The Common People of Ancient Rome
Frank Frost Abbott

Part 1 out of 4

Produced by Distributed Proofreaders

[Transcriber's note: This book makes use of the Roman denarius symbol.
Because this symbol is not available in Unicode, it has been replaced by
(U+0336) in the UTF-8 version.]

The Common People of Ancient Rome

Studies of Roman Life and Literature


Frank Frost Abbott

Kennedy Professor of the Latin Language and Literature in Princeton

New York
Charles Scribner's Sons

Copyright, 1911, by
Charles Scribner's Sons

Printed in the United States of America

Dedicated to J. H. A.

Prefatory Note

This book, like the volume on "Society and Politics in Ancient Rome,"
deals with the life of the common people, with their language and
literature, their occupations and amusements, and with their social,
political, and economic conditions. We are interested in the common people
of Rome because they made the Roman Empire what it was. They carried the
Roman standards to the Euphrates and the Atlantic; they lived abroad as
traders, farmers, and soldiers to hold and Romanize the provinces, or they
stayed at home, working as carpenters, masons, or bakers, to supply the
daily needs of the capital.

The other side of the subject which has engaged the attention of the
author in studying these topics has been the many points of similarity
which arise between ancient and modern conditions, and between the
problems which the Roman faced and those which confront us. What policy
shall the government adopt toward corporations? How can the cost of living
be kept down? What effect have private benefactions on the character of a
people? Shall a nation try to introduce its own language into the
territory of a subject people, or shall it allow the native language to be
used, and, if it seeks to introduce its own tongue, how can it best
accomplish its object? The Roman attacked all these questions, solved some
of them admirably, and failed with others egregiously. His successes and
his failures are perhaps equally illuminating, and the fact that his
attempts to improve social and economic conditions run through a period of
a thousand years should make the study of them of the greater interest and
value to us.

Of the chapters which this book contains, the article on "The Origin of
the Realistic Romance among the Romans" appeared originally in _Classical
Philology_, and the author is indebted to the editors of that periodical
for permission to reprint it here. The other papers are now published for
the first time.

It has not seemed advisable to refer to the sources to substantiate every
opinion which has been expressed, but a few references have been given in
the foot-notes mainly for the sake of the reader who may wish to follow
some subject farther than has been possible in these brief chapters. The
proofs had to be corrected while the author was away from his own books,
so that he was unable to make a final verification of two or three of the
citations, but he trusts that they, as well as the others, are accurate.
He takes this opportunity to acknowledge his indebtedness to Dr. Donald
Blythe Durham, of Princeton University, for the preparation of the index.

Frank Frost Abbott.
Einsiedeln, Switzerland
_September 2, 1911_


How Latin Became the Language of the World
The Latin of the Common People
The Poetry of the Common People of Rome:
I. Their Metrical Epitaphs
II. Their Dedicatory and Ephemeral Verses
The Origin of the Realistic Romance Among the Romans
Diocletian's Edict and the High Cost of Living
Private Benefactions and Their Effect on the Municipal Life of the Romans
Some Reflections on Corporations and Trade-Guilds
A Roman Politician, Gaius Scribonius Curio
Gaius Matius, a Friend of Cæsar


The Common People of Ancient Rome

How Latin Became the Language of the World

How the armies of Rome mastered the nations of the world is known to every
reader of history, but the story of the conquest by Latin of the languages
of the world is vague in the minds of most of us. If we should ask
ourselves how it came about, we should probably think of the world-wide
supremacy of Latin as a natural result of the world-wide supremacy of the
Roman legions or of Roman law. But in making this assumption we should be
shutting our eyes to the history of our own times. A conquered people does
not necessarily accept, perhaps it has not commonly accepted, the tongue
of its master. In his "Ancient and Modern Imperialism" Lord Cromer states
that in India only one hundred people in every ten thousand can read and
write English, and this condition exists after an occupation of one
hundred and fifty years or more. He adds: "There does not appear the
least prospect of French supplanting Arabic in Algeria." In comparing the
results of ancient and modern methods perhaps he should have taken into
account the fact that India and Algeria have literatures of their own,
which most of the outlying peoples subdued by Rome did not have, and these
literatures may have strengthened the resistance which the tongue of the
conquered people has offered to that of the conqueror, but, even when
allowance is made for this fact, the difference in resultant conditions is
surprising. From its narrow confines, within a little district on the
banks of the Tiber, covering, at the close of the fifth century B.C., less
than a hundred square miles, Latin spread through Italy and the islands of
the Mediterranean, through France, Spain, England, northern Africa, and
the Danubian provinces, triumphing over all the other tongues of those
regions more completely than Roman arms triumphed over the peoples using

In tracing the story we must keep in our mind's eye the linguistic
geography of Italy, just as we must remember the political geography of
the peninsula in following Rome's territorial expansion. Let us think at
the outset, then, of a little strip of flat country on the Tiber, dotted
here and there with hills crowned with villages. Such hill towns were
Rome, Tusculum, and Præneste, for instance. Each of them was the
stronghold and market-place of the country immediately about it, and
therefore had a life of its own, so that although Latin was spoken in all
of them it varied from one to the other. This is shown clearly enough by
the inscriptions which have been found on the sites of these ancient
towns,[1] and as late as the close of the third century before our era,
Plautus pokes fun in his comedies at the provincialism of Præneste.

The towns which we have mentioned were only a few miles from Rome. Beyond
them, and occupying central Italy and a large part of southern Italy, were
people who spoke Oscan and the other Italic dialects, which were related
to Latin, and yet quite distinct from it. In the seaports of the south
Greek was spoken, while the Messapians and Iapygians occupied Calabria. To
the north of Rome were the mysterious Etruscans and the almost equally
puzzling Venetians and Ligurians. When we follow the Roman legions across
the Alps into Switzerland, France, England, Spain, and Africa, we enter a
jungle, as it were, of languages and dialects. A mere reading of the list
of tongues with which Latin was brought into contact, if such a list could
be drawn up, would bring weariness to the flesh. In the part of Gaul
conquered by Cæsar, for instance, he tells us that there were three
independent languages, and sixty distinct states, whose peoples doubtless
differed from one another in their speech. If we look at a map of the
Roman world under Augustus, with the Atlantic to bound it on the west, the
Euphrates on the east, the desert of Sahara on the south, and the Rhine
and Danube on the north, and recall the fact that the linguistic
conditions which Cæsar found in Gaul in 58 B.C. were typical of what
confronted Latin in a great many of the western, southern, and northern
provinces, the fact that Latin subdued all these different tongues, and
became the every-day speech of these different peoples, will be recognized
as one of the marvels of history. In fact, so firmly did it establish
itself, that it withstood the assaults of the invading Gothic, Lombardic,
Frankish, and Burgundian, and has continued to hold to our own day a very
large part of the territory which it acquired some two thousand years

That Latin was the common speech of the western world is attested not only
by the fact that the languages of France, Spain, Roumania, and the other
Romance countries descend from it, but it is also clearly shown by the
thousands of Latin inscriptions composed by freeman and freedman, by
carpenter, baker, and soldier, which we find all over the Roman world.

How did this extraordinary result come about? It was not the conquest of
the world by the common language of Italy, because in Italy in early days
at least nine different languages were spoken, but its subjugation by the
tongue spoken in the city of Rome. The traditional narrative of Rome, as
Livy and others relate it, tells us of a struggle with the neighboring
Latin hill towns in the early days of the Republic, and the ultimate
formation of an alliance between them and Rome. The favorable position of
the city on the Tiber for trade and defence gave it a great advantage over
its rivals, and it soon became the commercial and political centre of the
neighboring territory. The most important of these villages, Tusculum,
Præneste, and Lanuvium, were not more than twenty miles distant, and the
people in them must have come constantly to Rome to attend the markets,
and in later days to vote, to hear political speeches, and to listen to
plays in the theatre. Some of them probably heard the jests at the expense
of their dialectal peculiarities which Plautus introduced into his
comedies. The younger generations became ashamed of their provincialisms;
they imitated the Latin spoken in the metropolis, and by the second
century of our era, when the Latin grammarians have occasion to cite
dialectal peculiarities from Latium outside Rome, they quote at
second-hand from Varro of the first century B.C., either because they will
not take the trouble to use their own ears or because the differences
which were noted in earlier days had ceased to exist. The first stage in
the conquest of the world by the Latin of Rome comes to an end, then, with
the extension of that form of speech throughout Latium.

Beyond the limits of Latium it came into contact with Oscan and the other
Italic dialects, which were related to Latin, but of course were much
farther removed from it than the Latin of Tusculum or Lanuvium had
been,[2] so that the adoption of Latin was not so simple a matter as the
acceptance of Roman Latin by the villages of Latium near Rome had been.

The conflict which went on between Latin and its Italic kinsmen is
revealed to us now and then by a Latin inscription, into which Oscan or
Umbrian forms have crept.[3] The struggle had come to an end by the
beginning of our era. A few Oscan inscriptions are found scratched on the
walls of Pompeii after the first earthquake, in 63 A.D., but they are late
survivals, and no Umbrian inscriptions are known of a date subsequent to
the first century B.C.

The Social War of 90-88 B.C., between Rome and the Italians, was a
turning-point in the struggle between Latin and the Italic dialects,
because it marks a change in the political treatment of Rome's
dependencies in Italy. Up to this time she had followed the policy of
isolating all her Italian conquered communities from one another. She was
anxious to prevent them from conspiring against her. Thus, with this
object in view, she made differences in the rights and privileges granted
to neighboring communities, in order that, not being subject to the same
limitations, and therefore not having the same grievances, they might not
have a common basis for joint action against her. It would naturally be a
part of that policy to allow or to encourage the retention by the several
communities of their own dialects. The common use of Latin would have
enabled them to combine against her with greater ease. With the conclusion
of the Social War this policy gave way before the new conception of
political unity for the people of Italian stock, and with political unity
came the introduction of Latin as the common tongue in all official
transactions of a local as well as of a federal character. The immediate
results of the war, and the policy which Rome carried out at its close of
sending out colonies and building roads in Italy, contributed still more
to the larger use of Latin throughout the central and southern parts of
the peninsula. Samnium, Lucania, and the territory of the Bruttii suffered
severely from depopulation; many colonies were sent into all these
districts, so that, although the old dialects must have persisted for a
time in some of the mountain towns to the north of Rome, the years
following the conclusion of the Social War mark the rapid disappearance of
them and the substitution of Latin in their place. Campania took little
part in the war, and was therefore left untouched. This fact accounts
probably for the occurrence of a few Oscan inscriptions on the walls of
Pompeii as late as 63 A.D.

We need not follow here the story of the subjugation of the Greek seaports
in southern Italy and of the peoples to the north who spoke non-Italic
languages. In all these cases Latin was brought into conflict with
languages not related to itself, and the situation contains slightly
different elements from those which present themselves in the struggle
between Latin and the Italic dialects. The latter were nearly enough
related to Latin to furnish some support for the theory that Latin was
modified by contact with them, and this theory has found advocates,[4] but
there is no sufficient reason for believing that it was materially
influenced. An interesting illustration of the influence of Greek on the
Latin of every-day life is furnished by the realistic novel which
Petronius wrote in the middle of the first century of our era. The
characters in his story are Greeks, and the language which they speak is
Latin, but they introduce into it a great many Greek words, and now and
then a Greek idiom or construction.

The Romans, as is well known, used two agencies with great effect in
Romanizing their newly acquired territory, viz., colonies and roads. The
policy of sending out colonists to hold the new districts was definitely
entered upon in the early part of the fourth century, when citizens were
sent to Antium, Tarracina, and other points in Latium. Within this century
fifteen or twenty colonies were established at various points in central
Italy. Strategic considerations determined their location, and the choice
was made with great wisdom. Sutrium and Nepete, on the borders of the
Ciminian forest, were "the gates of Etruria"; Fregellæ and Interamna
commanded the passage of the river Liris; Tarentum and Rhegium were
important ports of entry, while Alba Fucens and Carsioli guarded the line
of the Valerian road.

