Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant" ("Hail, Emperor, those who are about to die salute you") is a well-known Latin phrase quoted in Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum ("The Life of the Caesars", or "The Twelve Caesars"). It was used during an event in AD 52 on Lake Fucinus by naumachiarii–captives and criminals fated to die fighting during mock naval encounters–in the presence of the emperor Claudius. Suetonius reports that Claudius replied "Aut non" ("or not").

Variant wordings include "Ave Caesar" and "salutamus" – the latter in the 1st person ("We who are about to die") – and a response in 15th century texts of "Avete vos" ("Fare you well").

Despite its popularization in later times, the phrase is not recorded elsewhere in Roman history, and it is questionable whether it was ever a customary salute. It was more likely an isolated appeal by desperate captives and criminals condemned to die, and noted by Roman historians in part for the unusual mass reprieve granted to the survivors.

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