Latin inscription
Latin inscription


Latin is a language of the Italic branch of the Indo-European linguistic family that was spoken in ancient Rome and later in the Middle Ages and the Modern Age, even reaching the Contemporary Age, as it remained a scientific language until the 19th century. Its name derives from a geographical area of ​​the Italian peninsula where Rome developed: Lazio (Latium in Latin).

It ended up being imposed in Rome (each city of Lazio had its own language) because of its early hegemony in the region. This “Roman” Latin spread as the domininance of Rome was imposed, first in Italy, then in the countries bordering the Western Mediterranean, to finally cover the central Europe, from the British Isles to Romania.

It was the official language of the Roman Empire along with the Greek language. In Latin, inflexion (alteration experienced by words through morphemes) dominated through suffixes.

Latin was the origin of a large number of European languages, called romances, such as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, Catalan, Galician, Walloon, Occitan, Asturian and Aragonese. After the fall of the Roman Empire, it continued to be used as a lingua franca (a vehicular language for certain matters of convenience rather than by legal imposition) for science and politics.

The Catholic Church uses it as an official language, although in the liturgy since the Second Vatican Council, vernacular languages ​​are allowed.

It is also used in the world of law, totally or partially.


The history of Latin begins in the 8th century BC and it continues until the Middle Ages, being able to distinguish the following periods:

ARCHAIC: Used until Rome comes into contact with educated Greece (8th century BC-2nd century BC).

CLASSICAL: It is the Golden Age, it is a time of political, economic and cultural changes: of this period are the great classical authors (Cicero, Livy, Ovid, Julius Caesar, etc.).

POSTCLASSICAL: Romance languages ​​are born (they were born from the evolution of Vulgar Latin). These languages ​​formed different groups or families:

-Ibero-Romance, Sardinian, Occitano-Romance, Gallo-Romance, Rhaeto-Romance, Gallo-italic, Italo-Dalmatian, Balkan-Romance.

LATE: Used by the Fathers of the Church. Thus they abandoned the Vulgar Latin used by the early Christians.

MEDIEVAL: Latin is no longer spoken, it takes refuge in the Church, in the Court, and in the school. It is the language used by intellectuals. The Romance languages ​​begin to appear.

RENAISSANCE: Humanists turn to Classical Antiquity and its use takes on new strength. Petrarch, Erasmus, Luis Vives, and Nebrija (among others) use it in addition to their own languages.

SCIENTIST: Latin only survives in scientific writers.

Writing objects
Writing objects
Pompeii electoral poster
Pompeii electoral poster


It is the “spoken” Latin, the current, the popular. It is a language in continuous evolution and with dialectal differences between the regions of Italy, and even more between the different provinces of the Empire (thus, for example, one can talk about a “Hispanic”, “Gallic”, “African” Latin, etc.). When the Empire broke down and the Middle Ages began, the evolution and fragmentation of the language, partly equal and partly different from traditional Latin, in the 9th century began to be called “lingua romana rustica“, from which the name of Romance languages ​​or romances comes to denominate the diverse national languages ​​to that it gave rise. However, a lot of the differences between these and literary Latin had already begun in Vulgar Latin.


From the 3rd century BC Literature begins in Latin and, with it, literary Latin, cult, written. After a first period of formation that takes place in the first century BC, literary Latin, already fixed in the first grammars, became one of the great literary languages ​​of antiquity (“classical” languages), and as such, unlike the Vulgar Latin, it remains practically unaltered and unified through the centuries. Authors such as Cicero, Virgil and Tacitus, among others, attest to this in different periods of antiquity. In later times, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Petrarch, etc.

This cultured Latin, besides being the language of literature in the strict sense, was the language in which all the Roman cultural legacy was transmitted: law, science, linguistics, philosophy, etc.

The character of vehicle of universal expression of the culture, first Roman and European later, caused that the Latin was present in the studies of the average and superior levels of all the civilized countries during centuries. The presence in the studies has also been preeminent until not long ago.

To this cause it is also due that all the Romance languages, have seen enriched their vocabulary with a great number of words of Latin root (cultisms). Likewise it can be seen in many of these languages ​​the maintenance of the habitual use of Latin expressions, not only in the cultured level of the language but also many of them in the colloquial level.


The Romans produced a large number of books of poetry, comedy, tragedy, satire, history and rhetoric. Time after the Western Roman Empire had fallen, the Latin language continued playing a very important role in Western European culture.