This road and the other great highways which were constructed in Italy
brought not only all the colonies, but all parts of the peninsula, into
easy communication with the capital. The earliest of them was built to
Capua, as we know, by the great censor Appius Claudius, in 312 B.C., and
when one looks at a map of Italy at the close of the third century before
our era, and sees the central and southern parts of the peninsula dotted
with colonies, the Appian Way running from Rome south-east to Brundisium,
the Popillian Way to Rhegium, the Flaminian Way north-east to Ariminum,
with an extension to Cremona, with the Cassian and Aurelian ways along the
western coast, the rapidity and the completeness with which the Latin
language overspread Italy ceases to be a mystery. A map of Spain or of
France under the Empire, with its network of roads, is equally

The missionaries who carried Roman law, Roman dress, Roman ideas, and the
Latin language first through central, southern, and northern Italy, and
then to the East and the West, were the colonist, the merchant, the
soldier, and the federal official. The central government exempted the
Roman citizen who settled in a provincial town from the local taxes. As
these were very heavy, his advantage over the native was correspondingly
great, and in almost all the large towns in the Empire we find evidence of
the existence of large guilds of Roman traders, tax-collectors, bankers,
and land-owners.[5] When Trajan in his romantic eastern campaign had
penetrated to Ctesiphon, the capital of Parthia, he found Roman merchants
already settled there. Besides the merchants and capitalists who were
engaged in business on their own account in the provinces, there were
thousands of agents for the great Roman corporations scattered through the
Empire. Rome was the money centre of the world, and the great stock
companies organized to lend money, construct public works, collect taxes,
and engage in the shipping trade had their central offices in the capital
whence they sent out their representatives to all parts of the world.

The soldier played as important a part as the merchant in extending the
use of Latin. Tacitus tells us that in the reign of Augustus there were
twenty-five legions stationed in the provinces. If we allow 6,000 men to a
legion, we should have a total of 150,000 Roman soldiers scattered through
the provinces. To these must be added the auxiliary troops which were made
up of natives who, at the close of their term of service, were probably
able to speak Latin, and when they settled among their own people again,
would carry a knowledge of it into ever-widening circles. We have no exact
knowledge of the number of the auxiliary troops, but they probably came to
be as numerous as the legionaries.[6] Soldiers stationed on the frontiers
frequently married native women at the end of their term of service,
passed the rest of their lives in the provinces, and their children
learned Latin.

The direct influence of the government was no small factor in developing
the use of Latin, which was of course the official language of the Empire.
All court proceedings were carried on in Latin. It was the language of
the governor, the petty official, and the tax-gatherer. It was used in
laws and proclamations, and no native could aspire to a post in the civil
service unless he had mastered it. It was regarded sometimes at least as a
_sine qua non_ of the much-coveted Roman citizenship. The Emperor
Claudius, for instance, cancelled the Roman citizenship of a Greek,
because he had addressed a letter to him in Latin which he could not
understand. The tradition that Latin was the official language of the
world was taken up by the Christian church. Even when Constantine presided
over the Council at Nicæa in the East, he addressed the assembly in Latin.

The two last-mentioned agencies, the Latin of the Roman official and the
Latin of the church, were the influences which made the language spoken
throughout the Empire essentially uniform in its character. Had the Latin
which the colonist, the merchant, and the soldier carried through Italy
and into the provinces been allowed to develop in different localities
without any external unifying influence, probably new dialects would have
grown up all over the world, or, to put it in another way, probably the
Romance languages would have come into existence several centuries before
they actually appeared. That unifying influence was the Latin used by the
officials sent out from Rome, which all classes eagerly strove to imitate.
Naturally the language of the provinces did not conform in all respects to
the Roman standard. Apuleius, for instance, is aware of the fact that his
African style and diction are likely to offend his Roman readers, and in
the introduction to his _Metamorphoses_ he begs for their indulgence. The
elder Seneca in his _Controversiae_ remarks of a Spanish fellow-countryman
"that he could never unlearn that well-known style which is brusque and
rustic and characteristic of Spain," and Spartianus in his Life of Hadrian
tells us that when Hadrian addressed the senate on a certain occasion, his
rustic pronunciation excited the laughter of the senators. But the
peculiarities in the diction of Apuleius and Hadrian seem to have been
those which only a cultivated man of the world would notice. They do not
appear to have been fundamental. In a similar way the careful studies
which have been made of the thousands of inscriptions found in the
West[7], dedicatory inscriptions, guild records, and epitaphs show us
that the language of the common people in the provinces did not differ
materially from that spoken in Italy. It was the language of the Roman
soldier, colonist, and trader, with common characteristics in the way of
diction, form, phraseology, and syntax, dropping into some slight local
peculiarities, but kept essentially a unit by the desire which each
community felt to imitate its officials and its upper classes.

The one part of the Roman world in which Latin did not gain an undisputed
pre-eminence was the Greek East. The Romans freely recognized the peculiar
position which Greek was destined to hold in that part of the Empire, and
styled it the _altera lingua_. Even in Greek lands, however, Latin gained
a strong hold, and exerted considerable influence on Greek[8].

In a very thoughtful paper on "Language-Rivalry and
Speech-Differentiation in the Case of Race-Mixture,"[9] Professor Hempl
has discussed the conditions under which language-rivalry takes place, and
states the results that follow. His conclusions have an interesting
bearing on the question which we are discussing here, how and why it was
that Latin supplanted the other languages with which it was brought into

He observes that when two languages are brought into conflict, there is
rarely a compromise or fusion, but one of the two is driven out of the
field altogether by the other. On analyzing the circumstances in which
such a struggle for supremacy between languages springs up, he finds four
characteristic cases. Sometimes the armies of one nation, though
comparatively small in numbers, conquer another country. They seize the
government of the conquered land; their ruler becomes its king, and they
become the aristocracy. They constitute a minority, however; they identify
their interests with those of the conquered people, and the language of
the subject people becomes the language of all classes. The second case
arises when a country is conquered by a foreign people who pour into it
with their wives and children through a long period and settle permanently
there. The speech of the natives in these circumstances disappears. In the
third case a more powerful people conquers a country, establishes a
dependent government in it, sends out merchants, colonists, and officials,
and establishes new towns. If such a province is held long enough, the
language of the conqueror prevails. In the fourth and last case peaceful
bands of immigrants enter a country to follow the humbler callings. They
are scattered among the natives, and succeed in proportion as they learn
the language of their adopted country. For their children and
grandchildren this language becomes their mother tongue, and the speech of
the invaded nation holds its ground.

The first typical case is illustrated by the history of Norman-French in
England, the second by that of the European colonists in America; the
Latinization of Spain, Gaul, and other Roman provinces furnishes an
instance of the third, and our own experience with European immigrants is
a case of the fourth characteristic situation. The third typical case of
language-conflict is the one with which we are concerned here, and the
analysis which we have made of the practices followed by the Romans in
occupying newly acquired territory, both in Italy and outside the
peninsula, shows us how closely they conform to the typical situation.
With the exception of Dacia, all the provinces were held by the Romans for
several centuries, so that their history under Roman rule satisfies the
condition of long occupation which Professor Hempl lays down as a
necessary one. Dacia which lay north of the Danube, and was thus far
removed from the centres of Roman influence, was erected into a province
in 107 A.D., and abandoned in 270. Notwithstanding its remoteness and the
comparatively short period during which it was occupied, the Latin
language has continued in use in that region to the present day. It
furnishes therefore a striking illustration of the effective methods which
the Romans used in Latinizing conquered territory.[10]

We have already had occasion to notice that a fusion between Latin and
the languages with which it was brought into contact, such a fusion, for
instance, as we find in Pidgin-English, did not occur. These languages
influenced Latin only by way of making additions to its vocabulary. A
great many Greek scientific and technical terms were adopted by the
learned during the period of Roman supremacy. Of this one is clearly
aware, for instance, in reading the philosophical and rhetorical works of
Cicero. A few words, like rufus, crept into the language from the Italic
dialects. Now and then the Keltic or Iberian names of Gallic or Spanish
articles were taken up, but the inflectional system and the syntax of
Latin retained their integrity. In the post-Roman period additions to the
vocabulary are more significant. It is said that about three hundred
Germanic words have found their way into all the Romance languages.[11]
The language of the province of Gaul was most affected since some four
hundred and fifty Gothic, Lombardic, and Burgundian words are found in
French alone, such words as boulevard, homard, and blesser. Each of the
provinces of course, when the Empire broke up, was subjected to
influences peculiar to itself. The residence of the Moors in Spain, for
seven hundred years, for instance, has left a deep impress on the Spanish
vocabulary, while the geographic position of Roumanian has exposed it to
the influence of Slavic, Albanian, Greek, Magyar, and Turkish.[12] A
sketch of the history of Latin after the breaking up of the Empire carries
us beyond the limits of the question which we set ourselves at the
beginning and out of the domain of the Latinist, but it may not be out of
place to gather together here a few of the facts which the Romance
philologist has contributed to its later history, because the life of
Latin has been continuous from the foundation of the city of Rome to the
present day.

In this later period the question of paramount interest is, why did Latin
in one part of the world develop into French, in another part into
Italian, in another into Spanish? One answer to this question has been
based on chronological grounds.[13] The Roman soldiers and traders who
went out to garrison and to settle in a newly acquired territory,
introduced that form of Latin which was in use in Italy at the time of
their departure from the peninsula. The form of speech thus planted there
developed along lines peculiar to itself, became the dialect of that
province, and ultimately the (Romance) language spoken in that part of
Europe. Sardinia was conquered in 241 B.C., and Sardinian therefore is a
development of the Latin spoken in Italy in the middle of the third
century B.C., that is of the Latin of Livius Andronicus. Spain was brought
under Roman rule in 197 B.C., and consequently Spanish is a natural
outgrowth of popular Latin of the time of Plautus. In a similar way, by
noticing the date at which the several provinces were established down to
the acquisition of Dacia in 107 A.D., we shall understand how it was that
the several Romance languages developed out of Latin. So long as the
Empire held together the unifying influence of official Latin, and the
constant intercommunication between the provinces, preserved the essential
unity of Latin throughout the world, but when the bonds were broken, the
naturally divergent tendencies which had existed from the beginning, but
had been held in check, made themselves felt, and the speech of the
several sections of the Old World developed into the languages which we
find in them to-day.

This theory is suggestive, and leads to several important results, but it
is open to serious criticism, and does not furnish a sufficient
explanation. It does not seem to take into account the steady stream of
emigrants from Italy to the provinces, and the constant transfer of troops
from one part of the world to another of which we become aware when we
study the history of any single province or legion. Spain was acquired, it
is true, in 197 B.C., and the Latin which was first introduced into it was
the Latin of Plautus, but the subjugation of the country occupied more
than sixty years, and during this period fresh troops were steadily poured
into the peninsula, and later on there was frequently an interchange of
legions between Spain and the other provinces. Furthermore, new
communities of Roman citizens were established there even down into the
Empire, and traders were steadily moving into the province. In this way it
would seem that the Latin of the early second century which was originally
carried into Spain must have been constantly undergoing modification,
and, so far as this influence goes, made approximately like the Latin
spoken elsewhere in the Empire.

