In Titus Livy's "ab Urbe Condita" 26.1.2:

"Q. Fululo Ap. Claudio, prioris anni consulibus, prorogatum imperium est atque exercitus quos habebant decreti, adiectumque ne a Capua quam obsidebant abscederent priusquam expugnassent." =

Quintus Fulvius and Appius Claudius, consuls of the former year, were continued in command, and the armies which they had before were assigned to them, it being added that they should not withdraw from Capua, which they were besieging, until they had taken it."

At the end the indirect-command clause, "ne...abscederent" = "they should not withdraw". The verb in an indirect-command clause must be subjunctive, by the grammatical rule.

Following on, "priusquam expugnassent." = "until they had taken it." This is not a part of the indirect-command clause, because it is not a command; but, "expugno" is still given in the subjunctive.

Why is "expugno" given in the (pluperfect) subjunctive?

EDIT 17/5/2022:

Thanks to TKR for pointing out that this quote from Livy is an indirect command and not negative-purpose clause.

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    No time to write an answer, but: it is part of the ne clause, which is a negative command -- the order is "don't withdraw from Capua until you've taken it".
    – TKR
    May 13, 2022 at 15:55
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    @TKR: Thank you. I've been trying to find examples of negative commands with multiple verbs. A & G only give one ex. (of a single-verb): "ne perturbarentur" = "Do not (he said) be troubled"; Caes. de Bello Gallico 7.29. On the net, so far, just: "exercitui imperavit ne iniussu suo concurrerent" = "He ordered the army not to start fighting without his permission.". This topic does not appear to be well-covered. Therefore, I don't feel quite as stupid as I felt last night. Thanks again.
    – tony
    May 14, 2022 at 10:16
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    From the speakers' POV, the taking of the city is still anticipated, dependent upon the army complying with the order, not an established fact. May 14, 2022 at 13:31
  • @Kingshorsey: The lack of an established fact: is that why "expugno" is in the subjunctive--not because of particle,"ne", which is (mainly) governing "abscederent"?
    – tony
    May 14, 2022 at 13:49

1 Answer 1


How would you translate:

Non a Capua abscedunt priusquam expugnaverunt.

Certainly as "They do not depart from Capua until they have taken it." Now let's make that a command, but not a direct command, but reported by a third party in the past tense:

Aliquis consulibus imperavit, ne a Capua abscederent priusquam expugnavissent.

Subordinate clauses in indirect speech are always subjunctive and follow c.t. If they are not, they are something like explanatory insertions by the narrator, i.e., the text temporarily switches out of indirect-speech mode.

For example, the narrator might want to clarify for the distracted reader what the military situation at Capua was:

Aliquis consulibus imperavit, ne a Capua, quam obsidebant, abscederent priusquam expugnavissent.

Whoever ordered the consuls not to abandon the siege probably felt no need to tell them they were besieging Capua. This is Livy speaking to us.

Finally, expugnavissent can be shortened to expugnassent.

  • Thank you. I still don't know why "expugno" is in the subjunctive. It is not a command, c/f "abscedo", but a framework-condition of the negative-command, "Don't withdraw"; framework--"until it's taken". Kingshorsey suggested, but did not confirm, that the unfinished action of the taking of the city requires a subjunctive. Do you agree?
    – tony
    May 16, 2022 at 13:31
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    Allen & Greenough 551.b, Note 1 says: "The Pluperfect Subjunctive is rare, except in Indirect Discourse by sequence of tenses for the Future Perfect Indicative (§ 484. c): as, “—antequam hominēs nefāriī dē meō adventū audīre potuissent, in Macedoniam perrēxī” (Planc. 98) , before those evil men could learn of my coming, I arrived in Macedonia." To me, this is a long way of saying what Kingshorsey said or implied. Since the taking of the city is not presented as factual, the subjunctive is necessary. As Sebastian Koppehel described, the tense comes from the underlying statement. May 16, 2022 at 14:34
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    @tony it is subjunctive because it's indirect speech. Whether it's a "framework-conditon" or whether it's an established fact or not is moot. The new consuls told the old ones: "Don't do this before you do that." Did they use the subjunctive? We may never know: if Livy had quoted them directly, we would know, but he reported their instructions indirectly, so he had to use the subjunctive no matter what. May 16, 2022 at 21:03

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