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Zuck's birthday T-shirt is a tribute to ancient Rome, Facebook's history, and going hard

Kieran Corcoran   

Zuck's birthday T-shirt is a tribute to ancient Rome, Facebook's history, and going hard
  • Mark Zuckerberg made a telling fashion choice at a celebration of his 40th birthday.
  • His shirt read "Carthago delenda est," a Latin phrase familiar to generations of schoolboys.

Carthago delenda est — mean anything to you?

It certainly meant a lot to people hanging around the Roman Senate some 2,200 years ago — and to Mark Zuckerberg.

In a series of Instagram photos showing the Meta founder celebrating his 40th birthday, Zuckerberg had a striking black shirt with a Latin phrase on it.

The look matches his recent conversion to rapper style, as my colleague Kwan Wei Kevin Tan describes here. But this post is about the Latin.

"Carthago delenda est" means — very emphatically — "Carthage must be destroyed."

I don't have that much in common with Zuckerberg, but we both studied Latin at school, which is probably the only reason any person currently alive would recognize it.

It's attributed to a Roman senator called Cato the Elder, and, boy, did that guy hate Carthage.

Carthage, a city in present-day Tunisia, was a rival civilization to Rome back in the day — the one with Hannibal and elephants.

Cato was famous for ending all his speeches with those words, or something like them. It was his obsession — Rome must destroy Carthage.

Not just beat it like it had in two previous wars: Annihilate it. ("Delenda" shares an origin with the English word "delete.")

That phrase, actually an abbreviation of what Cato said, is widely known by people who've studied Rome. The internet is littered with jokes and memes about it.

It's memorable partly because it uses a weird piece of grammar called the gerundive, which doesn't really exist in English.

It's meant to convey that something ought to happen or has to happen to the thing in question.

In this case, Carthage has got to go down. It's not an opinion or an idea — going down is in Carthage's very nature.

Cato got his way, for what it's worth: The Romans sacked Carthage in 146 BC and it faded into relative obscurity, its territories subsumed into the Roman Empire. Delenda.

Along with being a throwback to Roman history, it's a throwback to Zuckerberg's own history.

Zuckerberg seems to have a real Roman streak, from his erstwhile Caesar-style haircut to giving his kids Latinate names like Aurelia and Maxima.

As Business Insider reported back in 2016, Zuckerberg made "Carthago delenda est" a rallying cry within Facebook back when it had its own version of Carthage: Google.

Google had launched its Google+ social network and Zuckerberg was worried that it might threaten Facebook's dominance.

The answer was war — a "lockdown" culture where Facebook staff went hard to defeat its foe. The company seemed to go along with the reference, too, putting up posters with the phrase on them.

Google still exists, of course, but Google+ very much does not. Delenda.

Zuckerberg's birthday post seemed to be all about revisiting his past, including recreations of his childhood bedroom and Harvard dorm. So it seems appropriate that a throwback — if obscure — Latin phrase should be at the center of it.

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