A more satisfactory explanation seems to be that first clearly propounded
by the Italian philologist, Ascoli. His reasoning is that when we acquire
a foreign language we find it very difficult, and often impossible, to
master some of the new sounds. Our ears do not catch them exactly, or we
unconsciously substitute for the foreign sound some sound from our own
language. Our vocal organs, too, do not adapt themselves readily to the
reproduction of the strange sounds in another tongue, as we know from the
difficulty which we have in pronouncing the French nasal or the German
guttural. Similarly English differs somewhat as it is spoken by a
Frenchman, a German, and an Italian. The Frenchman has a tendency to
import the nasal into it, and he is also inclined to pronounce it like his
own language, while the German favors the guttural. In a paper on the
teaching of modern languages in our schools, Professor Grandgent says:[14]
"Usually there is no attempt made to teach any French sounds but _u_ and
the four nasal vowels; all the rest are unquestioningly replaced by the
English vowels and consonants that most nearly resemble them." The
substitution of sounds from one's own language in speaking a foreign
tongue, and the changes in voice-inflection, are more numerous and more
marked if the man who learns the new language is uneducated and acquires
it in casual intercourse from an uneducated man who speaks carelessly.

This was the state of things in the Roman provinces of southern Europe
when the Goths, Lombards, and other peoples from the North gradually
crossed the frontier and settled in the territory of Latin-speaking
peoples. In the sixth century, for instance, the Lombards in Italy, the
Franks in France, and the Visigoths in Spain would each give to the Latin
which they spoke a twist peculiar to themselves, and out of the one Latin
came Italian, out of the second, the language of France, and out of the
third, Spanish. This initial impulse toward the development of Latin along
different lines in Italy, France, and Spain was, of course, reinforced by
differences in climate, in the temperaments of the three peoples, in
their modes of life, and in their political and social experiences. These
centrifugal forces, so to speak, became effective because the political
and social bonds which had held Italy, France, and Spain together were now
loosened, and consequently communication between the provinces was less
frequent, and the standardizing influence of the official Latin of Rome
ceased to keep Latin a uniform thing throughout the Empire.

One naturally asks why Latin survived at all, why the languages of the
victorious Germanic peoples gave way to it. In reply to this question it
is commonly said that the fittest survived, that the superiority of Roman
civilization and of the Latin language gave Latin the victory. So far as
this factor is to be taken into account, I should prefer to say that it
was not so much the superiority of Latin, although that may be freely
recognized, as it was the sentimental respect which the Germans and their
leaders had for the Empire and for all its institutions. This is shown
clearly enough, for instance, in the pride which the Visigothic and
Frankish kings showed in holding their commissions from Rome, long after
Rome had lost the power to enforce its claims upon them; it is shown in
their use of Latin as the language of the court and of the official world.
Under the influence of this sentiment Germanic rulers and their peoples
imitated the Romans, and, among other things, took over their language.
The church probably exerted considerable influence in this direction. Many
of the Germans had been converted to Christianity before they entered the
Empire, and had heard Latin used in the church services and in the hymns.
Among cultivated people of different countries, it was the only medium of
communication, and was accepted as the lingua franca of the political and
ecclesiastical world, and the traditional medium of expression for
literary and legal purposes.

Perhaps, however, one element in the situation should be given more weight
than any of the facts just mentioned. Many of the barbarians had been
allowed to settle in a more or less peaceful fashion in Roman territory,
so that a large part of the western world came into their possession by
way of gradual occupation rather than by conquest.[15] They became peasant
proprietors, manual laborers, and soldiers in the Roman army. Perhaps,
therefore, their occupation of central and southern Europe bears some
resemblance to the peaceful invasion of this country by immigrants from
Europe, and they may have adopted Latin just as the German or Scandinavian
adopts English.

This brings us to the last important point in our inquiry. What is the
date before which we shall call the language of the Western Empire Latin,
and after which it is better to speak of French, Spanish, and Italian?
Such a line of division cannot be sharply drawn, and will in a measure be
artificial, because, as we shall attempt to show in the chapter which
follows on the "Latin of the Common People," Latin survives in the Romance
languages, and has had a continuous life up to the present day. But on
practical grounds it is convenient to have such a line of demarcation in
mind, and two attempts have been made to fix it. One attempt has been
based on linguistic grounds, the other follows political changes more
closely. Up to 700 A.D. certain common sound-changes take place in all
parts of the western world.[16] After that date, roughly speaking, this is
not the case. Consequently at that time we may say that unity ceased. The
other method of approaching the subject leads to essentially the same
conclusion, and shows us why unity ceased to exist.[17] In the sixth
century the Eastern Emperor Justinian conceived the idea of reuniting the
Roman world, and actually recovered and held for a short time Italy,
southern Spain, and Africa. This attempt on his part aroused a national
spirit among the peoples of these lands, and developed in them a sense of
their national independence and individuality. They threw off the foreign
yoke and became separate peoples, and developed, each of them, a language
of its own. Naturally this sentiment became effective at somewhat
different periods in different countries. For France the point may be
fixed in the sixth century, for Spain and Italy, in the seventh, and at
these dates Latin may be said to take the form of French, Spanish, and

The Latin of the Common People

Unless one is a professional philologist he feels little interest in the
language of the common people. Its peculiarities in pronunciation, syntax,
phraseology, and the use of words we are inclined to avoid in our own
speech, because they mark a lack of cultivation. We test them by the
standards of polite society, and ignore them, or condemn them, or laugh at
them as abnormal or illogical or indicative of ignorance. So far as
literature goes, the speech of the common people has little interest for
us because it is not the recognized literary medium. These two reasons
have prevented the average man of cultivated tastes from giving much
attention to the way in which the masses speak, and only the professional
student has occupied himself with their language. This is unfortunate
because the speech of the common people has many points of interest, and,
instead of being illogical, is usually much more rigid in its adherence
to its own accepted principles than formal speech is, which is likely to
be influenced by convention or conventional associations. To take an
illustration of what I have in mind, the ending _-s_ is the common mark in
English of a plural form. For instance, "caps," "maps," "lines," and
"places" are plurals, and the corresponding singular forms are "cap,"
"map," "line," and "place." Consequently, granted the underlying premise,
it is a perfectly logical and eminently scientific process from the forms
"relapse" (pronounced, of course, "relaps") and "species" to postulate a
corresponding singular, and speak of "a relap" and "a specie," as a negro
of my acquaintance regularly does. "Scrope" and "lept," as preterites of
"scrape" and "leap," are correctly formed on the analogy of "broke" and
"crept," but are not used in polite society.

So far as English, German, or French go, a certain degree of general
interest has been stimulated lately in the form which they take in
every-day life by two very different agencies, by the popular articles of
students of language, and by realistic and dialect novels. But for our
knowledge of the Latin of the common people we lack these two
all-important sources of information. It occurred to only two Roman
writers, Petronius and Apuleius, to amuse their countrymen by writing
realistic stories, or stories with realistic features, and the Roman
grammarian felt an even greater contempt for popular Latin or a greater
indifference to it than we feel to-day. This feeling was shared, as we
know, by the great humanists of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries,
when the revival of interest in the Greek and Latin languages and
literatures begins. Petrarch, Poggio Bracciolini, and the other great
leaders in the movement were concerned with the literary aspects of the
classics, and the scholars of succeeding generations, so far as they
studied the language, confined their attention to that of the great Latin
stylists. The first student to conceive of the existence of popular Latin
as a form of speech which differed from formal literary Latin, seems to
have been the French scholar, Henri Étienne. In a little pamphlet on the
language and style of Plautus, written toward the end of the sixteenth
century, he noted the likeness between French and the language of the
Latin dramatist, without, however, clearly perceiving that the reason for
this similarity lay in the fact that the comedies of Plautus reflect the
spoken language of his time, and that French and the other Romance
languages have developed out of this, rather than from literary Latin. Not
until the middle of the eighteenth century was this truth clearly
recognized, and then almost simultaneously on both sides of the Rhine.

It was left for the nineteenth century, however, to furnish scientific
proof of the correctness of this hypothesis, and it was a fitting thing
that the existence of an unbroken line of connection between popular Latin
of the third century before our era, and the Romance languages of the
nineteenth century, should have been established at the same time by a
Latinist engaged in the study of Plautus, and a Romance philologist
working upward toward Latin. The Latin scholar was Ritschl, who showed
that the deviations from the formal standard which one finds in Plautus
are not anomalies or mistakes, but specimens of colloquial Latin which can
be traced down into the later period. The Romance philologist was Diez,
who found that certain forms and words, especially those from the
vocabulary of every-day life, which are common to many of the Romance
languages, are not to be found in serious Latin literature at all, but
occur only in those compositions, like comedy, satire, or the realistic
romance, which reflect the speech of the every-day man. This discovery
made it clear that the Romance languages are related to folk Latin, not to
literary Latin. It is sixty years since the study of vulgar Latin was put
on a scientific basis by the investigations of these two men, and during
that period the Latinist and the Romance philologist have joined hands in
extending our knowledge of it. From the Latin side a great impetus was
given to the work by the foundation in 1884 of Wölfflin's _Archiv für
lateinische Lexikographie und Grammatik_. This periodical, as is well
known, was intended to prepare the way for the publication of the Latin
_Thesaurus_, which the five German Academies are now bringing out.

One of its primary purposes, as its title indicates, was to investigate
the history of Latin words, and in its first number the editor called
attention to the importance of knowing the pieces of literature in which
each Latin word or locution occurred. The results have been very
illuminating. Some words or constructions or phrases are to be found, for
instance, only in comedy, satire, and the romance. They are evidently
peculiar to vulgar Latin. Others are freely used in these types of
literature, but sparingly employed in historical or rhetorical works. Here
again a shade of difference is noticeable between formal and familiar
usage. The method of the Latinist then is essentially one of comparison
and contrast. When, for instance, he finds the word _equus_ regularly used
by serious writers for "horse," but _caballus_ employed in that sense in
the colloquial compositions of Lucilius, Horace, and Petronius, he comes
to the conclusion that _caballus_ belongs to the vocabulary of every-day
life, that it is our "nag."

The line of reasoning which the Romance philologist follows in his study
of vulgar Latin is equally convincing. The existence of a large number of
words and idioms in French, Spanish, Italian, and the other Romance
languages can be explained only in one of three ways. All these different
languages may have hit on the same word or phrase to express an idea, or
these words and idioms may have been borrowed from one language by the
others, or they may come from a common origin. The first hypothesis is
unthinkable. The second is almost as impossible. Undoubtedly French, for
instance, borrowed some words from Spanish, and Spanish from Portuguese.
It would be conceivable that a few words originating in Spain should pass
into France, and thence into Italy, but it is quite beyond belief that the
large element which the languages from Spain to Roumania have in common
should have passed by borrowing over such a wide territory. It is clear
that this common element is inherited from Latin, out of which all the
Romance languages are derived. Out of the words, endings, idioms, and
constructions which French, Spanish, Italian, and the other tongues of
southern Europe have in common, it would be possible, within certain
limits, to reconstruct the parent speech, but fortunately we are not
limited to this material alone. At this point the Latinist and the Romance
philologist join hands. To take up again the illustration already used,
the student of the Romance languages finds the word for "horse" in Italian
is cavallo, in Spanish caballo, in French cheval, in Roumanian cal, and
so on. Evidently all these forms have come from caballus, which the
Latinist finds belongs to the vocabulary of vulgar, not of formal, Latin.
This one illustration out of many not only discloses the fact that the
Romance languages are to be connected with colloquial rather than with
literary Latin, but it also shows how the line of investigation opened by
Diez, and that followed by Wölfflin and his school, supplement each other.
By the use of the methods which these two scholars introduced, a large
amount of material bearing on the subject under discussion has been
collected and classified, and the characteristic features of the Latin of
the common people have been determined. It has been found that five or six
different and independent kinds of evidence may be used in reconstructing
this form of speech.

