Latin is the scholarly name for the written
Latin of Late
Antiquity. The English dictionary definition of Late
this period from the 3rd to the 6th centuries AD, extending in
Iberian Peninsula of southwestern Europe to the 7th century.
This somewhat-ambiguously-defined period fits between Classical Latin
and Medieval Latin. There is no scholarly consensus about exactly when
Latin should end or exactly when
Medieval Latin should
begin. However, Late
Latin is characterized (with variations and
disputes) by an identifiable style.
Being a written language, Late
Latin is not identical with Vulgar. The
latter served as Proto-Romance, a reconstructed ancestor of the
Romance languages. Although Late
Latin reflects an upsurge of the use
Latin vocabulary and constructs, it remains largely
classical in its overall features, depending on the author. Some are
more literary and classical, but some are more inclined to the
vernacular. Also, Late
Latin is not identical to Christian or to
patristic Latin, the theological writings of the early Christian
fathers. While Christian writings are considered a subset of Late
Latin, pagans wrote much Late Latin, especially in the early part of
Latin formed while mercenaries from non-Latin-speaking peoples on
the borders of the empire were being subsumed and assimilated in large
numbers, and the rise of Christianity was introducing a heightened
divisiveness in Roman society, creating a greater need for a standard
means of communicating between different socioeconomic registers and
widely separated regions of the sprawling empire. A new and more
universal speech evolved from the main elements: Classical Latin,
Christian Latin, which featured sermo humilis, "ordinary speech" in
which the people were to be addressed, and all the various dialects
of Vulgar Latin. The linguist
Antoine Meillet said, "without the
exterior appearance of the language being much modified,
in the course of the imperial epoch a new language”, and
“serving as some sort of lingua franca to a large empire, Latin
tended to become simpler, to keep above all what it had of the
1 Philological constructs
1.1 Late and post-classical Latin
1.2 Imperial Latin
1.3 Christian, patristic, vulgate and ancient Latin
1.4 Low Latin
1.5 Through the death of Boethius
2 See also
5 Further reading
6 External links
Late and post-classical Latin
Late Antiquity are modern terms or concepts;
their origin remains obscure. Neither are they ancient; a notice in
Harper's New Monthly Magazine of the publication of Andrews' Freund's
Lexicon of the
Latin Language in 1850 mentions that the dictionary
Latin into ante-classic, quite classic, Ciceronian, Augustan,
post-Augustan and post-classic or late Latin, which indicates
the term already was in professional use by English classicists in the
early 19th century. Instances of English vernacular use of the term
may also be found from the 18th century. The term Late Antiquity
meaning post-classical and pre-medieval had currency in English well
Wilhelm Sigismund Teuffel's first edition (1870) of History of Roman
Literature defined an early period, the Golden Age, the Silver Age and
then goes on to define other ages first by dynasty and then by century
(see under Classical Latin). In subsequent editions he subsumed all
periods under three headings: the First Period (Old Latin), the Second
Period (the Golden Age) and the Third Period, "the Imperial Age",
subdivided into the Silver Age, the 2nd century, and Centuries 3–6
together, which was a recognition of Late Latin, as he sometimes
refers to the writings of those times as "late." Imperial
on into English literature; Fowler's History of Roman Literature
mentions it in 1903.
There are, however, insoluble problems with the beginning and end of
Imperial Latin. Politically the excluded Augustan Period is the
paradigm of imperiality, and yet the style cannot be bundled with
either the Silver Age or with Late Latin. Moreover, in 6th century
Roman Empire no longer existed; the rule of Gothic kings
prevailed. Subsequently the term Imperial
Latin was dropped by
Latin literature, although it may be seen in marginal
works. The Silver Age was extended a century and the final four
centuries represent Late Latin.
Christian, patristic, vulgate and ancient Latin
Main articles: Ecclesiastical Latin, Vulgate, Vetus Latina, Patrologia
Latina, and Patristics
St. Gildas, one of a number of Late
Latin writers to promulgate an
excidium or ruina Britanniae because of moral turpitude.
Latin is a vague and often pejorative term that might refer to any
Latin from Late
Latin through Renaissance Latin
depending on the author.[clarification needed] Its origins are obscure
Latin expression media et infima Latinitas sprang into public
notice in 1678 in the title of a Glossary (by today's standards a
dictionary) by Charles du Fresne, sieur du Cange. The multi-volume set
had many editions and expansions by other authors subsequently. The
title varies somewhat; most commonly used was Glossarium Mediae et
Infimae Latinitatis. It has been translated by expressions of widely
different meanings. The uncertainty is understanding what media,
"middle", and infima, "low", mean in this context.
