Latin Language Blog

How One Latin Sentence Can Teach You SO Much Posted by on Sep 25, 2013 in Latin Language



Capitoline Wolf suckles the infant twins Romulus and Remus.

Capitoline Wolf suckles the infant twins Romulus and Remus.

The foundation story of Rome can be found in Book I of Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City)  (Literally: From the City having been founded). Thus, Livy’s Ab Urbe Condita begins with the founding of Rome and progress to his modern day. Let us attempt to translate one sentence from the work:



Sed debebatur, ut opinor, fatis tantae origo urbis maximique secundum deorum opes imperii principium. (1.4)

But it was destined, as I believe, by the fates the origin of such a great city and the beginning of the greatest power secondary/next after the power of the gods.



Sed debebatur:

Sed: “But”

debebatur is from debeo, it is a 3rd singular verb(he, she, it) imperfect and passive meaning “it was destined.” Latin verb forms can be learned here.

ut opinor:

ut: “as, how”

opinor: 1st singular meaning: “I believe, suppose or think.” (Opinor resembles English opinion.)

 fatis tantae origo urbis

fatis: From the noun fatum which is neuter (as opposed to masculine or feminine). The form is neuter plural ablative. Ablative is a case in Latin that serves many functions (as seen here); I would argue this is an ablative means. “By means of the fates” or “by the fates.” Although, it may also be a dative plural with debeo; meaning “it was owed to the fates.”

origo: is nominative feminine singular. Origio means origin or beginning. The nominative case is equivalent to the subject in English (Explanation of Latin cases may be found here). So, origo is actual the subject of debebatur: “But the origin was destined, as I believe, by the fates.”

tantae urbis= tantae is an adjective that is from tantus meaning “so great/such great.” Since it is an adjective it agrees with the form and case of the noun: urbis. Urbis is from urbs, it’s singular, feminine, genitive (as is tantae) and it means “city.” The genitive case is mainly used for possession or description. For example: origo tantae urbis :”the origin of such a great city.”

 maximique secundum deorum opes imperii principium:

Our clue that we are looking for a new subject is the “que.” Que is another way of saying “and” in Latin instead of using “et.” When one uses “que” for “and” instead of “et;” there are certain rules that must be remembered:

  1. Que is always affixed to the end of a word and will usually not stand alone.
  2. The que is your indicator that a new clause has begun in a sentence.
  3. Most importantly, the word that que is affixed to, although it comes before the que, it is part of the que clause.

For example “maximique” is actual maximi + que. Maximi come from the adjective maximus which somewhat resembles English: maximum and thus it means “greatest.”

In regards to Rule 3: Now, if maximi went with the clause ” fatis tantae origo urbis“what does it agree with ?

NOTHING! Of course it does not, because it doesn’t go with that clause! maximi goes with: “secundum deorum opes imperii principium.” Because the “que” attaches it to this clause! Now what does the maximi look like it goes with?

maximi and imperii  are a match! However there are not our nominative/subject, but they are genitive neuter singular. They come to mean “of the greatest power.”

Principium is our nominative/subject which is a neuter noun meaning: “beginning.” So far, the translations follows: “And (que) the beginning (principium) of the greatest power (maximi + imperii).” It is important to note that principium is nominative because it is also (along with origo) the subject of debebatur. THUS: “The origin of so great a city and the beginning of the greatest power was destined, as I believe, by the fates.”

 secundum deorum opes

Secundum is another adjective that is neuter nominative agreeing with principium. However this adjective should be taken as a verbal adjective. Thus it is: ” the beginning of the greatest power that is secundum (second/ next/after)”.  The reason this has to be a verbal adjective is because a normal adjective would be translated as the “secondary/next beginning of the greatest power.” Contextually, this makes no sense.

Opes Deorum= opes is plural feminine accusative. The accusative case is the direct object in Latin. So, “the beginning of the greatest power that is second to the opes (power).” Deorum is plural masculine genitive meaning “of the gods.” THUS: “And the beginning of the greatest power second to the power of the gods.”


As one can see Latin is a very complex language that has various nuances that test and train the mind to look for patterns and logical sequences in putting sentences together. It is a rewarding process that only can be achieved through practice and patience.

More on the Author: Livy:







Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Keep learning Latin with us!

Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.

Try it Free Find it at your Library
Share this:
Pin it

About the Author: Brittany Britanniae

Hello There! Please feel free to ask me anything about Latin Grammar, Syntax, or the Ancient World.


  1. David Bauwens:

    Seems to me fatis is rather a dative that goes with debebatur. ‘was owed to Fate’.

  2. Charles Rignall:

    This was a lot of fun. I wish somebody would teach math this way!

  3. Charles Rignall:

    Hello Brittany

    It must be nice to be able to think in Latin and have perspective on whatever it is you are thinking about.

  4. Timaeus:

    Thanks for that–I know how much toil it takes to break down a sentence like that. I have a couple minor suggestions that may smooth out things a little. First, keep ‘origo’ as your subject, rather than make the verb have an impersonal subject; ‘it was destined’ points rather to an indirect statement, which we don’t have here. Also, ‘secundum’ is not an adjective, but a preposition that takes an accusative. That will help: you want to translate ‘opes’ as a dative (as you do), but, as you point out, it’s an accusative (see Allen & Greenough 221.21). All together, then, we have: “The origin of such a great city and the beginning of the greatest power, second only to the power of the gods, was, as I think, owed to the fates.” Sorry about the long-winded comment; you’re doing a great job.

  5. Stanislaw Sniezewski:

    “fatis” is rather a dative plural, cf. “cum … omnia dis immortalibus debeamus (Cic. Red. Sen. 2); “parentibus … vitam tantum debeo” (Liv. XXII 30, 3).