I am currently doing a comprehension on the destruction of Numantia (Florus I.34). The comprehension question I am stuck on is as follows: 'State and explain the case of the word fossa'. The sentence it is in is:

cum Scipio fossa atque lorica quattuorque castris circumdatos fames premeret, Numantini a duce oraverunt proelium, ut eos tamquam viros occideret; ubi non impetrabant, eruptionem facere constituerunt.

I assumed fossa is in the ablative case to agree with lorica and castris, and links with circumdatos to have some kind of meaning like "surrounded by a ditch...", but have no idea how to explain this. Is there a grammatical term (e.g. ablative of comparison, ablative absolute) to explain this use? If I'm completely wrong and it's not the ablative after all, or I've gotten the usage wrong, what is it then?

Thank you!

1 Answer 1


It can be classified as an ablative of means (Latin: ablativus instrumentalis), answering the question: “by what means?”

It is a frequent companion of the verb circumdare, and if you have a good dictionary, it should note that under the entry circumdo. You should find something like this from Lewis & Short:

Aliquem or aliquid (aliquā re), to surround some person or thing (with something), to encompass, enclose, encircle with

So we translate: fossa circumdare → surround with a ditch

Two remarks on the task you were given:

  • The word “Scipio” does not belong in that sentence and makes it unparseable.
  • That is not a comprehension question. It is the bad old grammar-translation method (“what case is this word and why?”). A comprehension question would be: Cur Scipio ad Numantinos non possit accedere? or something like that.
  • Well, that's how the education system teaches us Latin unfortunately. Thank you so much! This was very helpful.
    – Hafsah H
    Oct 30, 2020 at 23:34
  • 1
    What's the problem with a grammatical question like "what case is this word and why?” What IS a problem is to think that a grammatical analysis boils down to assigning labels to things. Unfortunately, many people confound grammar with (grammatical) taxonomy. Of course, to try to learn any language just by analyzing the grammar of written texts and then translating them to the native language is very odd. But this should not lead one to ridiculize grammar, as many proponents/fans of inductive-contextual methods do (which, in my opinion, only shows their ignorance of what grammar really is).
    – Mitomino
    Oct 31, 2020 at 3:24
  • @Mitomino I may be reading to much into it, the question is fine in itself and certainly has a place in the best and most modern of Latin classes. Still, when it is called a "comprehension question," I wonder what is going on. Oct 31, 2020 at 8:14
  • I suspect that is just a general term for all questions about a text, as opposed to translation itself.
    – Cerberus
    Oct 31, 2020 at 15:38
  • That note about Scipio helped! I thought he was the subject of circumdatos; only now do I see that fames is the subject of the cum clause. I guess Scipio is the subject of occideret.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Oct 7, 2021 at 13:58

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