We naturally think first of the direct statements made by Latin writers.
These are to be found in the writings of Cicero, Quintilian, Seneca the
Rhetorician, Petronius, Aulus Gellius, Vitruvius, and the Latin
grammarians. The professional teacher Quintilian is shocked at the
illiterate speech of the spectators in the theatres and circus. Similarly
a character in Petronius utters a warning against the words such people
use. Cicero openly delights in using every-day Latin in his familiar
letters, while the architect Vitruvius expresses the anxious fear that he
may not be following the accepted rules of grammar. As we have noticed
above, a great deal of material showing the differences between formal and
colloquial Latin which these writers have in mind, may be obtained by
comparing, for instance, the Letters of Cicero with his rhetorical works,
or Seneca's satirical skit on the Emperor Claudius with his philosophical
writings. Now and then, too, a serious writer has occasion to use a bit of
popular Latin, but he conveniently labels it for us with an apologetic
phrase. Thus even St. Jerome, in his commentary on the Epistle to the
Ephesians, says: "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, as the vulgar
proverb has it." To the ancient grammarians the "mistakes" and vulgarisms
of popular speech were abhorrent, and they have fortunately branded lists
of words and expressions which are not to be used by cultivated people.
The evidence which may be had from the Romance languages, supplemented by
Latin, not only contributes to our knowledge of the vocabulary of vulgar
Latin, but it also shows us many common idioms and constructions which
that form of speech had. Thus, "I will sing" in Italian is canterò
(=cantar[e]-ho), in Spanish, cantaré (=cantar-he), in French, chanterai
(=chanter-ai), and similar forms occur in some of the other Romance
languages. These forms are evidently made up of the Latin infinitive
cantare, depending on habeo ("I have to sing"). But the future in literary
Latin was cantabo, formed by adding an ending, as we know, and with that
the Romance future can have no connection. However, as a writer in the
_Archiv_ has pointed out,[18] just such analytical tense forms as are used
in the Romance languages to-day are to be found in the popular Latin
sermons of St. Jerome. From these idioms, common to Italian, French, and
Spanish, then, we can reconstruct a Latin formation current among the
common people. Finally a knowledge of the tendencies and practices of
spoken English helps us to identify similar usages when we come upon them
in our reading of Latin. When, for instance, the slave in a play of
Plautus says: "Do you catch on" (tenes?), "I'll touch the old man for a
loan" (tangam senem, etc.), or "I put it over him" (ei os sublevi) we
recognize specimens of Latin slang, because all of the metaphors involved
are in current use to-day. When one of the freedmen in Petronius remarks:
"You ought not to do a good turn to nobody" (neminem nihil boni facere
oportet) we see the same use of the double negative to which we are
accustomed in illiterate English. The rapid survey which we have just made
of the evidence bearing on the subject establishes beyond doubt the
existence of a form of speech among the Romans which cannot be identified
with literary Latin, but it has been held by some writers that the
material for the study of it is scanty. However, an impartial examination
of the facts ought not to lead one to this conclusion. On the Latin side
the material includes the comedies of Plautus and Terence, and the comic
fragments, the familiar odes of Catullus, the satires of Lucilius, Horace,
and Seneca, and here and there of Persius and Juvenal, the familiar
letters of Cicero, the romance of Petronius and that of Apuleius in part,
the Vulgate and some of the Christian fathers, the Journey to Jerusalem of
St. Ætheria, the glossaries, some technical books like Vitruvius and the
veterinary treatise of Chiron, and the private inscriptions, notably
epitaphs, the wall inscriptions of Pompeii, and the leaden tablets found
buried in the ground on which illiterate people wrote curses upon their

It is clear that there has been preserved for the study of colloquial
Latin a very large body of material, coming from a great variety of
sources and running in point of time from Plautus in the third century
B.C. to St. Ætheria in the latter part of the fourth century or later. It
includes books by trained writers, like Horace and Petronius, who
consciously adopt the Latin of every-day life, and productions by
uneducated people, like St. Ætheria and the writers of epitaphs, who have
unwittingly used it.

St. Jerome says somewhere of spoken Latin that "it changes constantly as
you pass from one district to another, and from one period to another" (et
ipsa Latinitas et regionibus cotidie mutatur et tempore). If he had added
that it varies with circumstances also, he would have included the three
factors which have most to do in influencing the development of any
spoken language. We are made aware of the changes which time has brought
about in colloquial English when we compare the conversations in Fielding
with those in a present-day novel. When a spoken language is judged by the
standard of the corresponding literary medium, in some of its aspects it
proves to be conservative, in others progressive. It shows its
conservative tendency by retaining many words and phrases which have
passed out of literary use. The English of the Biglow Papers, when
compared with the literary speech of the time, abundantly illustrates this
fact. This conservative tendency is especially noticeable in districts
remote from literary centres, and those of us who are familiar with the
vernacular in Vermont or Maine will recall in it many quaint words and
expressions which literature abandoned long ago. In Virginia locutions may
be heard which have scarcely been current in literature since
Shakespeare's time. Now, literary and colloquial Latin were probably drawn
farther apart than the two corresponding forms of speech in English,
because Latin writers tried to make the literary tongue as much like Greek
in its form as possible, so that literary Latin would naturally have
diverged more rapidly and more widely from conversational Latin than
formal English has drawn away from colloquial English.

But a spoken language in its development is progressive as well as
conservative. To certain modifying influences it is especially sensitive.
It is fond of the concrete, picturesque, and novel, and has a high
appreciation of humor. These tendencies lead it to invent many new words
and expressions which must wait months, years, perhaps a generation,
before they are accepted in literature. Sometimes they are never accepted.
The history of such words as buncombe, dude, Mugwump, gerrymander, and
joy-ride illustrate for English the fact that words of a certain kind meet
a more hospitable reception in the spoken language than they do in
literature. The writer of comedy or farce, the humorist, and the man in
the street do not feel the constraint which the canons of good usage put
on the serious writer. They coin new words or use old words in a new way
or use new constructions without much hesitation. The extraordinary
material progress of the modern world during the last century has
undoubtedly stimulated this tendency in a remarkable way, but it would
seem as if the Latin of the common people from the time of Plautus to that
of Cicero must have been subjected to still more innovating influences
than modern conversational English has. During this period the newly
conquered territories in Spain, northern Africa, Greece, and Asia poured
their slaves and traders into Italy, and added a great many words to the
vocabulary of every-day life. The large admixture of Greek words and
idioms in the language of Petronius in the first century of our era
furnishes proof of this fact. A still greater influence must have been
felt within the language itself by the stimulus to the imagination which
the coming of these foreigners brought, with their new ideas, and their
new ways of looking at things, their strange costumes, manners, and

The second important factor which affects the spoken language is a
difference in culture and training. The speech of the gentleman differs
from that of the rustic. The conversational language of Terence, for
instance, is on a higher plane than that of Plautus, while the characters
in Plautus use better Latin than the freedmen in Petronius. The
illiterate freedmen in Petronius speak very differently from the freemen
in his story. Sometimes a particular occupation materially affects the
speech of those who pursue it. All of us know something of the linguistic
eccentricities of the London cabman, the Parisian thief, or the American
hobo. This particular influence cannot be estimated so well for Latin
because we lack sufficient material, but some progress has been made in
detecting the peculiarities of Latin of the nursery, the camp, and the

Of course a spoken language is never uniform throughout a given area.
Dialectal differences are sure to develop. A man from Indiana and another
from Maine will be sure to notice each other's peculiarities. Even the
railway, the newspaper, and the public school will never entirely
obliterate the old differences or prevent new ones from springing up.
Without these agencies which do so much to promote uniformity to-day,
Italy and the rest of the Empire must have shown greater dialectal
differences than we observe in American English or in British English

For the sake of bringing out clearly some of the points of difference
between vulgar and formal Latin we have used certain illustrations, like
_caballus_, where the two forms of speech were radically opposed to each
other, but of course they did not constitute two different languages, and
that which they had in common was far greater than the element peculiar to
each, or, to put it in another way, they in large measure overlapped each
other. Perhaps we are in a position now to characterize colloquial Latin
and to define it as the language which was used in conversation throughout
the Empire with the innumerable variations which time and place gave it,
which in its most highly refined form, as spoken in literary circles at
Rome in the classical period, approached indefinitely near its ideal,
literary Latin, which in its most unconventional phase was the rude speech
of the rabble, or the "sermo inconditus" of the ancients. The facts which
have just been mentioned may be illustrated by the accompanying diagrams.

[Illustration: Fig. I]

[Illustration: Fig. II]

[Illustration: Fig. III]

[Illustration: Fig. IV]

In Fig. I the heavy-lined ellipse represents the formal diction of Cicero,
the dotted line ellipse his conversational vocabulary. They overlap each
other through a great part of their extent, but there are certain
literary locutions which would rarely be used by him in conversation, and
certain colloquial words and phrases which he would not use in formal
writing. Therefore the two ellipses would not be coterminous. In Fig. II
the heavy ellipse has the same meaning as in Fig. I, while the space
enclosed by the dotted line represents the vocabulary of an uneducated
Roman, which would be much smaller than that of Cicero and would show a
greater degree of difference from the literary vocabulary than Cicero's
conversational stock of words does. The relation of the uncultivated
Roman's conversational vocabulary to that of Cicero is illustrated in Fig.
III, while Fig. IV shows how the Latin of the average man in Rome would
compare, for instance, with that of a resident of Lugudunum, in Gaul.

This naturally brings us to consider the historical relations of literary
and colloquial Latin. In explaining them it has often been assumed that
colloquial Latin is a degenerate form of literary Latin, or that the
latter is a refined type of the former. Both these theories are equally
false. Neither is derived from the other. The true state of the case has
never been better put than by Schuchardt, who says: "Vulgar Latin stands
with reference to formal Latin in no derivative relation, in no paternal
relation, but they stand side by side. It is true that vulgar Latin came
from a Latin with fuller and freer forms, but it did not come from formal
Latin. It is true that formal Latin came from a Latin of a more popular
and a cruder character, but it did not come from vulgar Latin. In the
original speech of the people, preliterary Latin (the prisca Latinitas),
is to be found the origin of both; they were twin brothers."

Of this preliterary Latin we have no record. The best we can do is to
infer what its characteristics were from the earliest fragments of the
language which have come down to us, from the laws of the Twelve Tables,
for instance, from the religious and legal formulæ preserved to us by
Varro, Cicero, Livy, and others, from proverbs and popular sayings. It
would take us too far afield to analyze these documents here, but it may
be observed that we notice in them, among other characteristics, an
indifference to strict grammatical structure, not that subordination of
clauses to a main clause which comes only from an appreciation of the
logical relation of ideas to one another, but a co-ordination of clauses,
the heaping up of synonymous words, a tendency to use the analytical
rather than the synthetical form of expression, and a lack of fixity in
the forms of words and in inflectional endings. To illustrate some of
these traits in a single example, an early law reads "if [he] shall have
committed a theft by night, if [he] shall have killed him, let him be
regarded as put to death legally" (si nox furtum faxsit, si im occisit,
iure caesus esto).[19] We pass without warning from one subject, the
thief, in the first clause to another, the householder, in the second, and
back to the thief again in the third. Cato in his book on Agriculture
writes of the cattle: "let them feed; it will be better" (pascantur;
satius erit), instead of saying: "it will be better for them to feed" (or
"that they feed"). In an early law one reads: "on the tablet, on the white
surface" (in tabula, in albo), instead of "on the white tablet" (in alba
tabula). Perhaps we may sum up the general characteristics of this
preliterary Latin out of which both the spoken and written language
developed by saying that it showed a tendency to analysis rather than
synthesis, a loose and variable grammatical structure, and a lack of logic
in expression.

