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Someone once told me that when Julius Caesar stepped off the boat onto the North African shore, he tripped and landed flat on his face, to which he then said (in an amazing comeback to onlookers trying hard not to laugh):

"Africa, I have grabbed you."

What is the source (if any) for this story? Did it actually happen?

  • Just to note, "Africa" would mean a very different thing for Caesar than to us (what we call "Africa" he would probably call "Aethiopia"). – Luís Henrique Sep 30 '17 at 14:09
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    @LuisHenrique and what they would call "Africa" we would probably call "Tunisia". – Spencer Sep 30 '17 at 16:11
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    @LuísHenrique Actually, he was probably referring to the Roman province Africa Proconsularis. In the Greco-Roman period, Aethiopia generally referred to lands further south. – sempaiscuba Oct 1 '17 at 2:25
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It apparently happened during Caesar's campaign against Scipio and Juba in 47BC, part of the wider Roman Civil War that was fought from 49–45BC. The story was recorded by Suetonius (Life of Julius Caesar: 59).

The quote, as it has come down to us from Suetonius, was:

"teneo te," inquit, "Africa."

or

"I hold you, Africa", he said.

Although amusing to modern readers, this would have been intended to turn an evil omen - stumbling while disembarking from the boat - into a more favourable one.

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    Thanks for the answer, sempaiscuba! I'm glad to know the story I heard actually has a source and is not something made up - it's a very humorous story (in my opinion) which is why I doubted it. – e3ra Sep 29 '17 at 23:03
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    @ezra It seems his act was copied by Guillaume le Bâtard at the start of the Norman Conquest of England. :) – sempaiscuba Sep 29 '17 at 23:08
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    @ezra: He did say "veni, vidi, vici," so this would have been entirely in character. – Tom Au Sep 30 '17 at 1:37
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    @ezra, it may have been made up (ancient historians were not above embellishing their tales), but if so, it was made up long ago. – Mark Sep 30 '17 at 7:25
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    I believe the actual quote was I tripped. I gripped. I quipped. – CWill Sep 30 '17 at 14:10
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Actually, correct quote is : "teneo te, Africa". In Suetone's text, it reads : "teneo te, inquit, Africa" but "inquit" (and note "inuit"), only means "he said".

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    Can you perhaps add a reference for this insight? – Bookeater Sep 30 '17 at 8:19
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This is very good question. Suetonius really wrote that Caesar said it. By the way, its position in Suetonius' book indicates that this statement is, according to Suetonius, a blasphemy and thus this idea does not serve to Caesar's honor.

By other hand, Onasander describes in Strategikos the same situation and the same statement, but his story is about Scipio Africanus. Moreover, in some latin editions of Strategikos, there is the note that Suetone (Tranquillis) ascribed this story to Caesar. (My mistake. I've read it, but not in Onasander)

Finally, Sextus Frontinus describes in Strategemata (book I, part XII) both stories. Scipio Africanus said "plaudite milites, Africam oppressi" ("Applaude, soldiers, I'm crushing the Africa") and later, in similar situation, Caesar said "teneo te, terra mater" ("I'm holding you, mother Earth").

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