The authorship of "de Bello Alexandrino" is disputed. Did Julius Caesar write all or just some of it? The Wiki article ("de B. A") is worth reading and this Q :Why are *De Bello Africo* and *Hispaniensi* not believed to have been written by Julius Caesar or Hirtius?.

This quote (17.1.3):

"in alteram insulae partem distinendae manus causa constratis navibus aggreditur praemiis magnis propositis qui primus insulam cepisset."

"on the other side, for the purpose of dividing the island, he attacked, from the scattered ships, with great rewards having been promised to he who is/shall be first to take the island.".

(i) Is "aggreditur" an historic present?

(ii) Is "cepisset" an example of the pluperfect subjunctive being used to represent the future; even though it can be translated as a pluperf. subj., "promised to he who would have been first to take..." cf. Q: Why is the Pluperfect Subjunctive used to Represent the Future in Cicero's "In Verrem" (2.2.162)??

(iii) What is the role of "constratis"--translation sources (Wiki & Perseus) gloss-over this word? Literally, "navibus constratis" -- "with the ships (having been) scattered".

When ships have been scattered it's usually because the fleet has been the victim of a storm; or, defeat in battle. Here, it cannot be either of these. Have the ships landed on the shore, dispensing their soldiers? My understanding is that a "navis" is too big to use as a landing craft. It would run aground, impossible to return to the water or be smashed onto rocks. A (military) landing craft would be a "linter", wouldn't it?

Is the use of "navibus constratis" poor-quality Latin? Does it indicate that JC did not write this?

EDIT 18/1/2024: Thanks to cnread for an improved translation:

"on the other side of the island, with his ships spread out for the purpose of extending his forces, he attacked with great rewards promised to he who shall be first to take the island."

(iv) Why is there no demonstrative pronoun e.g. the dative, "ei", in "ei qui" -- (rewards promised to "he who" shall be first)?

If "ei" is to be understood, how does that explain this example from North & Hillard Ex. 198:

"It was already dawning when the general gave the signal, promising a great reward to the first man who climbed the walls."

"iam illucescebat cum dux signum dedit, magnum praemium ei pollicitus qui primus moenia ascenderet.",

in which the demonstrative pronoun, "ei", is included?

  • 2
    it should be distinendae not distendae
    – d_e
    Commented Jan 17 at 19:25
  • 2
    constrata navis = a covered ship, i.e., one with a deck Commented Jan 17 at 21:35
  • cnread: Thanks. The Wiki translation: "...at the same time to create a diversion he attacked it (the island) on the other (side) with his fleet". Therefore, "create a diversion" vs. "extending his forces". I have more faith in your version.
    – tony
    Commented Jan 18 at 0:03
  • @Sebastian Koppehel: I came across this ("constratum" = "deck") but as ships tend to have decks it wouldn't be mentioned; so, it cannot be the correct translation, in this context, was my thinking.
    – tony
    Commented Jan 18 at 0:06
  • @d_e: Well-spotted! I've changed it.
    – tony
    Commented Jan 18 at 9:47

1 Answer 1


Only Questions (iii) - navibus constratis , (iv) - Why is there no demonstrative pronoun) will be dealt in this answer, but, first, lets explain the translation itself.

while, at the same time, to create a diversion, he attacked it on the other with his fleet, promising great rewards to those who should first render themselves masters of it. ( William Alexander McDevitte and W. S. Bohn)

Note that manūs distinendae goes with causā and brings the meaning of "to create a diversion" or to 'distract' or 'split' the enemy forces ([hostium] manus).

(iii) Now, navibus constratis is an ablative of means/instrument (he attacked with ...), and as Sebastian Koppehel notes in the comments the meaning "decked ships". constratis is a modified of navibus explained of which ship type those were.

(iv) Indeed the demonstrative pronoun is implied. The example from N&H does not skip it -- but it does not mean this is impossible to do. In fact, I venture to say that had the clause has been nominative or accusative (rather than dative) the question would have not been asked, as those cases are more common. Consider:

  • Nominative: At manet in vita cui mens animusque remansit (Lucr.DRN.3.402)

  • Accusative: Ego certe aliter audio quae dicit Demetrius noster ( SenPhil.Ep.20.9.4) or, Libenter audio quae ex diversa parte dicuntur (Quint.Decl.323.5.3). Some might include in this case also virtually all indirect question (though I would vote against such an inclusion). Something like "scio cuius vox sit"; Note that the examples I gave are not indirect questions: the clause in the indicative.)

  • Dative: Unlike the first two - as I alluded - I believe this type is less common. However, I think I've encountered few examples (which I don't remember) - will revisit this section if I stumble upon one again. For now take a non-classical (but classical) example with dominetur ... quidquid in terra movetur. (as you see I fell for this lack of demonstrative)

  • Genitive, Ablative: Not sure I remember ever seeing an example.

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