Livius Andronicus, Nævius, and Plautus in the third century before our era
show the language as first used for literary purposes, and with them the
breach between the spoken and written tongues begins. So far as Livius
Andronicus, the Father of Latin literature, is concerned, allowance should
be made without doubt for his lack of poetic inspiration and skill, and
for the fact that his principal work was a translation, but even making
this allowance the crude character of his Latin is apparent, and it is
very clear that literary Latin underwent a complete transformation
between his time and that of Horace and Virgil. Now, the significant
thing in this connection is the fact that this transformation was largely
brought about under an external influence, which affected the Latin of the
common people only indirectly and in small measure. Perhaps the
circumstances in which literary Latin was placed have never been repeated
in history. At the very outset it was brought under the sway of a highly
developed literary tongue, and all the writers who subsequently used it
earnestly strove to model it after Greek. Livius Andronicus, Ennius,
Accius, and Pacuvius were all of Greek origin and familiar with Greek.
They, as well as Plautus and Terence, translated and adapted Greek epics,
tragedies, and comedies. Several of the early writers, like Accius and
Lucilius, interested themselves in grammatical subjects, and did their
best to introduce system and regularity into their literary medium. Now,
Greek was a highly inflected, synthetical, regular, and logical medium of
literary expression, and it was inevitable that these qualities should be
introduced into Latin. But this influence affected the spoken language
very little, as we have already noticed. Its effect upon the speech of
the common people would be slight, because of the absence of the common
school which does so much to-day to hold together the spoken and written

The development then of preliterary Latin under the influence of this
systematizing, synthetical influence gave rise to literary Latin, while
its independent growth more nearly in accordance with its original genius
produced colloquial Latin. Consequently, we are not surprised to find that
the people's speech retained in a larger measure than literary Latin did
those qualities which we noticed in preliterary Latin. Those
characteristics are, in fact, to be expected in conversation. When a man
sets down his thoughts on paper he expresses himself with care and with a
certain reserve in his statements, and he usually has in mind exactly what
he wants to say. But in speaking he is not under this constraint. He is
likely to express himself in a tautological, careless, or even illogical
fashion. He rarely thinks out to the end what he has in mind, but loosely
adds clauses or sentences, as new ideas occur to him.

We have just been thinking mainly about the relation of words to one
another in a sentence. In the treatment of individual words, written and
spoken Latin developed along different lines. In English we make little
distinction between the quantity of vowels, but in Latin of course a given
vowel was either long or short, and literary tradition became so fixed in
this matter that the professional poets of the Augustan age do not
tolerate any deviation from it. There are indications, however, that the
common people did not observe the rules of quantity in their integrity. We
can readily understand why that may have been the case. The comparative
carelessness, which is characteristic of conversation, affects our
pronunciation of words. When there is a stress accent, as there was in
Latin, this is especially liable to be the case. We know in English how
much the unaccented syllables suffer in a long word like "laboratory." In
Latin the long unaccented vowels and the final syllable, which was never
protected by the accent, were peculiarly likely to lose their full value.
As a result, in conversational Latin certain final consonants tended to
drop away, and probably the long vowel following a short one was regularly
shortened when the accent fell on the short syllable, or on the syllable
which followed the long one. Some scholars go so far as to maintain that
in course of time all distinction in quantity in the unaccented vowels was
lost in popular Latin. Sometimes the influence of the accent led to the
excision of the vowel in the syllable which followed it. Probus, a
grammarian of the fourth century of our era, in what we might call a
"Guide to Good Usage"[20] or "One Hundred Words Mispronounced," warns his
readers against masclus and anglus for masculus and angulus. This is the
same popular tendency which we see illustrated in "lab'ratory."

The quality of vowels as well as their quantity changed. The obscuring of
certain vowel sounds in ordinary or careless conversation in this country
in such words as "Latun" and "Amurican" is a phenomenon which is familiar
enough. In fact a large number of our vowel sounds seem to have
degenerated into a grunt. Latin was affected in a somewhat similar way,
although not to the same extent as present-day English. Both the ancient
grammarians in their warnings and the Romance languages bear evidence to
this effect.

We noticed above that the final consonant was exposed to danger by the
fact that the syllable containing it was never protected by the accent. It
is also true that there was a tendency to do away with any difficult
combination of consonants. We recall in English the current
pronunciations, "February," and "Calwell" for Caldwell. The average Roman
in the same way was inclined to follow the line of least resistance.
Sometimes, as in the two English examples just given, he avoided a
difficult combination of consonants by dropping one of them. This method
he followed in saying santus for sanctus, and scriserunt for scripserunt,
just as in vulgar English one now and then hears "slep" and "kep" for the
more difficult "slept" and "kept." Sometimes he lightened the
pronunciation by metathesis, as he did when he pronounced interpretor as
interpertor. A third device was to insert a vowel, as illiterate
English-speaking people do in the pronunciations "ellum" and "Henery." In
this way, for instance, the Roman avoided the difficult combinations -mn-
and -chn- by saying mina and techina for the historically correct mna and
techna. Another method of surmounting the difficulty was to assimilate one
of the two consonants to the other. This is a favorite practice of the
shop-girl, over which the newspapers make merry in their phonetical
reproductions of supposed conversations heard from behind the counter.
Adopting the same easy way of speaking, the uneducated Roman sometimes
said isse for ipse, and scritus for scriptus. To pass to another point of
difference, the laws determining the incidence of the accent were very
firmly established in literary Latin. The accent must fall on the penult,
if it was long, otherwise on the antepenult of the word. But in popular
Latin there were certain classes of words in whose case these principles
were not observed.

The very nature of the accent probably differed in the two forms of
speech. In preliterary Latin the stress was undoubtedly a marked feature
of the accent, and this continued to be the case in the popular speech
throughout the entire history of the language, but, as I have tried to
prove in another paper,[21] in formal Latin the stress became very slight,
and the pitch grew to be the characteristic feature of the accent.
Consequently, when Virgil read a passage of the _Æneid_ to Augustus and
Livia the effect on the ear of the comparatively unstressed language, with
the rhythmical rise and fall of the pitch, would have been very different
from that made by the conversation of the average man, with the accented
syllables more clearly marked by a stress.

In this brief chapter we cannot attempt to go into details, and in
speaking of the morphology of vulgar Latin we must content ourselves with
sketching its general characteristics and tendencies, as we have done in
the case of its phonology. In English our inflectional forms have been
reduced to a minimum, and consequently there is little scope for
differences in this respect between the written and spoken languages. From
the analogy of other forms the illiterate man occasionally says: "I swum,"
or, "I clumb," or "he don't," but there is little chance of making a
mistake. However, with three genders, five declensions for nouns, a fixed
method of comparison for adjectives and adverbs, an elaborate system of
pronouns, with active and deponent, regular and irregular verbs, four
conjugations, and a complex synthetical method of forming the moods and
tenses, the pitfalls for the unwary Roman were without number, as the
present-day student of Latin can testify to his sorrow. That the man in
the street, who had no newspaper to standardize his Latin, and little
chance to learn it in school, did not make more mistakes is surprising. In
a way many of the errors which he did make were historically not errors at
all. This fact will readily appear from an illustration or two. In our
survey of preliterary Latin we had occasion to notice that one of its
characteristics was a lack of fixity in the use of forms or constructions.
In the third century before our era, a Roman could say audibo or audiam,
contemplor or contemplo, senatus consultum or senati consultum. Thanks to
the efforts of the scientific grammarian, and to the systematizing
influence which Greek exerted upon literary Latin, most verbs were made
deponent or active once for all, a given noun was permanently assigned to
a particular declension, a verb to one conjugation, and the slight
tendency which the language had to the analytical method of forming the
moods and tenses was summarily checked. Of course the common people tried
to imitate their betters in all these matters, but the old variable usages
persisted to some extent, and the average man failed to grasp the
niceties of the new grammar at many points. His failures were especially
noticeable where the accepted literary form did not seem to follow the
principles of analogy. When these principles are involved, the common
people are sticklers for consistency. The educated man conjugates: "I
don't," "you don't," "he doesn't," "we don't," "they don't"; but the
anomalous form "he doesn't" has to give way in the speech of the average
man to "he don't." To take only one illustration in Latin of the effect of
the same influence, the present infinitive active of almost all verbs ends
in -re, e.g., amare, monere, and regere. Consequently the irregular
infinitive of the verb "to be able," posse, could not stand its ground,
and ultimately became potere in vulgar Latin. In one respect in the
inflectional forms of the verb, the purist was unexpectedly successful. In
comedy of the third and second centuries B.C., we find sporadic evidence
of a tendency to use auxiliary verbs in forming certain tenses, as we do
in English when we say: "I will go," "I have gone," or "I had gone." This
movement was thoroughly stamped out for the time, and does not reappear
until comparatively late.

In Latin there are three genders, and the grammatical gender of a noun is
not necessarily identical with its natural gender. For inanimate objects
it is often determined simply by the form of the noun. Sella, seat, of the
first declension, is feminine, because almost all nouns ending in -a are
feminine; hortus, garden, is masculine, because nouns in -us of its
declension are mostly masculine, and so on. From such a system as this two
results are reasonably sure to follow. Where the gender of a noun in
literary Latin did not conform to these rules, in popular Latin it would
be brought into harmony with others of its class. Thus stigma, one of the
few neuter nouns in -a, and consequently assigned to the third declension,
was brought in popular speech into line with sella and the long list of
similar words in -a, was made feminine, and put in the first declension.
In the case of another class of words, analogy was supplemented by a
mechanical influence. We have noticed already that the tendency of the
stressed syllable in a word to absorb effort and attention led to the
obscuration of certain final consonants, because the final syllable was
never protected by the accent. Thus hortus in some parts of the Empire
became hortu in ordinary pronunciation, and the neuter caelum, heaven,
became caelu. The consequent identity in the ending led to a confusion in
the gender, and to the ultimate treatment of the word for "heaven" as a
masculine. These influences and others caused many changes in the gender
of nouns in popular speech, and in course of time brought about the
elimination of the neuter gender from the neo-Latin languages.

Something has been said already of the vocabulary of the common people. It
was naturally much smaller than that of cultivated people. Its poverty
made their style monotonous when they had occasion to express themselves
in writing, as one can see in reading St. Ætheria's account of her journey
to the Holy Land, and of course this impression of monotony is heightened
by such a writer's inability to vary the form of expression. Even within
its small range it differs from the vocabulary of formal Latin in three or
four important respects. It has no occasion, or little occasion, to use
certain words which a formal writer employs, or it uses substitutes for
them. So testa was used in part for caput, and bucca for os. On the other
hand, it employs certain words and phrases, for instance vulgar words and
expletives, which are not admitted into literature.

In its choice of words it shows a marked preference for certain suffixes
and prefixes. It would furnish an interesting excursion into folk
psychology to speculate on the reasons for this preference in one case and
another. Sometimes it is possible to make out the influence at work. In
reading a piece of popular Latin one is very likely to be impressed with
the large number of diminutives which are used, sometimes in the strict
sense of the primitive word. The frequency of this usage reminds one in
turn of the fact that not infrequently in the Romance languages the
corresponding words are diminutive forms in their origin, so that
evidently the diminutive in these cases crowded out the primitive word in
popular use, and has continued to our own day. The reason why the
diminutive ending was favored does not seem far to seek. That suffix
properly indicates that the object in question is smaller than the average
of its kind. Smallness in a child stimulates our affection, in a dwarf,
pity or aversion. Now we give expression to our emotion more readily in
the intercourse of every-day life than we do in writing, and the emotions
of the masses are perhaps nearer the surface and more readily stirred than
are those of the classes, and many things excite them which would leave
unruffled the feelings of those who are more conventional. The stirring of
these emotions finds expression in the use of the diminutive ending, which
indirectly, as we have seen, suggests sympathy, affection, pity, or
contempt. The ending -osus for adjectives was favored because of its
sonorous character. Certain prefixes, like de-, dis-, and ex-, were freely
used with verbs, because they strengthened the meaning of the verb, and
popular speech is inclined to emphasize its ideas unduly.

