(also called Early
or Archaic Latin
) refers to the
Latin language in the period before the age of Classical Latin
; that is, all Latin
before 75 BC
. The term
distinguishes it in New Latin
and Contemporary Latin
, in which "old" has another meaning.
The use of "old", "early" and "archaic" has been standard in
publications of the corpus of Old Latin writings since at least the
18th century. The definition is not arbitrary but these terms refer
to writings that utilize some spelling conventions and word forms
not generally in use in works written under the Roman Empire
. This article presents some of the
The old-time language
The concept of Old Latin (Prisca Latinitas
) is as old as
the concept of Classical Latin
dating to at least as early as the late Roman republic
. In that time period Marcus Tullius Cicero
, along with
others, noted that the language he used every day, presumably the
upper-class city Latin, included lexical items and phrases that
were heirlooms from a previous time, which he called verborum
, loosely translated as "the old-time
language." The adjective priscus, prisca, priscum
old-time in the perfective aspect; that is, it is gone and is not
During the classical period, Prisca Latinitas
and other expressions utilizing the adjective always
meant these remnants of a previous language, which, in the Roman
philology, was taken to be much older in fact than it really was.
, "old-time men," were the population of
before the foundation of Rome.
The four Latins of Isidore
In the Late Latin
period, when Classical
Latin was behind them, the Latin- and Greek-speaking grammarians
were faced with multiple phases, or styles, within the language.
Isidore of Seville
classification scheme that had come into existence in or before his
time: "the four Latins" ("Latinas autem linguas quatuor esse
). They were Prisca
, spoken before
the founding of Rome, when Janus
, to which
he dated the Carmina
, dated from the time of king
, in which period he placed the laws
of the Twelve Tables
essentially equal to Classical Latin; and Mixta
Classical Latin and Vulgar Latin
is known today as Late Latin
. The scheme
persisted with little change for some thousand years after
In 1874 John Wordsworth
By Early Latin I understand Latin of the whole period
of the Republic, which is separated very strikingly, both in tone
and in outward form, from that of the Empire.
Although the differences are striking and can be easily identified
by Latin readers, they are not such as to cause a language barrier.
Latin speakers of the empire had no reported trouble understanding
old Latin, except for the few texts that must date from the time of
, mainly songs. Thus the laws
of the twelve tables
, which began the
republic, were comprehensible, but the Carmen Saliare
, probably written under
, was not
An opinion concerning Old Latin, of a Roman man of letters in the
middle Republic, does survive: the historian, Polybius
, read "the first treaty between Rome and
Carthage", which he says "dates from the consulship of Lucius Junius Brutus
Horatius, the first consuls after the expulsion of the kings."
Knowledge of the early consuls is somewhat obscure, but Polybius
also states that the treaty was formulated 28 years after Xerxes I
crossed into Greece; that is, in 452 BC,
about the time of the Decemviri
, when the
constitution of the Roman republic
was being defined. Polybius says of the language of the treaty:
"...the ancient Roman language differs so much from the modern that
it can only be partially made out, and that after much application
by the most intelligent men."
There is no sharp distinction between Old Latin as it was spoken
for most of the republic and classical Latin, but the earlier
grades into the later. The end of the republic was too late a
termination for compilers after Wordsworth; Charles Edwin Bennett
'Early Latin' is necessarily a somewhat vague term
Bell, De locativi in prisca Latinitate vi et
usu, Breslau, 1889, sets the later limit at 75
A definite date is really impossible, since archaic
Latin does not terminate abruptly, but continues even down to
Bennett's own date of 100 B.C. did not prevail but rather Bell's 75
B.C. became the standard as expressed in the four-volume Loeb
Library and other major compendia. Over the 377 years from 452 BC
to 75 BC Old Latin evolved from being partially comprehensible by
classicists with study to being easily read by men of
Old Latin authored works began in the 3rd century B.C. These are
complete or nearly complete works under their own name surviving as
manuscripts copied from other manuscripts in whatever script was
current at the time. In addition are fragments of works quoted in
Numerous inscriptions placed by various methods (painting,
engraving, embossing) on their original media survive just as they
were except for the ravages of time. Some of these were copied from
other inscriptions. No inscription can be earlier than the
introduction of the Greek alphabet into Italy but none
survive from that early date.
