Aut Vincere Aut Mori

Either to conquer or to die.

I visited the Roman Baths (in the city of Bath) with my family during the summer. Without getting into a debate about whether the Romans or Anglo-Saxons made a bigger mark on Britain, the Roman Empire undeniably played a pivotal role in our history. As I walked around the baths with my kids, it was hard not to wonder about the sort of people who used to bathe there. There was a peaceful aura about the place, but you can be sure that the lives of the patrons were far from tranquil.

When you are effecting change, you have to commit everything to your cause.

As I was walking through the gift shop on my way out, my imagination was still stuck in 200AD. I glanced at a souvenir piece of flint with some Latin writing inscribed on it:

Aut Vincere Aut Mori

My inner linguist (I speak fluent Russian and German) awoke and I immediately googled what it meant. I could have looked at the label on the back, but I wanted to solve the mystery myself:

Either to conquer or to die.

That is a pretty strong statement. There are two choices. There is no safe middle ground. The Romans who were leaving the Baths would eventually lose the battle for Britain, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t make a helluva job of conquering for the couple of hundred years that they were here. The Roman Empire (in Britain, at any rate) didn’t face a gradual decline – when it was time to go, they went.

It is a great lesson for anyone. Either give of your best, or don’t bother. Go big or go home. That is how the Romans lived.

That souvenir stares at me on my desk as I sit down to write every day. Ernest Hemmingway famously said: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

I reckon that the Romans would approve.


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