To speak further of derivation, in the matter of compounds and
crystallized word groups there are usually differences between a spoken
and written language. The written language is apt to establish certain
canons which the people do not observe. For instance, we avoid hybrid
compounds of Greek and Latin elements in the serious writing of English.
In formal Latin we notice the same objection to Greco-Latin words, and yet
in Plautus, and in other colloquial writers, such compounds are freely
used for comic effect. In a somewhat similar category belong the
combinations of two adverbs or prepositions, which one finds in the later
popular Latin, some of which have survived in the Romance languages. A
case in point is ab ante, which has come down to us in the Italian avanti
and the French avant. Such word-groups are of course debarred from formal

In examining the vocabulary of colloquial Latin, we have noticed its
comparative poverty, its need of certain words which are not required in
formal Latin, its preference for certain prefixes and suffixes, and its
willingness to violate certain rules, in forming compounds and
word-groups, which the written language scrupulously observes. It remains
for us to consider a third, and perhaps the most important, element of
difference between the vocabularies of the two forms of speech. I mean the
use of a word in vulgar Latin with another meaning from that which it has
in formal Latin. We are familiar enough with the different senses which a
word often has in conversational and in literary English. "Funny," for
instance, means "amusing" in formal English, but it is often the synonym
of "strange" in conversation. The sense of a word may be extended, or be
restricted, or there may be a transfer of meaning. In the colloquial use
of "funny" we have an extension of its literary sense. The same is true of
"splendid," "jolly," "lovely," and "awfully," and of such Latin words as
"lepidus," "probe," and "pulchre." When we speak of "a splendid sun," we
are using splendid in its proper sense of shining or bright, but when we
say, "a splendid fellow," the adjective is used as a general epithet
expressing admiration. On the other hand, when a man of a certain class
refers to his "woman," he is employing the word in the restricted sense of
"wife." Perhaps we should put in a third category that very large
colloquial use of words in a transferred or figurative sense, which is
illustrated by "to touch" or "to strike" when applied to success in
getting money from a person. Our current slang is characterized by the
free use of words in this figurative way.

Under the head of syntax we must content ourselves with speaking of only
two changes, but these were far-reaching. We have already noticed the
analytical tendency of preliterary Latin. This tendency was held in check,
as we have just observed, so far as verb forms were concerned, but in the
comparison of adjectives and in the use of the cases it steadily made
headway, and ultimately triumphed over the synthetical principle. The
method adopted by literary Latin of indicating the comparative and the
superlative degrees of an adjective, by adding the endings -ior and
-issimus respectively, succumbed in the end to the practice of prefixing
plus or magis and maxime to the positive form. To take another
illustration of the same characteristic of popular Latin, as early as the
time of Plautus, we see a tendency to adopt our modern method of
indicating the relation which a substantive bears to some other word in
the sentence by means of a preposition rather than by simply using a case
form. The careless Roman was inclined to say, for instance, magna pars de
exercitu, rather than to use the genitive case of the word for army, magna
pars exercitus. Perhaps it seemed to him to bring out the relation a
little more clearly or forcibly.

The use of a preposition to show the relation became almost a necessity
when certain final consonants became silent, because with their
disappearance, and the reduction of the vowels to a uniform quantity, it
was often difficult to distinguish between the cases. Since final -m was
lost in pronunciation, _Asia_ might be nominative, accusative, or
ablative. If you wished to say that something happened in Asia, it would
not suffice to use the simple ablative, because that form would have the
same pronunciation as the nominative or the accusative, Asia(m), but the
preposition must be prefixed, _in Asia_. Another factor cooperated with
those which have already been mentioned in bringing about the confusion of
the cases. Certain prepositions were used with the accusative to indicate
one relation, and with the ablative to suggest another. _In Asia_, for
instance, meant "in Asia," _in Asiam_, "into Asia." When the two case
forms became identical in pronunciation, the meaning of the phrase would
be determined by the verb in the sentence, so that with a verb of going
the preposition would mean "into," while with a verb of rest it would mean
"in." In other words the idea of motion or rest is disassociated from the
case forms. From the analogy of _in_ it was very easy to pass to other
prepositions like _per_, which in literary Latin took the accusative only,
and to use these prepositions also with cases which, historically
speaking, were ablatives.

In his heart of hearts the school-boy regards the periodic sentences which
Cicero hurled at Catiline, and which Livy used in telling the story of
Rome as unnatural and perverse. All the specious arguments which his
teacher urges upon him, to prove that the periodic form of expression was
just as natural to the Roman as the direct method is to us, fail to
convince him that he is not right in his feeling--and he _is_ right. Of
course in English, as a rule, the subject must precede the verb, the
object must follow it, and the adverb and attribute adjective must stand
before the words to which they belong. In the sentence: "Octavianus wished
Cicero to be saved," not a single change may be made in the order without
changing the sense, but in a language like Latin, where relations are
largely expressed by inflectional forms, almost any order is possible, so
that a writer may vary his arrangement and grouping of words to suit the
thought which he wishes to convey. But this is a different matter from
the construction of a period with its main subject at the beginning, its
main verb at the end, and all sorts of subordinate and modifying clauses
locked in by these two words. This was not the way in which the Romans
talked with one another. We can see that plainly enough from the
conversations in Plautus and Terence. In fact the Latin period is an
artificial product, brought to perfection by many generations of literary
workers, and the nearer we get to the Latin of the common people the more
natural the order and style seem to the English-speaking person. The
speech of the uneducated freedmen in the romance of Petronius is
interesting in this connection. They not only fail to use the period, but
they rarely subordinate one idea to another. Instead of saying "I saw him
when he was an ædile," they are likely to say "I saw him; he was an ædile

When we were analyzing preliterary Latin, we noticed that the
co-ordination of ideas was one of its characteristics, so that this trait
evidently persisted in popular speech, while literary Latin became more
logical and complex.

In the preceding pages we have tried to find out the main features of
popular Latin. In doing so we have constantly thought of literary Latin
as the foil or standard of comparison. Now, strangely enough, no sooner
had the literary medium of expression slowly and painfully disassociated
itself from the language of the common people than influences which it
could not resist brought it down again to the level of its humbler
brother. Its integrity depended of course upon the acceptance of certain
recognized standards. But when flourishing schools of literature sprang up
in Spain, in Africa, and in Gaul, the paramount authority of Rome and the
common standard for the Latin world which she had set were lost. When some
men tried to imitate Cicero and Quintilian, and others, Seneca, there
ceased to be a common model of excellence. Similarly a careful distinction
between the diction of prose and verse was gradually obliterated. There
was a loss of interest in literature, and professional writers gave less
attention to their diction and style. The appearance of Christianity, too,
exercised a profound influence on literary Latin. Christian writers and
preachers made their appeal to the common people rather than to the
literary world. They, therefore, expressed themselves in language which
would be readily understood by the average man, as St. Jerome frankly
tells us his purpose was. The result of these influences, and of others,
acting on literary Latin, was to destroy its unity and its carefully
developed scientific system, and to bring it nearer and nearer in its
genius to popular Latin, or, to put it in another way, the literary medium
comes to show many of the characteristics of the spoken language. Gregory
of Tours, writing in the sixth century, laments the fact that he is
unfamiliar with grammatical principles, and with this century literary
Latin may be said to disappear.

As for popular Latin, it has never ceased to exist. It is the language of
France, Spain, Italy, Roumania, and all the Romance countries to-day. Its
history has been unbroken from the founding of Rome to the present time.
Various scholars have tried to determine the date before which we shall
call the popular speech vulgar Latin, and after which it may better be
styled French or Spanish or Italian, as the case may be. Some would fix
the dividing line in the early part of the eighth century A.D., when
phonetic changes common to all parts of the Roman world would cease to
occur. Others would fix it at different periods between the middle of the
sixth to the middle of the seventh century, according as each section of
the old Roman world passed definitely under the control of its Germanic
invaders. The historical relations of literary and colloquial Latin would
be roughly indicated by the accompanying diagram, in which preliterary
Latin divides, on the appearance of literature in the third century B.C.,
into popular Latin and literary Latin. These two forms of speech develop
along independent lines until, in the sixth century, literary Latin is
merged in popular Latin and disappears. The unity for the Latin tongue
thus secured was short lived, because within a century the differentiation
begins which gives rise to the present-day Romance languages.

It may interest some of the readers of this chapter to look over a few
specimens of vulgar Latin from the various periods of its history.

(a) The first one is an extract from the Laws of the Twelve Tables. The
original document goes back to the middle of the fifth century B.C., and
shows us some of the characteristics of preliterary Latin. The
non-periodic form, the omission of pronouns, and the change of subject
without warning are especially noticeable.

"Si in ius vocat, ito. Ni it, antestamino, igitur em (=eum) capito. Si
calvitur pedemve struit, manum endo iacito (=inicito). Si morbus aevitasve
(=aetasve) vitium escit, iumentum dato: si nolet, arceram ne sternito."


1 Preliterary Latin.
2 Vulgar Latin
3 Literary Latin
4-8 The Romance languages.


(b) This passage from one of Cicero's letters to his brother (_ad Q.
fr._ 2, 3, 2) may illustrate the familiar conversational style of a
gentleman in the first century B.C. It describes an harangue made by the
politician Clodius to his partisans.

"Ille furens et exsanguis interrogabat suos in clamore ipso quis esset qui
plebem fame necaret. Respondebant operae: 'Pompeius.' Quem ire vellent.
Respondebant: 'Crassum.' Is aderat tum Miloni animo non amico. Hora fere
nona quasi signo dato Clodiani nostros consputare coeperunt. Exarsit
dolor. Vrgere illi ut loco nos moverent."

(c) In the following passage, Petronius, 57, one of the freedmen at
Trimalchio's dinner flames out in anger at a fellow-guest whose bearing
seems to him supercilious. It shows a great many of the characteristics of
vulgar Latin which have been mentioned in this paper. The similarity of
its style to that of the preliterary specimen is worth observing. The
great number of proverbs and bits of popular wisdom are also noticeable.

"Et nunc spero me sic vivere, ut nemini iocus sim. Homo inter homines sum,
capite aperto ambulo; assem aerarium nemini debeo; constitutum habui
nunquam; nemo mihi in foro dixit 'redde, quod debes.' Glebulas emi,
lamelullas paravi; viginti ventres pasco et canem; contubernalem meam
redemi, ne quis in sinu illius manus tergeret; mille denarios pro capite
solvi; sevir gratis factus sum; spero, sic moriar, ut mortuus non

(d) This short inscription from Pompeii shows some of the peculiarities
of popular pronunciation. In ortu we see the same difficulty in knowing
when to sound the aspirate which the cockney Englishman has. The silence
of the final -m, and the reduction of ae to e are also interesting. Presta
mi sinceru (=sincerum): si te amet que (=quae) custodit ortu (=hortum)

(e) Here follow some of the vulgar forms against which a grammarian,
probably of the fourth century, warns his readers. We notice that the
popular "mistakes" to which he calls attention are in (1) syncopation and
assimilation, in (2) the use of the diminutive for the primitive, and
pronouncing au as o, in (3) the same reduction of ct to t (or tt) which we
find in such Romance forms as Ottobre, in (4) the aspirate falsely added,
in (5) syncopation and the confusion of v and b, and in (6) the silence of
final -m.

(1) frigida non fricda
(2) auris non oricla
(3) auctoritas non autoritas
(4) ostiae non hostiae
(5) vapulo non baplo
(6) passim non passi

(f) The following passages are taken from Brunot's "Histoire de la
langue Fraçaise," p. 144. In the third column the opening sentence of the
famous Oath of Strasburg of 842 A.D. is given. In the other columns the
form which it would have taken at different periods is set down. These
passages bring out clearly the unbroken line of descent from Latin to
modern French.