The media is securely connected to
Medieval Latin by Cange's own
terminology expounded in the Praefatio, such as scriptores mediae
aetatis, "writers of the middle age." Cange's Glossary takes words
from authors ranging from the Christian period (Late Latin) to the
Renaissance, dipping into the classical period if a word originated
there. Either media et infima Latinitas refers to one age, which must
be the middle age covering the entire post-classical range, or it
refers to two consecutive periods, infima Latinitas and media
Latinitas. Both interpretations have their adherents.
Edward Gibbon, English historian who espoused the concept of a decline
Roman Empire resulting in its fall.
In the former case the infimae appears extraneous; it recognizes the
corruptio of the corrupta Latinitas Cange said his Glossary
covered. The two-period case postulates a second unity of style,
infima Latinitas, translated into English as "Low Latin" (which in the
one-period case would be identical to media Latinitas). Cange in the
glossarial part of his Glossary identifies some words as being used by
purioris Latinitatis scriptores, such as
Cicero (of the Golden Age).
He has already said in the Preface that he rejects the ages scheme
used by some: Golden Age, Silver Age, Brass Age, Iron Age. A second
category are the inferioris Latinitatis scriptores, such as Apuleius
(Silver Age). The third and main category are the infimae Latinitatis
scriptores, who must be post-classical; that is, Late Latin, unless
they are also medieval. His failure to state which authors are low
leaves the issue unresolved.
He does however give some idea of the source of his infima, which is a
classical word, "lowest", of which the comparative degree is inferior,
"lower." In the Preface he opposes the style of the scriptores aevi
inferioris (Silver Age) to the elegantes sermones, "elegant speech",
the high and low styles of Latinitas defined by the classical authors.
Apparently Cange was basing his low style on sermo humilis, the
simplified speech devised by Late
Latin Christian writers to address
the ordinary people. Humilis (humble, humility) means "low", "of the
ground". The Christian writers were not interested in the elegant
speech of the best or classical Latin, which belonged to their
aristocratic pagan opponents. Instead they preferred a humbler style
lower in correctness, so that they might better deliver the gospel to
the vulgus or "common people."
Latin in this view is the
Latin of the two periods in which it has
the least degree of purity, or is most corrupt. By corrupt du Cange
only meant that the language had resorted to non-classical vocabulary
and constructs from various sources, but his choice of words was
unfortunate. It allowed the "corruption" to extend to other aspects of
society, providing fuel for the fires of religious (Catholic vs.
Protestant) and class (conservative vs. revolutionary) conflict. Low
Latin passed from the heirs of the Italian renaissance to the new
philologists of the northern and Germanic climes, where it became a
In Britain Gildas' view that Britain fell to the Anglo-Saxons because
it was morally slack was already well known to the scholarly world.
The northern Protestants now worked a role reversal: if the language
was "corrupt" it must be symptomatic of a corrupt society, which
indubitably led to a "decline and fall", as
Edward Gibbon put it, of
imperial society. Writers taking this line relied heavily on the
scandalous behavior of the
Julio-Claudian dynasty and the bad emperors
Tacitus and other writers and later by the secret history
of Procopius, who hated his royal employers to such a degree that he
could not contain himself about their real methods and way of life any
longer. They, however, spoke elegant Latin. The Protestants changed
the scenario to fit their ideology that the church needed to be
purified of corruption. For example, Baron Bielfeld, a Prussian
officer and comparative Latinist, characterised the low in Low Latin,
which he saw as medieval Latin, as follows:
French: Le quatrieme âge de la langue Latine, est celui où pendant
le reste du moyen âge & les premiers siecles des temps modernes,
Latin tomba successivement dans une telle décadence, que ce ne fut
plus qu’un jargon barbare. C’est au
Latin de cet âge qu’on a
donné le nom de basse Latinité ; […] en effet […] tellement
corrompu, altéré, mêlé d’expressions étrangeres […] Et que
pouvoit-on espérer pour la langue Latine d’un temps où des Nations
Barbares pénétrerent dans toute l’Europe, & sur-tout en
Italie, où l’Empire d’Orient étoit gouverné par des
imbécilles, où les moeurs étoient abominables, où les arts &
les sciences étoient comme anéantis, où les Prêtres & les
Moines, &c. étoient les seuls lettrés, & néanmoins les plus
ignorans & les plus ineptes personnages du monde. Aussi faut-il
ranger sous ces temps ténébreux ce
Latin absurde qu’on nommoit
lingua Ecclesiastica, & qu’on ne sauroit lire sans dégoût.
