You must have seen this quote a billion times. It is printed on graphic shirts, baseball caps, tote bags, pillows, pencil cases, notebooks, to name a few. There are even memes of it! But did you know it was said by a military leader? (You learn something new each day, am I right?)
So, what military leader said I came, I saw, I conquered?
Julius Caesar is the man behind the renowned line. He originally said “veni, vidi, vici”, which is in Larin and later translated into the ever-so well-known English saying today. Now, let’s learn more about Julius Caesar and where and why he used this saying!
Table of Contents
- I Came, I Saw, I Conquered
- Who Is Julius Caesar?
- Where Did Julius Caesar say “I Came, I Saw, I Conquered?”
- When Did Julius Caesar Say “I Came, I Saw, I Conquered?”
- So, What Is This Battle of Zela?
- Where Else Has This Line Been Used?
I Came, I Saw, I Conquered
You would expect a philosophical or artistic person to have said this line. But it was actually a Roman dictator! Who would have guessed, right?
Now that you have the answer to “Which military leader is quoted as saying, “I came, I saw, I conquered” read on to capture more detailed knowledge on Julius Caesar and the story of his “Veni, vidi, vici” expression.
Who Is Julius Caesar?
Julius Caesar was a Roman scholar, general, and politician. He was born on July 13, 100 B.C. His mother was Aurelia Cotta and his father was Gaius Julius Caesar. In 78 B.C, Caesar became a prosecutor, kickstarting his political career, and in 69 B.C, he became a quaestor.
Over the years, he became a magistrate, then the governor of Spain, and eventually, was elected as the senior consul in 59 B.C. One year later, thanks to his political alliances, he was appointed governor of Gaul. In this position, he commanded a large army and did exceedingly well in the Gallic Wars. His biggest achievement was conquering Gaul and extending Rome’s territory to the Rhine and the English Channel.
His success, however, turned him against his alliance (Pompey) and led to a “cut of ties” where Pompey resided with Caesar’s enemies to make him return to Rome and give up the army. His response was a civil war against Pompey’s supporters.
Together with his army, Caesar invaded Spain, Greece, and Egypt. He made sure to wipe out all of Pompey’s supporters in Africa and the Middle East. In 48 B.C, he became Rome’s dictator.
His reign lasted for 10 years and during this time, he implemented many reforms to help Rome’s middle- and lower-class. At the age of 55, sadly, Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators. He was stabbed 23 on the senate floor.
Where Did Julius Caesar say “I Came, I Saw, I Conquered?”
It is believed that Caesar coined this saying in his Latin prose works that chronicled his stories at war.
When Did Julius Caesar Say “I Came, I Saw, I Conquered?”
There are many different stories as to when Caesar used this famous line:
- Julius said the famous line following the “quick and easy” triumph of the Battle of Zela, where he executed a successful 5-days campaign.
- Julius wrote the famous line in a letter that he sent to the Roman Senate after the Battle of Zela.
- Julius inscribed this famous line on a placard and paraded with it when he won against Pontus in the Battle of Zela.
So, What Is This Battle of Zela?
As implied in the name, this was a battle. It took place in 47 B.C and was between Julius Caesar and Pharnaces II of Pontus, which was a kingdom at the time. The battle happened on August 2. at a small town in northern Turkey’s Tokat province called Zela (now Zile).
Caesar’s army included:
- A vexillation of the veteran VI Legion (~1,000 veteran legionaries)
- The XXII Legion
- The XXXVI Legion
- A few cohorts of survivors from Domitius Calvinus’s army
- A small contingent of calvary
all of which totaled up to 15,000 men.
On the other side, Pharnaces’s army had about 20,000 infantry, professional soldiers, legionaries, calvary, and scythed chariots.
This is a summary of how the battle went about:
- Pharnaces’ army went down the valley to separate the two armies
- Pharnaces’ army climbed up from the valley to confront Caesar’s legionaries
- Caesar halted his men from building their camp and got them ready for battle
- Pharnaces’ scythed chariots passed Caesar’s defensive line and encountered the battle line
- Caesar’s line threw spears and forced Pharnaces’ men to retreat
- Caesar launched a counter-attack and pushed Pharnaces’ men back downhill
- Caesar then stormed to take over Pharnaces’ camp, winning the battle
For a more detailed cover of the battle, watch this documentary on Youtube.
Caesar’s command of the army in this battle was so complete and swift that he celebrated with the line, “veni, vidi, vici”. 150 years after the battle, in the book Life of Caesar by Plutarch and Lives of the Twelve Caesars: Julius by Suetonius, the saying was still reported.
Where Else Has This Line Been Used?
In the Military
Since then, it has been used widely in military contexts:
- King Jan III of Poland alluded to it after the Battle of Vienna as “Venimus, vidimus, deus civit” meaning “We came, we saw, God conquered”.
- Hillary Clinton in 2011 (then Secretary of State) said “We came, we saw, he died,” when referring to Muammar Gaddafi’s death.
Modifications of it have also been used in music:
- The opera Giulio Cesare by Handel in 1724 opened with the line “Curio, Cesare, venne, e vide e vinse”, which means “Curio, Caesar came, saw and conquered”.
- The title song of the musical Mame was “you came, you saw, you conquered”.
- The song These Foolish Things in 1936 has the lyric “you came, you saw, you conquered me”.
- An album title of The Hives had the wordplay, “Veni vidi vicious”.
- Ja Rule’s debut album was “Venni vetti vecci”.
It is also referenced in films! The most popular being a modified line in the Ghostbusters (1984), delivered by Peter Venkman, “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!” This line was actually one of the 400 nominees for the AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movie Quotes.
In Art (Body & Wall)
A few more modern uses of “Veni, vidi, vici” are illustrated below:
In Daily Items
- Tote Bags
Congrats! You came, you saw, you conquered this article! Now, you know the answer to, “What military leader said I came, I saw, I conquered”. The next time someone asks, “Who said veni, vidi, vici?” or “Who said I came, I saw, I conquered?” you can confidently answer.
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