The imprecision of
archaeological dating makes precise dates impossible but the
earliest survivals are probably from the 6th century B.C.
the texts, however, surviving as fragments in the works of
classical authors, had to have been composed earlier than the
republic, in the monarchy.
These are listed below.
Fragments and inscriptions
Notable Old Latin fragments with estimated dates include:
Works of literature
Cato the Elder and his wife
The authors are as follows:
- Lucius Livius Andronicus (c.
280/260 BC — c. 200 BC), translator, founder of Roman drama
- Gnaeus Naevius (ca. 264 — 201
BC), dramatist, epic poet
- Titus Maccius Plautus (c. 254 — 184 BC),
dramatist, composer of comedies
- Quintus Ennius (239 BC — c. 169 BC),
- Marcus Pacuvius (ca. 220 BC — 130 BC),
tragic dramatist, poet
- Statius Caecilius (220 BC —
168/166 BC), comic dramatist
- Publius Terentius Afer (195/185 BC — 159
BC), comic dramatist
- Quintus Fabius Pictor (3rd
century BC), historian
- Lucius Cincius
Alimentus (3rd century BC), military historian
- Marcius Porcius Cato (234 BC —
149 BC), generalist, topical writer
- Gaius Acilius (2nd century BC),
- Lucius Accius (170 BC — c. 86 BC),
tragic dramatist, philologist
- Gaius Lucilius (c. 160's BC —
103/2 BC), satirist
- Quintus Lutatius
Catulus (2nd century BC), public officer, epigramatist
- Aulus Furius Antias (2nd
century BC), poet
- Gaius Julius
Caesar Strabo Vopiscus (130 BC — 87 BC), public officer, tragic
- Lucius Pomponius Bononiensis
(2nd century BC), comic dramatist, satirist
- Lucius Cassius Hemina (2nd
century BC), historian
- Lucius Calpurnius Piso
Frugi (2nd century BC), historian
- Manius Manilius (2nd century
BC), public officer, jurist
- Lucius Coelius
Antipater (2nd century BC), jurist, historian
- Publius Sempronius Asellio
(158 BC — after 91 BC), military officer, historian
Sempronius Tuditanus (2nd century BC), jurist
- Lucius Afranius (2nd & 1st
centuries BC), comic dramatist
- Titus Albucius (2nd & 1st
centuries BC), orator
- Publius Rutilius Rufus
(158 BC — after 78 BC), jurist
- Quintus Lutatius
Catulus (2nd & 1st centuries BC), public officer, poet
- Lucius Aelius Stilo
Praeconinus (154 BC — 74 BC), philologist
- Quintus Claudius
Quadrigarius (2nd & 1st centuries BC), historian
- Valerius Antias (2nd & 1st
centuries BC), historian
- Lucius Cornelius
Sisenna (121 BC — 67 BC), soldier, historian
- Quintus Cornificius (2nd
& 1st centuries BC), rhetorician
Old Latin surviving in inscriptions is written in various forms of
the Etruscan alphabet
evolved into the Latin alphabet
writing conventions varied by time and place until classical
conventions prevailed. The works of authors in manuscript form were
copied over into the scripts of other times. The original writing
does not exist.