The fourth age of the
Latin tongue is that of the remainder of the
middle age, and the 1st centuries of modern times, during which the
language fell by degrees into so great a decadency, that it became
nothing better than a barbarous jargon. It is the style of these times
that is given the name of Low Latin. ... What indeed could be expected
from this language, at a time when the barbarians had taken possession
of Europe, but especially of Italy; when the empire of the east was
governed by idiots; when there was a total corruption of morals; when
the priests and monks were the only men of letters, and were at the
same time the most ignorant and futile mortals in the world. Under
these times of darkness, we must, therefore, rank that Latin, which is
called lingua ecclesiastica, and which we cannot read without
— The Elements of Universal Erudition, containing an Analytical
Abrigement of the Sciences, Polite Arts and Belles Lettres
As ‘Low Latin’ tends to be muddled with Vulgar Latin, Late Latin
Medieval Latin and has unfortunate extensions of meaning into the
sphere of socioeconomics, it has gone out of use by the mainstream
Latin literature. A few writers on the periphery still
mention it, influenced by the dictionaries and classic writings of
As Teuffel's scheme of the Golden Age and the Silver Age is the
generally accepted one, the canonical list of authors should begin
just after the end of the Silver Age, regardless of what 3rd century
event is cited as the beginning; otherwise there are gaps. Teuffel
gave the end of the Silver Age as the death of
Hadrian at 138 AD. His
classification of styles left a century between that event and his
final period, the 3rd–6th centuries BC, which was in other systems
being considered Late Antiquity.
Starting with Charles Thomas Crutwell's A History of Roman Literature
from the Earliest Period to the Death of Marcus Aurelius, which first
came out in 1877, English literary historians have included the spare
century in Silver Latin. Accordingly, the latter ends with the death
of the last of the five good emperors in 180 AD. Other authors use
other events, such as the end of the
Nervan–Antonine dynasty in 192
AD or later events. A good round date of 200 AD gives a canonical list
of nearly no overlap.
The transition between Late
Medieval Latin is by no means as
easy to assess. Taking that media et infima Latinitas was one style,
Mantello in a recent handbook asserts of "the
Latin used in the middle
ages" that it is "here interpreted broadly to include late antiquity
and therefore to extend from c. AD 200 to 1500." Although
recognizing "late antiquity" he does not recognize Late Latin. It did
not exist and
Medieval Latin began directly at 200 BC. In this view
all differences from Classical
Latin are bundled as though they
evolved through a single continuous style.
Of the two-style interpretations the Late
Latin period of Erich
Auerbach and others is one of the shortest: "In the first half of the
6th century, which witnessed the beginning and end of
Latin literature becomes medieval.
Boethius was the last
'ancient' author and the role of
Rome as the center of the ancient
world, as communis patria, was at an end." In essence, the lingua
franca of classical vestiges was doomed when
Italy was overrun by the
Goths, but its momentum carried it one lifetime further, ending with
the death of
Boethius in 524 AD.
Not everyone agrees that the lingua franca came to an end with the
fall of Rome, but argue that it continued and became the language of
Carolingian Empire (predecessor of the Holy Roman
Empire) under Charlemagne. Toward the end of his reign his
administration conducted some language reforms. The first recognition
Latin could not be understood by the masses and therefore
was not a lingua franca was the decrees of 813 AD by synods at Mainz,
Tours that from then on preaching was to be done in a language
more understandable to the people, which was stated by
Tours Canon 17
as rustica Romana lingua, identified as proto-Romance, the descendant
of Vulgar Latin. Late
Latin as defined by Meillet was at an end;
however, Pucci's Harrington's Mediaeval
Latin sets the end of Late
Latin when Romance began to be written, "
Latin retired to the
cloister" and "Romanitas lived on only in the fiction of the Holy
Roman Empire." The final date given by those authors is 900 AD.