The Oath of Strasburg of 842

Classic Latin

Per Dei amorem et
per christiani
populi et nostram
ab hac die, quantum
Deus scire
et posse mini
dat, servabo
hunc meum fratrem

Spoken Latin, Seventh Cent.

For deo amore et
por chrestyano
pob(o)lo et nostro
comune salvamento
de esto
die en avante
en quanto Deos
sabere et podere
me donat, sic
salvarayo eo
eccesto meon
fradre Karlo

Actual Text

Pro deo amur et
pro christian
poblo et nostro
commun salvament,
d'ist di
en avant, in
quant Deus
savir et podir
me dunat, si
salvarai eo cist
meon fradre

French, Eleventh Cent.

Por dieu amor et
por del crestüen
poeple et nostre
comun salvement,
de cest
jorn en avant,
quant que Dieus
saveir et podeir
me donet, si
salverai jo cest
mien fredre

French, Fifteenth Cent.

Pour l'amour
Dieu et pour le
sauvement du
chrestien peuple
et le nostre commun,
de cest
jour en avant,
quant que Dieu
savoir et pouvoir
me done,
si sauverai je
cest mien frere

Modern French

Pour l'amour de
Dieu et pour le
salut commun
du peuple chrétien
et le nôtre,
à partir de ce
jour, autant
que Dieu m'en
donne le savoir
et le pouvoir,
je soutiendrai
mon frère Charles

The Poetry of the Common People of Rome

I. Their Metrical Epitaphs

The old village churchyard on a summer afternoon is a favorite spot with
many of us. The absence of movement, contrasted with the life just outside
its walls, the drowsy humming of the bees in the flowers which grow at
will, the restful gray of the stones and the green of the moss give one a
feeling of peace and quiet, while the ancient dates and quaint lettering
in the inscriptions carry us far from the hurry and bustle and trivial
interests of present-day life. No sense of sadness touches us. The stories
which the stones tell are so far removed from us in point of time that
even those who grieved at the loss of the departed have long since
followed their friends, and when we read the bits of life history on the
crumbling monuments, we feel only that pleasurable emotion which, as
Cicero says in one of his letters, comes from our reading in history of
the little tragedies of men of the past. But the epitaph deals with the
common people, whom history is apt to forget, and gives us a glimpse of
their character, their doings, their beliefs, and their views of life and
death. They furnish us a simple and direct record of the life and the
aspirations of the average man, the record of a life not interpreted for
us by the biographer, historian, or novelist, but set down in all its
simplicity by one of the common people themselves.

These facts lend to the ancient Roman epitaphs their peculiar interest and
charm. They give us a glimpse into the every-day life of the people which
a Cicero, or a Virgil, or even a Horace cannot offer us. They must have
exerted an influence, too, on Roman character, which we with our changed
conditions can scarcely appreciate. We shall understand this fact if we
call to mind the differences between the ancient practices in the matter
of burial and our own. The village churchyard is with us a thing of the
past. Whether on sanitary grounds, or for the sake of quiet and seclusion,
in the interest of economy, or not to obtrude the thought of death upon
us, the modern cemetery is put outside of our towns, and the memorials in
it are rarely read by any of us. Our fathers did otherwise. The churchyard
of old England and of New England was in the middle of the village, and
"short cuts" from one part of the village to another led through its
enclosure. Perhaps it was this fact which tempted our ancestors to set
forth their life histories more fully than we do, who know that few, if
any, will come to read them. Or is the world getting more reserved and
sophisticated? Are we coming to put a greater restraint upon the
expression of our emotions? Do we hesitate more than our fathers did to
talk about ourselves? The ancient Romans were like our fathers in their
willingness or desire to tell us of themselves. Perhaps the differences in
their burial practices, which were mentioned above, tempted them to be
communicative, and sometimes even garrulous. They put their tombstones in
a spot still more frequented than the churchyard. They placed them by the
side of the highways, just outside the city walls, where people were
coming or going constantly. Along the Street of Tombs, as one goes out of
Pompeii, or along the great Appian Way, which runs from Rome to Capua,
Southern Italy and Brundisium, the port of departure for Greece and the
Orient, they stand on both sides of the roadway and make their mute
appeals for our attention. We know their like in the enclosure about old
Trinity in New York, in the burial ground in New Haven, or in the
churchyards across the water. They tell us not merely the date of birth
and death of the deceased, but they let us know enough of his life to
invest it with a certain individuality, and to give it a flavor of its

Some 40,000 of them have come down to us, and nearly 2,000 of the
inscriptions upon them are metrical. This particular group is of special
interest to us, because the use of verse seems to tempt the engraver to go
beyond a bare statement of facts and to philosophize a bit about the
present and the future. Those who lie beneath the stones still claim some
recognition from the living, for they often call upon the passer-by to
halt and read their epitaphs, and as the Roman walked along the Appian Way
two thousand years ago, or as we stroll along the same highway to-day, it
is in silent converse with the dead. Sometimes the stone itself addresses
us, as does that of Olus Granius:[22] "This mute stone begs thee to stop,
stranger, until it has disclosed its mission and told thee whose shade it
covers. Here lie the bones of a man, modest, honest, and trusty--the
crier, Olus Granius. That is all. It wanted thee not to be unaware of
this. Fare thee well." This craving for the attention of the passer-by
leads the composer of one epitaph to use somewhat the same device which
our advertisers employ in the street-cars when they say: "Do not look at
this spot," for he writes: "Turn not your eyes this way and wish not to
learn our fate," but two lines later, relenting, he adds: "Now stop,
traveller...within this narrow resting-place,"[23] and then we get the
whole story. Sometimes a dramatic, lifelike touch is given by putting the
inscription into the form of a dialogue between the dead and those who are
left behind. Upon a stone found near Rome runs the inscription:[24]
"Hail, name dear to us, Stephanus,...thy Moschis and thy Diodorus salute
thee." To which the dead man replies: "Hail chaste wife, hail Diodorus,
my friend, my brother." The dead man often begs for a pleasant word from
the passer-by. The Romans, for instance, who left Ostia by the highway,
read upon a stone the sentiment:[25] "May it go well with you who lie
within and, as for you who go your way and read these lines, 'the earth
rest lightly on thee' say." This pious salutation loses some of the flavor
of spontaneity in our eyes when we find that it had become so much of a
convention as to be indicated by the initial letters of the several words:
S(it) t(ibi) t(erra) l(evis). The traveller and the departed exchange good
wishes on a stone found near Velitræ:[26]

"May it go well with you who read and you who pass this way,
The like to mine and me who on this spot my tomb have built."

One class of passers-by was dreaded by the dweller beneath the stone--the
man with a paint-brush who was looking for a conspicuous spot on which to
paint the name of his favorite political candidate. To such an one the
hope is expressed "that his ambition may be realized, provided he
instructs his slave not to paint this stone."[27]

These wayside epitaphs must have left an impress on the mind and character
of the Roman which we can scarcely appreciate. The peasant read them as he
trudged homeward on market days, the gentleman, as he drove to his villa
on the countryside, and the traveller who came from the South, the East,
or the North. In them the history of his country was set forth in the
achievements of her great men, her prætors and consuls, her generals who
had conquered and her governors who had ruled Gaul, Spain, Africa, and
Asia. In them the public services, and the deeds of charity of the rich
and powerful were recorded and the homely virtues and self-sacrifices of
the humbler man and woman found expression there. Check by jowl with the
tomb of some great leader upon whom the people or the emperor had showered
all the titles and honors in their power might stand the stone of the poor
physician, Dionysius,[28] of whom it is said "to all the sick who came to
him he gave his services free of charge; he set forth in his deeds what he
taught in his precepts."

But perhaps more of the inscriptions in verse, and with them we are here
concerned, are in praise of women than of men. They make clear to us the
place which women held in Roman life, the state of society, and the
feminine qualities which were held in most esteem. The world which they
portray is quite another from that of Ovid and Juvenal. The common people
still hold to the old standards of morality and duty. The degeneracy of
smart society has made little progress here. The marriage tie is held
sacred; the wife and husband, the parent and child are held close to each
other in bonds of affection. The virtues of women are those which
Martinianus records on the stone of his wife Sofroniola:[29]

"Purity, loyalty, affection, a sense of duty, a yielding nature, and
whatever qualities God has implanted in women."

(Castitas fides earitas pietas obsequium Et quaecumque deus faemenis
inesse praecepit.)

Upon a stone near Turin,[30] Valerius wrote in memory of his wife the
simple line:

"Pure in heart, modest, of seemly bearing, discreet, noble-minded, and
held in high esteem."

(Casta pudica decens sapiens Generosa probata.)

Only one discordant note is struck in this chorus of praise. This fierce
invective stands upon an altar at Rome:[31] "Here for all time has been
set down in writing the shameful record of the freedwoman Acte, of
poisoned mind, and treacherous, cunning, and hard-hearted. Oh! for a nail,
and a hempen rope to choke her, and flaming pitch to burn up her wicked

A double tribute is paid to a certain Statilia in this naïve
inscription:[32] "Thou who wert beautiful beyond measure and true to thy
husbands, didst twice enter the bonds of wedlock...and he who came first,
had he been able to withstand the fates, would have set up this stone to
thee, while I, alas! who have been blessed by thy pure heart and love for
thee for sixteen years, lo! now I have lost thee." Still greater sticklers
for the truth at the expense of convention are two fond husbands who
borrowed a pretty couplet composed in memory of some woman "of tender
age," and then substituted upon the monuments of their wives the more
truthful phrase "of middle age,"[33] and another man warns women, from the
fate of his wife, to shun the excessive use of jewels.[34]

It was only natural that when men came to the end of life they should ask
themselves its meaning, should speculate upon the state after death, and
should turn their thoughts to the powers which controlled their destiny.
We have been accustomed to form our conceptions of the religion of the
Romans from what their philosophers and moralists and poets have written
about it. But a great chasm lies between the teachings of these men and
the beliefs of the common people. Only from a study of the epitaphs do we
know what the average Roman thought and felt on this subject. A few years
ago Professor Harkness, in an admirable article on "The Scepticism and
Fatalism of the Common People of Rome," showed that "the common people
placed no faith in the gods who occupy so prominent a place in Roman
literature, and that their nearest approach to belief in a divinity was
their recognition of fate," which "seldom appears as a fixed law of
nature...but rather as a blind necessity, depending on chance and not on
law." The gods are mentioned by name in the poetic epitaphs only, and for
poetic purposes, and even here only one in fifty of the metrical
inscriptions contains a direct reference to any supernatural power. For
none of these deities, save for Mother Earth, does the writer of an
epitaph show any affection. This feeling one may see in the couplet which
reads:[35] "Mother Earth, to thee have we committed the bones of
Fortunata, to thee who dost come near to thy children as a mother," and
Professor Harkness thoughtfully remarks in this connection that "the love
of nature and appreciation of its beauties, which form a distinguishing
characteristic of Roman literature in contrast to all the other
literatures of antiquity, are the outgrowth of this feeling of kinship
which the Italians entertained for mother earth."

It is a little surprising, to us on first thought, that the Roman did not
interpose some concrete personalities between himself and this vague
conception of fate, some personal agencies, at least, to carry out the
decrees of destiny. But it will not seem so strange after all when we
recall the fact that the deities of the early Italians were without form
or substance. The anthropomorphic teachings of Greek literature, art, and
religion found an echo in the Jupiter and Juno, the Hercules and Pan of
Virgil and Horace, but made no impress on the faith of the common people,
who, with that regard for tradition which characterized the Romans,
followed the fathers in their way of thinking.

