While I was translating some unseen Latin passages with my high school tutoring student, lo and behold, we came across another word for kill which I hadn’t yet collected! This word is:
cōnficiō, cōnficere, cōnfēcī, cōnfectum (con [with] + facere [make])
to make, effect, complete, accomplish;
to wear out, consume, destroy;
thus, to put an end to, kill.
It has been duly added to the list of Latin words for kill.
Of course, one of the larger questions remains unanswered. Namely, why does Latin have so many words for kill? What drove people to say the word “kill” in so many, many ways?
My answer is to look at what we were translating. What you have before you is Livy’s History of Rome. It’s an enormous work of ancient historiography, full of battles and killing and death and battles, mildly seasoned with political conspiracies and violent uprisings at home. Livy’s History, at least in my opinion, is one of the driest works in Latin literature, full of convoluted sentences and endless military and political campaigns. But for a very long time, it has been one of the most read texts in school settings. Furthermore, it is invaluable as a resource for Roman historians. The natural result of this is that Livy has been widely read by many learners of Latin.
I give Livy and the other Latin historiographers the credit for, if not inventing most of the killing vocabulary, then at least using it to its full potential.
And to offer you a taste of just how much killing can appear in a small passage in Livy, I’ll give you my fairly loose translation of the passage we found our new verb in. This is the account of a fight between three Albans and three Romans. Livy is surprisingly entertaining in small doses like this. The Curiatii were the Alban brothers, and the three Roman brothers were called the Horatii. At first, two of the Romans were killed, but the third one made use of some cunning tactics to kill the remaining three Albans. Our new verb “conficio” is highlighted so you can see how it functions in context. Enjoy!
Then there was a spectacle – not just the motion of bodies fighting in hostile hand-to-hand combat and the two-sided flurry of javelins and melee weapons, but also wounds and blood. Two Romans tumbled down on top of each other, perishing, while the three Albans were wounded. When the Alban army raised a shout of joy at the fall of the two Romans, all hope deserted the Roman legions, though not yet all anxiety, as the dead Romans lay near the remaining one whom the three Curiatii brothers had surrounded. By chance he was unharmed, and though alone he was no match for them all together, in his condition he would be fierce against them individually.
Therefore he took flight to separate out their attack, thinking that they would follow as far as their wound-afflicted bodies would allow. He had now fled a considerable distance from the place where he had fought, when he turned around and saw them following at large intervals, and one was not far from himself. He delivered a great blow to him; and while the Alban army shouted out to the Curiatii to help their brother, victorious Horatius, with the enemy dispatched, sought to fight the second one. Then the Romans cheered their soldier with the kind of shout which people raise when the unhoped-for comes to them favourably; and he hurried to be done with the fight.
And so before the other one – who was not far away – could catch up, he killed yet another Curiatius; and now they had been left one on one, with Mars equal, but they were not equal in hope nor in strength. One’s body was unharmed by the blade, and the double victory had given him courage for a third contest: the other was wearied by his wound, wearied by the run, dragging his body along, conquered by the slaughter of his brothers before him, and exposed to his victorious enemy. And there was no fight.
“Two of your brothers,” the exultant Roman said to him, “I have dedicated to my brothers’ shades; the third I will give to this war’s cause, so that the Roman may rule the Alban.” He thrust his sword from above into the neck of the Alban, who was barely able to hold up his arms, and despoiled him as he lay there.
The Romans received Horatius, exulting and congratulating him, their joy all the greater because it had risen in place of fear. Both sides set about making sepulchres for their own dead, but not with the same hearts – certainly, some were increased by the conquest, others were made the subjects of a foreign dominion. The sepulchres stand out prominently where each man fell: the two Roman graves are in one spot near Alba, and the three Alban graves are towards Rome, in places at a distance from where they fought. (Livy, 1.25)
Consertis deinde manibus cum iam non motus tantum corporum agitatioque anceps telorum armorumque sed volnera quoque et sanguis spectaculo essent, duo Romani super alium alius, volneratis tribus Albanis, exspirantes corruerunt. Ad quorum casum cum conclamasset gaudio Albanus exercitus, Romanas legiones iam spes tota, nondum tamen cura deseruerat, exanimes vice unius quem tres Curiatii circumsteterant. Forte is integer fuit, ut universis solus nequaquam par, sic adversus singulos ferox.
Ergo ut segregaret pugnam eorum capessit fugam, ita ratus secuturos ut quemque volnere adfectum corpus sineret. Iam aliquantum spatii ex eo loco ubi pugnatum est aufugerat, cum respiciens videt magnis interuallis sequentes, unum haud procul ab sese abesse. In eum magno impetu rediit; et dum Albanus exercitus inclamat Curiatiis uti opem ferant fratri, iam Horatius caeso hoste victor secundam pugnam petebat. Tunc clamore qualis ex insperato fauentium solet Romani adiuuant militem suum; et ille defungi proelio festinat.
Prius itaque quam alter—nec procul aberat—consequi posset, et alterum Curiatium conficit; iamque aequato Marte singuli supererant, sed nec spe nec viribus pares. Alterum intactum ferro corpus et geminata victoria ferocem in certamen tertium dabat: alter fessum volnere, fessum cursu trahens corpus victusque fratrum ante se strage victori obicitur hosti. Nec illud proelium fuit.
Romanus exsultans “Duos” inquit, “fratrum manibus dedi; tertium causae belli huiusce, ut Romanus Albano imperet, dabo.” Male sustinenti arma gladium superne iugulo defigit, iacentem spoliat.
Romani ouantes ac gratulantes Horatium accipiunt, eo maiore cum gaudio, quo prope metum res fuerat. Ad sepulturam inde suorum nequaquam paribus animis vertuntur, quippe imperio alteri aucti, alteri dicionis alienae facti. Sepulcra exstant quo quisque loco cecidit, duo Romana uno loco propius Albam, tria Albana Romam versus sed distantia locis ut et pugnatum est. (Livy, 1.25)