Through the death of Boethius
Constantine the Great
Domitius Ulpianus (170 AD – 228 AD), jurist, imperial officer
Julius Paulus Prudentissimus (2nd & 3rd centuries AD), jurist,
Aelius Marcianus (2nd & 3rd centuries AD), jurist
Herennius Modestinus (3rd century AD), jurist
Censorinus (3rd century AD), historian, essayist
Quintus Gargilius Martialis (3rd century AD), horticulturalist,
Gaius Asinius Quadratus (3rd century AD), historian
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus (AD 160 - 220), "the father of
Latin Christianity", polemicist against heresy
Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus (AD 200 - 258), converted rhetorician,
bishop of Carthage, martyr, saint
Novatianus (200 AD – 258 AD), theologian, rival pope, excommunicant
Serenus Sammonicus (2nd century AD, early 3rd century AD),
Commodianus (3rd century AD), poet, Christian educator
Lucius Caelius Firmianus
Lactantius (AD 240 - 320), converted
rhetorician, scholar, Christian apologist and educator
Ammianus Marcellinus (4th century AD), soldier, imperial officer,
Claudius Claudianus (4th century AD), court poet
Gaius Julius Solinus (3rd or 4th century AD), topical writer
Nonius Marcellus (3rd or 4th century AD), topical writer
Marcus Aurelius Olympius Nemesianus (fl. 283 AD), poet
Aquila Romanus (3rd century AD), rhetorician
Eumenius of Autun (3rd century AD), educator
Aelius Festus Aphthonius (3rd or 4th century AD), grammarian
Calcidius (4th century AD), translator
Marius Victorinus (4th century AD), converted philosopher
Arnobius of Sicca
Arnobius of Sicca (4th century), Christian apologist
Constantine I (272 AD – 337 AD), first Christian emperor
Nazarius (4th century AD), rhetorician, educator
Gaius Julius Victor (4th century AD), rhetorician
Gaius Vettius Aquilinus
Juvencus (4th century AD), Christian poet
Nonius Marcellus (3rd and 4th centuries AD), grammarian, lexicographer
Julius Firmicus Maternus (4th century AD), converted advocate, pagan
and Christian writer
Aelius Donatus (4th century AD), grammarian, rhetorician, educator
Palladius (408/431 AD – 457/461 AD), saint, first bishop of Ireland
Aurelius Victor (AD 320 - 390), imperial officer, historian
Eutropius (4th century AD), imperial officer, historian
Aemilius Magnus Arborius (4th century AD), poet, educator, friend of
the imperial family
Ausonius (ca. 310 AD – 395 AD), poet, rhetorician,
educator, friend of the imperial family
Claudius Mamertinus (4th century AD), imperial officer, panegyricist,
Hilarius (4th century AD), converted neo-Platonist, theologian, bishop
of Poitiers, saint
Ambrosius (337/340 AD – 397 AD), theologian, Bishop of Milan, saint
Lucifer (d. 370/371 AD), theologian, Bishop of Sardinia
Priscillianus (d. 385 AD), theologian, first person executed as a
Flavius Sosipater Charisius (4th century AD), grammarian
Diomedes Grammaticus (4th century AD), grammarian
Postumius Rufus Festus
Avienus (4th century AD), imperial officer,
Priscianus Caesariensis (fl. AD 500), grammarian
Decline of the Roman Empire
Panegyrici Latini, a collection of 3rd to 4th century panegyrics;
their language is however predominantly classical (Golden Age) Latin
base, derived from an education heavy on Cicero, mixed with a large
number of Silver Age usages and a small number of Late and Vulgar
^ a b Roberts (1996), p.537.
^ "Late Latin". Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Volume
II, H to R. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 1961.
^ "Late Latin". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English
Language (3rd ed.). Boston, New York, London: Houghton Mifflin
^ Auerbach (1958), Chapter 1, Sermo Humilis.
^ Harrington, Karl Pomeroy; Pucci, Joseph Michael (1997). Mediaeval
Latin (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 67.
ISBN 0-226-31713-7. Retrieved 1 June 2011. The combination of
features specific to Vulgar
Latin and Ecclesiastical
Latin had the
effect, then, of transforming the language by the fourth century into
something of extraordinary vigor.
^ Meillet (1928), p.270: "Sans que l'aspect extérieur de la langue se
soit beaucoup modifié, le
Latin est devenu au cours de l'epoque
impériale une langue nouvelle."
^ Meillet (1928), p. 273. "Servant en quelque sorte de lingua franca
à un grand empire, le
Latin a tendu à se simplifier, à garder
surtout ce qu'il avait de banal ...."
^ "Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Monthly Record of Current Events".
I. 1850: 705.
^ Ethan Allen Andrews; William Freund (1851). A Copious and Critical
Latin-English Lexicon: Founded on the Larger Latin-German Lexicon of
Dr. William Freund; with Additions and Corrections from the Lexicons
of Gesner, Facciolati, Scheller, Georges, Etc. Harper &
^ Fowler, Harold North (1903). A History of Roman Literature. New
York: D. Appleton and Co. p. 3. The third or Imperial Period
lasts from 14 A. D. to the beginning of the Middle Ages.