A disbelief in personal gods hardly accords with faith in a life after
death, but most of the Romans believed in an existence of some sort in the
world beyond. A Dutch scholar has lately established this fact beyond
reasonable doubt, by a careful study of the epitaphs in verse.[36] One
tombstone reads:[37]

"Into nothing from nothing how quickly we go,"

and another:[38]

"Once we were not, now we are as we were,"

and the sentiment, "I was not, I was, I am not, I care not" (non fui, fui,
non sum, non euro) was so freely used that it is indicated now and then
merely by the initial letters N.f.f.n.s.n.c., but compared with the great
number of inscriptions in which belief in a life after death finds
expression such utterances are few. But how and where that life was to be
passed the Romans were in doubt. We have noticed above how little the
common people accepted the belief of the poets in Jupiter and Pluto and
the other gods, or rather how little their theology had been influenced by
Greek art and literature. In their conception of the place of abode after
death, it is otherwise. Many of them believe with Virgil that it lies
below the earth. As one of them says in his epitaph:[39]

"No sorrow to the world below I bring."

Or with other poets the departed are thought of as dwelling in the Elysian
fields or the Isles of the Blessed. As one stone cries out to the
passer-by:[40] "May you live who shall have said. 'She lives in Elysium,'"
and of a little girl it is said:[41] "May thy shade flower in fields
Elysian." Sometimes the soul goes to the sky or the stars: "Here lies the
body of the bard Laberius, for his spirit has gone to the place from
which it came;"[42] "The tomb holds my limbs, my soul shall pass to the
stars of heaven."[43] But more frequently the departed dwell in the tomb.
As one of them expresses it: "This is my eternal home; here have I been
placed; here shall I be for aye." This belief that the shade hovers about
the tomb accounts for the salutations addressed to it which we have
noticed above, and for the food and flowers which are brought to satisfy
its appetites and tastes. These tributes to the dead do not seem to accord
with the current Roman belief that the body was dissolved to dust, and
that the soul was clothed with some incorporeal form, but the Romans were
no more consistent in their eschatology than many of us are.

Perhaps it was this vague conception of the state after death which
deprived the Roman of that exultant joy in anticipation of the world
beyond which the devout Christian, a hundred years or more ago, expressed
in his epitaphs, with the Golden City so clearly pictured to his eye, and
by way of compensation the Roman was saved from the dread of death, for
no judgment-seat confronted him in the other world. The end of life was
awaited with reasonable composure. Sometimes death was welcomed because it
brought rest. As a citizen of Lambsesis expresses it:[44] "Here is my home
forever; here is a rest from toil;" and upon a woman's stone we read:[45]

"Whither hast thou gone, dear soul, seeking rest from troubles,
For what else than trouble hast thou had throughout thy life?"

But this pessimistic view of life rarely appears on the monuments. Not
infrequently the departed expresses a certain satisfaction with his life's
record, as does a citizen of Beneventum, who remarks:[46] "No man have I
wronged, to many have I rendered services," or he tells us of the pleasure
which he has found in the good things of life, and advises us to enjoy
them. A Spanish epitaph reads:[47] "Eat, drink, enjoy thyself, follow me"
(es bibe lude veni). In a lighter or more garrulous vein another says:[48]
"Come, friends, let us enjoy the happy time of life; let us dine merrily,
while short life lasts, mellow with wine, in jocund intercourse. All
these about us did the same while they were living. They gave, received,
and enjoyed good things while they lived. And let us imitate the practices
of the fathers. Live while you live, and begrudge nothing to the dear soul
which Heaven has given you." This philosophy of life is expressed very
succinctly in: "What I have eaten and drunk I have with me; what I have
foregone I have lost,"[49] and still more concretely in:

"Wine and amours and baths weaken our bodily health,
Yet life is made up of wine and amours and baths."[50]

Under the statue of a man reclining and holding a cup in his hand, Flavius
Agricola writes:[51] "Tibur was my native place; I was called Agricola,
Flavius too.... I who lie here as you see me. And in the world above in
the years which the fates granted, I cherished my dear soul, nor did the
god of wine e'er fail me.... Ye friends who read this, I bid you mix your
wine, and before death comes, crown your temples with flowers, and
drink.... All the rest the earth and fire consume after death." Probably
we should be wrong in tracing to the teachings of Epicurus, even in their
vulgarized popular form, the theory that the value of life is to be
estimated by the material pleasure it has to offer. A man's theory of life
is largely a matter of temperament or constitution. He may find support
for it in the teachings of philosophy, but he is apt to choose a
philosophy which suits his way of thinking rather than to let his views of
life be determined by abstract philosophic teachings. The men whose
epitaphs we have just read would probably have been hedonists if Epicurus
had never lived. It is interesting to note in passing that holding this
conception of life naturally presupposes the acceptance of one of the
notions of death which we considered above--that it ends all.

In another connection, a year or two ago, I had occasion to speak of the
literary merit of some of these metrical epitaphs,[52] of their interest
for us as specimens of the literary compositions of the common people, and
of their value in indicating the æsthetic taste of the average Roman. It
may not be without interest here to speak of the literary form of some of
them a little more at length than was possible in that connection. Latin
has always been, and continues to be among modern peoples, a favored
language for epitaphs and dedications. The reasons why it holds its
favored position are not far to seek. It is vigorous and concise. Then
again in English and in most modern languages the order which words may
take in a given sentence is in most cases inexorably fixed by grammatical
necessity. It was not so with Latin. Its highly inflected character made
it possible, as we know, to arrange the words which convey an idea in
various orders, and these different groupings of the same words gave
different shades of meaning to the sentence, and different emotional
effects are secured by changing the sequence in which the minor
conceptions are presented. By putting contrasted words side by side, or at
corresponding points in the sentence, the impression is heightened. When a
composition takes the form of verse the possibilities in the way of
contrast are largely increased. The high degree of perfection to which
Horace brought the balancing and interlocking of ideas in some of his
Odes, illustrates the great advantage which the Latin poet had over the
English writer because of the flexibility of the medium of expression
which he used. This advantage was the Roman's birthright, and lends a
certain distinction even to the verses of the people, which we are
discussing here. Certain other stylistic qualities of these metrical
epitaphs, which are intended to produce somewhat the same effects, will
not seem to us so admirable. I mean alliteration, play upon words, the
acrostic arrangement, and epigrammatic effects. These literary tricks find
little place in our serious verse, and the finer Latin poets rarely
indulge in them. They seem to be especially out of place in an epitaph,
which should avoid studied effects and meretricious devices. But writers
in the early stages of a literature and common people of all periods find
a pleasure in them. Alliteration, onomatopœia, the pun, and the play on
words are to be found in all the early Latin poets, and they are
especially frequent with literary men like Plautus and Terence, Pacuvius
and Accius, who wrote for the stage, and therefore for the common people.
One or two illustrations of the use of these literary devices may be
sufficient. A little girl at Rome, who died when five years old, bore the
strange name of Mater, or Mother, and on her tombstone stands the
sentiment:[53] "Mater I was by name, mater I shall not be by law."
"Sepulcrum hau pulcrum pulcrai feminae" of the famous Claudia
inscription,[54] Professor Lane cleverly rendered "Site not sightly of a
sightly dame." Quite beyond my power of translating into English, so as to
reproduce its complicated play on words, is the appropriate epitaph of the
rhetorician, Romanius lovinus:[55]

"Docta loqui doctus quique loqui docuit."

A great variety of verses is used in the epitaphs, but the dactylic
hexameter and the elegiac are the favorites. The stately character of the
hexameter makes it a suitable medium in which to express a serious
sentiment, while the sudden break in the second verse of the elegiac
couplet suggests the emotion of the writer. The verses are constructed
with considerable regard for technique. Now and then there is a false
quantity, an unpleasant sequence, or a heavy effect, but such blemishes
are comparatively infrequent. There is much that is trivial, commonplace,
and prosaic in these productions of the common people, but now and then
one comes upon a phrase, a verse, or a whole poem which shows strength or
grace or pathos. An orator of the late period, not without vigor, writes
upon his tombstone:[56] "I have lived blessed by the gods, by friends, by

(Vixi beatus dis, amicis, literis.)

A rather pretty, though not unusual, sentiment occurs in an elegiac
couplet to a young girl,[57] in which the word amoena is the adjective,
meaning "pleasant to see," in the first, while in the second verse it is
the girl's name: "As a rose is amoena when it blooms in the early spring
time, so was I Amoena to those who saw me."

(Ut rosa amoena homini est quom primo tempore floret.
Quei me viderunt, seic Amoena fui.)

There is a touch of pathos in the inscription which a mother put on the
stone of her son:[58] "A sorrowing mother has set up this monument to a
son who has never caused her any sorrow, except that he is no more," and
in this tribute of a husband:[59] "Out of my slender means now that the
end has come, my wife, all that I could do, this gift, a small small one
for thy deserts, have I made." The epitaph of a little girl, named
Felicia, or Kitty, has this sentiment in graceful verse:[60] "Rest lightly
upon thee the earth, and over thy grave the fragrant balsam grow, and
roses sweet entwine thy buried bones." Upon the stone of a little girl who
bore the name of Xanthippe, and the nickname Iaia, is an inscription with
one of two pretty conceits and phrases. With it we may properly bring to
an end our brief survey of these verses of the common people of Rome. In a
somewhat free rendering it reads in part:[61] "Whether the thought of
death distress thee or of life, read to the end. Xanthippe by name, yclept
also Iaia by way of jest, escapes from sorrow since her soul from the body
flies. She rests here in the soft cradle of the earth,... comely,
charming, keen of mind, gay in discourse. If there be aught of compassion
in the gods above, bear her to the sun and light."

II. Their Dedicatory and Ephemeral Verses

In the last paper we took up for consideration some of the Roman metrical
epitaphs. These compositions, however, do not include all the productions
in verse of the common people of Rome. On temples, altars, bridges,
statues, and house walls, now and then, we find bits of verse. Most of the
extant dedicatory lines are in honor of Hercules, Silvanus, Priapus, and
the Cæsars. Whether the two famous inscriptions to Hercules by the sons of
Vertuleius and by Mummius belong here or not it is hard to say. At all
events, they were probably composed by amateurs, and have a peculiar
interest for us because they belong to the second century B.C., and
therefore stand near the beginning of Latin letters; they show us the
language before it had been perfected and adapted to literary purposes by
an Ennius, a Virgil, and a Horace, and they are written in the old native
Saturnian verse, into which Livius Andronicus, "the Father of Latin
literature," translated the Odyssey. Consequently they show us the
language before it had gained in polish and lost in vigor under the
influence of the Greeks. The second of these two little poems is a
finger-post, in fact, at the parting of the ways for Roman civilization.
It was upon a tablet let into the wall of the temple of Hercules, and
commemorates the triumphant return to Rome of Mummius, the conqueror of
Corinth. It points back to the good old days of Roman contempt for Greek
art, and ignorance of it, for Mummius, in his stupid indifference to the
beautiful monuments of Corinth, made himself the typical Philistine for
all time. It points forward to the new Greco-Roman civilization of Italy,
because the works of art which Mummius is said to have brought back with
him, and the Greeks who probably followed in his train, augmented that
stream of Greek influence which in the next century or two swept through
the peninsula.

In the same primitive metre as these dedications is the Song of the Arval
Brothers, which was found engraved on a stone in the grove of the goddess
Dea Dia, a few miles outside of Rome. This hymn the priests sang at the
May festival of the goddess, when the farmers brought them the first
fruits of the earth. It has no intrinsic literary merit, but it carries us
back beyond the great wars with Carthage for supremacy in the western
Mediterranean, beyond the contest with Pyrrhus for overlordship in
Southern Italy, beyond the struggle for life with the Samnites in Central
Italy, beyond even the founding of the city on the Tiber, to a people who
lived by tilling the soil and tending their flocks and herds.

But we have turned away from the dedicatory verses. On the bridges which
span our streams we sometimes record the names of the commissioners or the
engineers, or the bridge builders responsible for the structure. Perhaps


Back to Full Books