In this sentence of the story "Veturia", on p. 27 of the Fābulae Syrae:

Magnus igitur Volscōrum numerus, Coriolānō duce, Rōmam oppugnavit; castrīs circā urbem positīs, tam multīs pugnīs Rōmanōs vīcērunt, ut iī, quī in apertīs campīs nōn iam audēbant cum tam fortibus hostibus pugnāre, vellent potius intrā mūrōs sē tenēre, unde urbem dēfendere cōnābantur.

what exactly are the pugnīs? I've looked it up, hoping to find an extended sense, perhaps something like a squad of soldiers (like a manus), but I've only found "fist" and "fistful" in dictionaries. Surely the Volscians are coming after the Romans with more than fists. Or is this a figure of speech, "so many fists" meaning "so many soldiers"?

Here's a pretty literal translation. I include it here in case a mistake here might explain a mistake in my understanding of pugnīs:

So a great number of Volscians, Coriolanus leading, attacked Rome; having placed camps around the city, they defeated the Romans with so many fists that they (the Romans), who now did not dare fight such strong enemies in open fields, preferred rather to keep themselves inside the walls, and from there tried to defend the city.

1 Answer 1


It's feminine, very confusing. The masculine word pugnus means a fist, but pugna (feminine) means a battle or skirmish. So, the phrase means "they beat the Romans in so many battles, that ... etc". Unfortunately, the ablative plurals of both pugnus and pugna are the same so you can't tell the difference except by context.

  • 1
    Ah, I have finally been bitten by one of those ambiguities that I thought of when looking over the grammar tables but never actually encountered in a real sentence. :)
    – Ben Kovitz
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 17:18

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