^ Du Cange, Charles du Fresne; et al. (1840). "Præfatio LXII".
Glossarium mediæ et infimæ Latinitatis. Volume 1. Paris: Firmin
Didot Fratres. p. 41. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
^ Du Cange, Charles du Fresne; et al. (1840). "Præfatio LXIII".
Glossarium mediæ et infimæ Latinitatis. Volume 1. Paris: Firmin
Didot Fratres. pp. 41–42. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
^ The text was originally published in French, the court language of
Prussia at the time:
von Bielfeld, Jakob Friedrich (1767). Les premiers traits de
l'érudition universelle : ou, analyse abregée de toutes les
sciences, des beaux-arts et des belles-lettres. III. Leiden:
Luchtmans. p. 317.
^ von Bielfeld, Jakob Friedrich (1770). The Elements of Universal
Erudition, containing an Analytical Abrigement of the Sciences, Polite
Arts and Belles Lettres. III. Translated by Hooper, W. London: G.
Scott. p. 345.
^ Mantello, FAC (1999) . "Part I". In Mantello, Frank Anthony
Carl; Rigg, A. G. Medieval Latin: an introduction and bibliographical
guide. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press.
^ Auerbach (1965), p.85.
^ Uytfanghe, Marc Van (1996). "The consciousness of a linguistic
dichotomy (Latin-Romance) in Carolingian Gaul: the contradictions of
the sources and of their interpretation". In Wright, Roger.
Romance languages in the early Middle Ages. University Park,
Penn.: Pennsylvania State University Press. pp. 114–120.
^ Harrington, Karl Pomeroy; Pucci, Joseph Michael (1997). Mediaeval
Latin (2nd ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 196.
ISBN 0-226-31713-7. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
Auerbach, Erich (1965) . Literary Language and its Public in
Latin Antiquity and in the Middle Ages. Bollingen Series LXXIV.
Trans. Ralph Mannheim. Pantheon Books.
Meillet, Antoine (1928). Esquisse d'une Histoire de la Langue Latine
(in French). Paris: Hachette.
Roberts, Michael (1996). "The
Latin Literature of Late Antiquity". In
Anthony, Frank; Mantello, Carl; Rigg, A.G. Medieval Latin: an
introduction and bibliographical guide. Catholic University of America
Press. pp. 537–546.
Teuffel, Wilhelm Sigismund; Schwabe, Ludwig (1892). Teuffel's History
of Roman Literature Revised and Enlarged. II, The Imperial Period.
Trans. George C.W. Warr (from the 5th German ed.). London: George Bell
Library resources about
Resources in your library
Resources in other libraries
Adams, J. N., Nigel Vincent, and Valerie Knight. 2016. Early and Late
Latin: Continuity Or Change? Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University
Courcelle, Pierre. 1969. Late
Latin Writers and Their Greek Sources.
Translated by Harry Wedeck. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Elsner, Jaś, and Jesús Hernández Lobato. 2017. The Poetics of Late
Latin Literature. New York: Oxford University Press.
Langslow, D. R. 2006. The
Latin Alexander Trallianus: The Text and
Transmission of a Late
Latin Medical Book. London: Society for the
Promotion of Roman Studies.
Löfstedt, Einar. 1959. Late Latin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ.
Wright, Roger. 1982. Late
Latin and Early Romance in Spain and
Carolingian France. Liverpool, UK: Francis Cairns.
--. 2003. A sociophilological study of Late Latin. Turnhout, Belgium:
"Christian Latin" (in Latin). The
Latin Library. Retrieved 12 October
Du Cange, Charles du Fresne (2009) . Glossarium ad scriptores
mediae et infimae Latinitatis. Francofurti ad Moenum: apud Johannem
Adamum Jungium, CAMENA - Corpus Automatum Multiplex Electorum
Neolatinitatis Auctorum, University of Heidelberg.
"du Cange, le Glossarium: en ligne". École nationale des Chartres.
2008. Retrieved 10 October 2009.
"Glossarium Mediae et Infimae Latinitatis". Documenta Catholica Omnia.
2006. Retrieved 10 October 2009.
Ages of Latin
until 75 BC
75 BC – 200 AD
History of Latin
Latino sine flexione
Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum
Ancient Rome topics
historiography of the fall
Tribune of the Plebs
Frontiers and fortifications
Decorations and punishments
Conflict of the Orders
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Younger
Quintus Curtius Rufus
Seneca the Elder
Seneca the Younger
Dionysius of Halicarnassus
Eusebius of Caesaria
Phlegon of Tralles
Lists and other
Cities and towns
Wars and battles