What does "his having been taken off" mean here?

Romulus had the honour of an apotheosis conferred on him by the senate, under the title of Quirinus, to obviate the people’s suspicion of his having been taken off by a conspiracy of the patrician order.

And what is the name of this structure?

  • I'm a native speaker and I can only guess at what this means! Is this referring to a posthumous honor given to assure everyone that Romulus was not assassinated ("taken off" which I guess could mean "taken out"/"bumped off")? Or "taken off" could just mean "removed" (but from what?). Perhaps I would need to know more about Roman history, or perhaps this is just convoluted writing.
    – nschneid
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 17:59
  • @nschneid A quick check of Wikipedia gives the answer, see below. Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 18:12

1 Answer 1


The Wikipedia article reads:

After a reign of thirty-seven years, Romulus is said to have disappeared in a whirlwind during a sudden and violent storm, as he was reviewing his troops on the Campus Martius. Livy says that Romulus was either murdered by the senators, torn apart out of jealousy, or was raised to heaven by Mars, god of war. Livy believes the last theory regarding the legendary king's death, as it allows the Romans to believe that the gods are on their side, a reason for them to continue expansion under Romulus' name.

So it would appear that Romulus vanished, and his body was not found. He was officially declared to have been assumed into heaven (apotheosis ). This was intended to rebut rumors that he had been murdered by patricians.

Thus "taken off" here would seem to mean "abducted, and (probably) killed afterwards".

  • 1
    I'm sorry. I think I wasn't clear enough. I was talking about the "his having been" part. I mean, "his having been" isn't a noun and I don't understand the function of the possessive "his". Here are some other phrases like that: 1. We have the authority of M. Actorius Naso, for his having been likewise concerned in another conspiracy with young Cneius Piso. 2. Being terrified at the thought of his having been able to kill him. 3. He then commanded the man to be seized and put in chains, under pretence of his having been employed by his mother to assassinate him.
    – Karl
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 19:59
  • It's a gerundive phrase. "His having been taken off" = "(the fact that) he has been taken off".
    – nschneid
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 22:44
  • Here are some examples of possessive + gerund. Note that this construction feels rather formal: english.stackexchange.com/questions/2625/…
    – nschneid
    Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 22:45
  • @V Ah I see. May I edit some of tht into the question before trying to improve my answer. Commented Oct 14, 2021 at 23:03

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