Some differences between old and classical Latin were of spelling
only; pronunciation is thought to be essentially as in classical
- Single for double consonants: Marcelus for
- Double vowels for long vowels: aara for
- q for c before u: pequnia for pecunia
- gs/ks/xs for x: e.g. regs for rex,
saxsum for saxum
- c for g: caius for gaius
These differences did not necessarily run concurrently with each
other and were not universal; that is, c was used for both c and
Phonological characteristics of older Latin are the case endings
(later Latin -us
), as well as the
existence of diphthongs
(later Latin ū
). In many locations, classical Latin turned
intervocalic /s/ into /r/, which is called rhotacism
. This rhotacism had implications for
: early classical Latin,
; Classical honor
("honor"). Some Old Latin texts preserve /s/ in
this position, such as the Carmen
Grammar and morphology
are distinguished by grammatical case
, a word with a
termination, or suffix, determining its use in the sentence, such
as subject, predicate, etc. A case for a given word is formed by
suffixing a case ending to a part of the word common to all its
cases called a stem
. Stems are classified
by their last letters as vowel or consonant. Vowel stems are formed
by adding a suffix to a shorter and more ancient segment called a
. Consonant stems are the
root (roots end in consonants). The combination of the last letter
of the stem and the case ending often results in an ending also
called a case ending or termination. For example, the stem
receives a case ending -m
to form the
accusative case puellam
in which the termination
In Classical Latin
declensions are named from the letter ending the stem or First,
Second, etc. through Fifth. A declension may be illustrated by a
, or listing of all the cases of a
typical word. This method is less frequently applied to Old Latin,
and with less validity. In contrast to Classical Latin, Old Latin
reflects the evolution of the language from an unknown hypothetical
ancestor spoken in Latium
. The endings are
multiple. Their use depends on time and locality. Any paradigm
selected would be subject to these constraints and if applied to
the language universally would result in false constructs,
hypothetical words not attested in the Old Latin corpus.
Nevertheless the endings are illustrated below by quasi-classical
paradigms. Alternate endings from different stages of development
are given, but they may not be attested for the word of the
paradigm. For example, in the Second Declension, there was never a
, "fields", but there was a poploe
First declension (a)
The 'A-Stem Declension'. The stems
of this declension
usually end in and are typically
A nominative case ending of –s in a few masculines indicates the
nominative singular case ending may have been originally :
for later paricida
, but the tended to
get lost. In the nominative plural, -ī replaced original -s as in
the genitive singular.
In the genitive singular, the was replaced with from the second
declension, the resulting diphthong shortening to subsequently
becoming . In a few cases the replacement did not take place:
. Explanations of the late inscriptional are
speculative. In the genitive plural, the regular ending is –āsōm
(classical –ārum by rhotacism
shortening of final o) but some nouns borrow –om (classical –um)
from the second declension.
In the dative singular the final i is either long or short. The
ending becomes –ae, –a (Feronia) or –e (Fortune).
In the accusative singular, Latin regularly shortens a vowel before
In the ablative singular, –d was regularly lost after a long vowel.
In the dative and ablative plural, the –abos descending from
Indo-European *–ābhos is used for feminines only (deabus
*–ais > –eis > īs is adapted from –ois of the
In the vocative singular, an original short a merged with the
shortened a of the nominative.
The locative case would not apply to such a meaning as
, so Roma, which is singular, and Syracusae, which
is plural, have been substituted. The locative plural has already
merged with the –eis form of the ablative.
Second declension (o)
The 'O-Stem Declension'. The stems of the nouns of the o-declension
end in ŏ deriving from the o-grade of Indo-European ablaut
. Classical Latin
evidences the development ŏ > ŭ. Nouns of this declension are
either masculine or neuter.
Nominative singulars ending in -ros or -ris syncopate
the -os: ager
not ageros. The
nominative plural masculine follows two lines of development, each
leaving a trail of endings. Roman generalizes the Indo-European
pronominal ending *-oi
. The sequence is The "provincial
texts" generalize from the Indo-European nominative plural ending
appearing in the Third Declension: *-ōs >-ēs,
, from 190 BC on.
field, plain m.
rock, stone n.
In the genitive singular, –ī is earliest, alternating later with
–ei: populi Romanei
, "of the Roman In the genitive plural,
from Indo-European *-ōm
survived in classical Latin "words
for coins and measures"; otherwise classical has -ōrum
analogy with 1st declension .
In the dative singular, if the Praenestine Fibula is a fraud,
Numasioi, the only instance of –ōi, does not count and the Old
Latin ending must be –ō.
In the vocative singular, some nouns lose the –e, (0 ending) but
not necessarily the same as in classical Latin. The -e alternates
regularly with -us. The vocative plural was the same as the
nominative plural. Except for some singular forms that were like
the genitive, the locative was captured by the ablative case in all
Italic languages prior to Old Latin.
