I'm reading Jason and the Argonauts from Fabulae Faciles, and I come across this phrase really often. I'll provide an example.

Erant olim in Thessalia duo fratres, quorum alter Aeson, Pelias alter appellabatur. Aeson primo regnum obtinuerat; Fabulae Faciles

I currently translate it as "Aeson first possessed the kingdom". But could you also translate it as "Aeson first ruled the kingdom"?

I feel like "ruled the kingdom" is a more idiomatic way of putting it. But when I look up obtinere, I don't find that sense of the word.

I was curious whether regnum + obtinere was a common phrase in Latin, and how people commonly translate it.

2 Answers 2


The trick here is to broaden your translation not of obtinuere but of regnum.

Lewis Elementary gives the following definition:

  1. kingly government, royal authority, kingship, royalty
  2. dominion, sovereignty, rule, authority, supreme power
  3. despotism, tyranny, personal sovereignty, arbitrary rule
  4. a kingdom, state governed by a king
  5. [figuratively] rule, authority, power, influence
  6. a territory, estate, possession

So Æson primo regnum obtinuerat can easily be understood to mean "At first, Jason possessed the rule [of the kingdom]" or "Jason first possessed the kingship."

As to your more general question, yes, regnum obtinere is a somewhat common phrase in Latin—you find it sprinkled throughout Cæsar, for example, and here and there in other authors as well.

  • Thanks for the great answer! I'll wait a little before accepting so I don't discourage other answers.
    – ktm5124
    Commented Jun 12, 2016 at 18:06
  • You're welcome—and that's always a wise policy! Commented Jun 12, 2016 at 18:19

Both possessed and ruled are slightly imprecise as translations for obtinuerat, because they don't correctly capture the meaning of the verb tense.

The verb is pluperfect, but possessed / ruled sound like translations of an imperfect -- they refer to an ongoing state that was in effect at some time in the past, while the pluperfect expresses an action that had been completed before some time in the past. That action in this case is obtinere "to obtain", so a more correct translation would be "had obtained".

As Joel Derfner says, regnum is best translated as "kingship" rather than "kingdom", so putting it all together, regnum obtinuerat is "had obtained the kingship". Of course, you could consider other wordings which might sound more idiomatic in English, e.g. "had acceded to the throne", as long as the pluperfectness of the action remains clear.

  • 1
    Fantastic—I wasn't even looking at the tense! My sense of obtinere, though, is that it means more usually "hold (against any possible attackers/rivals)." Is that wrong? Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 14:10
  • @JoelDerfner L&S list "take hold of" and "get possession of, gain acquire obtain" as possible meanings; you're certainly right that it can have the imperfective sense of "hold", but I think that here the tense suggests a perfective sense.
    – TKR
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 17:34

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