I checked a couple of dictionaries, but I found no translation for "close combat". I am looking for an expression for fighting close to one's enemy as opposed to using long distance weaponry. What would be a good translation for "close combat" in Latin? How did the Romans describe fighting without long range weapons? Pugna proxima is my best attempt, but it sounds wrong.

The example sentence I have in mind is "A sword is a weapon for close combat". (Pick any of the words for a sword you like.)


Vergil uses a great adverb to convey the idea of being "at close quarters": comminus.

Tum contra Iuno; “Terrorum et fraudis abunde est;
stant belli causae, pugnatur comminus armis,
quae fors prima dedit sanguis novus imbuit arma..." (Vir. Aen 7.552-554)

Some more examples from other authors:

  • with pugnare

dum locus comminus pugnandi daretur... (Caes. B. C. 1, 58)

  • with utor + ablative (here comminus is contrasted with its opposite, eminus):

nec eminus hastis aut comminus gladiis uteretur (Cic. Sen. 6, 19)

  • with other verbs (approaching closer to your example sentence):

...gladio comminus geri rem... (Liv. 44, 35, 12)

Using these examples as a model, I would translate A sword is a weapon for close combat as:

Gladium instrumentum est comminus pugnandi

(I'm not too happy with instrumentum here, but I am having trouble thinking of a generic word for weapon besides telum, which for me implies distance, and arma, which I believe only works in the plural.)

  • I had never heard of comminus before, but it looks very suitable for my purpose. I'm sure I can figure out a way to use it to express what I want. – Joonas Ilmavirta Aug 8 '16 at 14:17
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    Hmm. The problem is that in the Roman period almost all combat was up close and personal. It's the norm, whereas fighting via the available distance weapons was not even considered to be combat. – andy256 Aug 10 '16 at 2:23
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    @andy256, I can get on board with that, but I'm not sure how that bears on the current question, which has to do with explicitly stating that a conflict/weapon is for close combat. Romans also had projectiles, and the quote from Cicero demonstrates that there certainly is an explicit distinction to be made. – brianpck Aug 10 '16 at 13:13
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    @andy256, and now that I think of it, I strongly disagree that projectile fighting was not considered combat: consider Achilles vs Hector or Aeneas vs Turnus, who each began their duels with spear-throwing. This was undoubtedly a big part of their combat. – brianpck Aug 10 '16 at 13:21
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    @brianpck You make telling points! – andy256 Aug 10 '16 at 14:20

Smith's Introduction to Latin Prose Composition gives the following distinctions:

Prœlium, i, an engagement, action, or skirmish. Pugna, æ, generally a close engagement, but often in a general sense for any kind of contest or battle. Acies, ei generally a pitched battle, properly the first line of an army, resembling the edge of an instrument.

In which case pugna is exactly what you want, which sort of makes sense—any engagement with the fist (pugna) has to be close.

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