Third declension (c)
The Consonant Declension. This declension contains nouns that are
masculine, feminine, and neuter. The stem ends in the root
consonant, except in the special case where it ends in -i (i-stem
declension). The i-stem, which is a vowel-stem, partially fused
with the consonant-stem in the pre-Latin period and went further in
Old Latin. I/y and u/w can be treated either as consonants or as
vowels; hence their classification as semi-vowels
. Mixed-stem declensions are partly
like consonant-stem and partly like i-stem. Consonant-stem
declensions vary slightly depending on which consonant is
root-final: stop-, r-, n-, s-, etc. The paradigms below include a
stop-stem (reg-) and an i-stem (igni-).
For the consonant declension, in the nominative singular, the -s
was affixed directly to the stem consonant, but the combination of
the two consonants produced modified nominatives over the Old Latin
period. The case appears in different stages of modification in
different words diachronically. The nominative as rēgs
instead of rēx
is an orthographic feature of Old Latin;
the letter x
was seldom used alone (as in the classical
period) to designate the /ks/ or /gs/ sound, but instead, was
written as either 'ks', 'cs', or even 'xs'. Often a collapse or
the full nominative occurs: Old Latin nominus
Classical Latin nomen
. The Latin
neuter form (not shown) is the Indo-European nominative without
stem ending; for eample, cor *cord "heart."
The genitive singular endings include -is -es
.Bennett (1895), p. 117. In the genitive plural, some
forms appear to affix the case ending to the genitive singular
rather than the stem:
In the dative singular, -ī succeeded -ēI and -ē after 200 BC.
In the accusative singular, -em *-ṃ after a consonant.
In the ablative singular, the -d was lost after 200 BC. In the
dative and ablative plural, the early poets sometimes used
In the locative singular, the earliest form is like the dative but
over the period assimilated to the ablative.
Fourth declension (u)
The 'U-Stem' declension. The stems of the nouns of the u-declension
end in ŭ and are masculine, feminine and neuter. In addition is a
ū-stem declension, which contains only a few "isolated" words, such
, "pig", and is not presented here.
Fifth declension (e)
The 'E-Stem' declension.
Personal pronouns are among the most common thing found in Old
Latin inscriptions. Note how in all three persons, the ablative
singular ending is identical to the accusative singular.
||Suī, Himself, Herself, Etc.
In Old Latin, the relative pronoun is also another common concept,
especially in inscriptions. Unfortunately, the forms are quite
inconsistent and leave much to be reconstructed by scholars.
|queī, quaī, quod who,
||quoī, queī, quoieī, queī
Old present and perfects
There is not much actual proof of the inflection of Old Latin verb
forms and the few inscriptions we have hold many inconsistencies
between forms. Therefore, the forms below are ones that are both
proven by scholars through Old Latin inscriptions, and recreated by
scholars based on other early Indo-European languages such as Greek
and Italic dialects such as Oscan
||Indicative Present: Sum
||Indicative Present: Facio
||Indicative Perfect: Sum
||Indicative Perfect: Facio
- De Oratoribus, I.193.
- Book IX.6.
- Histories III.22.
- Allen (1897), p.6
- Buck (1933), pp. 174-175.
- Wordsworth (1874), p.45.
- Buck (1933), p. 177.
- Buck (1933), pp. 175-176.
- Wordsworth (1874), p. 48.
- Buck (1933), p. 176.
- Buck (1933), p. 172.
- Palmer (1988), p. 242.
- Buck (1933), p. 173.
- Buck (1933), pp. 99-100.
- Allen (1897), p. 9.
- Wordsworth (1874), p.56.
- Buck (1933), p. 182.
- Buck (1933), p.181.
- Bennett (1907), p. 126.
- Buck (1933), p. 197.
- Buck (1933), pp. 185-193.
- Wordsworth (1874), pp. 67-73.
- Roby (1872), p. 161.
- Buck (1933), p. 185.
- Gildersleeve (1900), p. 18.
- Buck (1933), pp. 198-201.