5 December 2020.
  20. ^ Spotts, Frederic (1 January 2008). The Shameful Peace. Yale University Press. p. 70. ISBN 9780300163995.
  21. ^ ""A poza tym sądzę, że UE musi być zniszczona". Przemówienie Janusza Korwin-Mikkego". 19 January 2016.
  22. ^ "Portret: Marianne Thieme (Partij voor de Dieren)". NOS Nieuws. 28 May 2010.
  23. ^ "Vijf dingen die we kunnen leren van Marianne Thieme". Harper's Bazaar (in Dutch). 30 September 2019.
  24. ^ "Marianne Thieme benoemd tot Ridder in Orde van Oranje-Nassau". Het Parool. 8 October 2019.
  25. ^ Cassell's Latin Dictionary, ed. Marchant & Charles.
  26. ^ Betts, Gavin, Teach Yourself Latin, Sevenoaks, 1992, p.125, ISBN 978-0340867037
  27. ^ Latin Case. Department of Classics - The Ohio State University. Web. 16 Feb. 2016. (noting that "[t]he nominative case is the case for the subject of the sentence.")
  28. ^ Allen, J. H., Greenough, J. B., et al. Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges, PART FIRST — WORDS AND FORMS, ADJECTIVES. Perseus Digital Library. Web. 13 Feb. 2016. (noting that "[adjectives] agree with their nouns in gender, number, and case.")
  29. ^ Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges, Part Second — Syntax, Indirect Discourse. Perseus Digital Library; accessed 13 Feb. 2016. (noting that "Verbs . . . of knowing, thinking, telling, and perceiving, govern the Indirect Discourse.")
  30. ^ Allen and Greenough's New Latin Grammar for Schools and Colleges, Part First — Words and Forms, Adjectives. Perseus Digital Library, accessed 13 Feb. 2016.


Ancient sources[edit]

Modern sources[edit]