Si vis pacem, para bellum

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Relief at the entrance of the Cultural Center of the Armies (former Serviceman's Casino) of Madrid (Spain), at 13 Gran Vía (a downtown avenue), showing the Latin phrase "Si vis pacem, para bellum".

Si vis pacem, para bellum (Classical Latin: [siː wɪs ˈpaːkẽː ˈpara ˈbɛllũː]) is a Latin adage translated as, "If you want peace, prepare for war". It is adapted from a statement found in Book 3 of Latin author Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus's tract De Re Militari (4th or 5th century),[1] although the idea which it conveys also appears in earlier works such as Plato's Nomoi (Laws).[2][3]

Notable uses[edit]

Whatever the source, the adage has become a living vocabulary item itself, used in the production of different ideas in a number of languages.

Si vis bellum para pacem[edit]

For example, historian de Bourrienne made reference to the foreign policy of Napoleon Bonaparte:[4]

Everyone knows the adage... Had Bonaparte been a Latin scholar he would probably have reversed it and said, Si vis bellum para pacem.

In other words, a leader who is planning a war should put other nations off guard by cultivating peace. Conversely, another interpretation could be that preparing for peace may lead another party to wage war.

Si vis pacem para pactum[edit]

The idea of ensuring peace by deterring warlike powers through armaments took an ominous turn in the 20th century with the increased militarism of Nazi Germany and other Axis Powers. Suggesting that perhaps merely being prepared for war is not enough and that it is necessary to wage war in order to deter war. The National Arbitration and Peace Congress of 1907, presided over by Andrew Carnegie, had addressed this issue years earlier:

These vast armaments on land and water are being defended as a means, not to wage war, but to prevent war.... there is a safer way ... it requires only the consent and the good-will of the governments. Today they say .... If you want peace, prepare for war. This Congress says in behalf of the people: Si vis pacem, para pactum, if you want peace, agree to keep the peace.[5]

Si vis pacem fac bellum[edit]

"If you want peace, make war". The solution does not cover the case of the nation that does not desire peace. Imperial Germany went to war in 1914 and was castigated by Richard Grelling, a German-Jewish pacifist, in J'Accuse (1915). In 1918 Grelling wrote again, this time as an ex-patriate in Switzerland. Citing the "The world must be safe for democracy" speech of Woodrow Wilson before Congress on April 2, 1917, Grelling says:[6]

when all other means fail, ... the liberation of the world from military domination can in the extreme case only take place by battle. ... in place of si vis pacem para bellum a similarly sounding principle ... may become a necessity: Si vis pacem, fac bellum.

Si vis pacem para pacem[edit]

"If you want peace, prepare for peace." The great wars of the 19th and 20th centuries were opposed by the philosophy of pacifism, which in the 19th century was associated with early socialism, even though the socialism of the 20th often lacked pacifistic tendencies, preaching violent revolution instead. The pacifism that opposed the world wars traced a lineage to Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin, an early French socialist and one of the founders of Saint-Simonianism. As early as April 2, 1841, he had said in a letter to General Saint-Cyr Nugues:[7]

Le fameux dicton ... me semble beaucoup moins vrai, pour le XIXe siècle, que Si vis pacem, para pacem.
The famous dictum ... to me seems much less true, for the 19th century, than Si vis pacem, para pacem.

with reference to Algeria. By way of elucidation Enfantin goes on to say that war could have been avoided if a proper study of Algeria had been made.

The parabellum[edit]

Luger model P08 (1908) chambered in 9mm Parabellum

The main clause of the adage was used as a motto by German arms maker Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (DWM), and is the source of the term Parabellum as applied to firearms and ammunition[8][9] (especially the 9mm Parabellum cartridge). The term is an opposed parallel to the English use of "peacemaker" to mean the Colt Single Action Army handgun.


"Si Vis Pacem Para Bellum" on MSSG-31 Challenge coin

Various military organizations use or used this phrase as a motto:

Other uses include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vegetius: epitome of military science - Google Books. Retrieved 2011-03-13.  Vegetius has: Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum.
  2. ^ Plato, Laws, 1.628c9–e1.
  3. ^ Martin Ostwald, Language and History in Ancient Greek Culture (2009), p. 87.
  4. ^ De Bourrienne, p. 418.
  5. ^ Bertholdt, p. 333
  6. ^ Grelling, p. 208.
  7. ^ de Saint-Simon, Enfantin, p. 34.
  8. ^ Arnold, David W. (2011) [2004]. "The German P08 Luger". Classic Handguns of the 20th Century. Gun Digest Books. p. 18. ISBN 9781440226403. OCLC 774392892. Retrieved 2013-06-27. 
  9. ^ Kimmerle, Erin H.; Baraybar, Jose Pablo (2008). Skeletal Trauma: Identification of Injuries Resulting from Human Rights Abuse and Armed Conflict. CRC Press. p. 396. ISBN 9781420009118. OCLC 850253284. Retrieved 2013-06-27. 
  10. ^ "Lietuvos Respublikos ginklų fondas". Retrieved 2011-03-13. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]