The period of Classical Latin, when Latin literature is at its peak, is divided into the Golden Age, which covers approximately the beginning of the 1st century BC until the middle of the 1st century AD and the Silver Age, which extends until the 2nd century AD. Latin literature after the middle of the 2nd century is commonly ignored.

Let’s see some outstanding writers:

1st Stage: Pre-Classical

  • POETRY: Ennius.
  • TRAGEDY: Lucius Accius.
  • COMEDY: Terence, Plautus.

2nd Stage: Golden Age

  • POETRY: Lucretius, Catulus, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Lucan.
  • PROSE: Cicero, Julius Caesar.
  • HISTORY: Salustius, Livy, Nepos.

3rd Stage: Silver Age

  • POETRY: Martial, Manilius.
  • PROSE: Petronius, Quintilianus, Apuleius, Seneca, Ascanius.
  • THEATRE: Seneca.
  • SATIRE: Persius, Juvenal.
  • HISTORY: Tacitus, Suetonius.
Pompeii Forum
Pompeii Forum



The set of forms that can have the same word according to its case is called the flexion paradigm. The flexion paradigms of nouns and adjectives are called declensions, while those of verbs are called conjugations. The names and adjectives are grouped into five declensions, while the verbs are grouped into four basic types of conjugations.


In Latin, the noun, the adjective and the pronoun take various forms according to their syntactic function in the sentence, which according to the grammatical cases, are called:

1. Nominative: Used when the noun is the subject of the sentence.

2. Genitive: Indicates the characteristics of the name.

3. Dative: Used to indicate the indirect object.

4. Accusative: Used when the noun is the direct object of the phrase.

5. Vocative: Identifies the person to whom the speaker is speaking.

6. Ablative: Denotes movement from a place.

The Adjective has the same forms, since it agrees with the noun in Gender, Number and Case.


The Verbs have 4 Conjugations and are recognized by the 2nd person of the singular of the Present Indicative. E.g. amas

Latin verbs express the grammatical accidents of person, number, voice, time, aspect and manner by the basic procedure of adding suffixes and endings to the verbal subject.

-The persons are: first, second and third.

-The numbers are: singular and plural (unlike other Indo-European languages, Latin lacks the DUAL number).

-The voices are: Active and passive (unlike the Greek, Latin lacks MIDDLE voice).

-The modes/moods are grouped into PERSONAL (Indicative, Subjunctive, and Imperative) and NOT PERSONAL (Infinitive, Participle, Gerund, Gerundive and Supine).

-The verb tenses are:

1. Indicative.- Present, Perfect, Imperfect, Pluperfect, Future and Future Perfect.

2. Subjunctive.- It lacks both futures.

3. Imperative.- Present and Future.

4. Infinitive.- Present, Past and Future.

5. Participle.- Present, Past and Future.

The Latin verb is enunciated with the first and second person of the singular of the Present Indicative, with the Present Infinitive, with the first person of Present Perfect Indicative and with the Supine.


1st Conjugation, stem in A:

Amo – amas – amare – amavi – amatum.

2nd Conjugation, stem in E:

Habeo – habes – habere – habui – habitum.

3rd Conjugation, stem in Consonant:

Rego – regis – regere – rexi – rectum.

4th Conjugation, stem in I:

Audio – audis – audire – audivi – auditum.


The purpose of the Syntax is to organize the parts of the speech according to the rules of the language to correctly express the message.

The Agreement, which is a system of rules of grammatical accidents, in Latin affects gender, number, case and person. The agreements are: Adjective / Noun or Verb / Noun. See the example “Animus aequus optimum est aerumnae condimentum (“An equally good mood is the condiment of misery”).



It is any direct derivation of the alphabet used by the Romans. Originally they only used 23 letters and did not have either the “U” or the “J”. The letters were capital letters and did not leave spaces between words.

The Romans took 21 letters out of the 26 that the Etruscan alphabet had. This, in turn, was based on a Greek alphabet used in Magna Grecia, in southern Italy. And the Greek drank from the Phoenician alphabet.

In the original Roman alphabet, the “C” represented “G” and “K”, the “I” represented “I” and “J”, and the “V” represented “U” and “V”.

At the moment it is the alphabetic system more used in the world with more than 2.500 million people.



They come from the Etruscans. They use a system of capital letters being granted values. It is based on an additive system (each value is added to the next value), although later it also evolved into a subtractive one (some values ​​placed before others subtract) which differentiates it from the Etruscan besides using other symbols.

The main numbers from which, through their combination, the others are generated are:

I: 1 (unus)

V: 5 (quinque)

X: 10 (decem)

L: 50 (quinquaginta)

C: 100 (centum)

D: 500 (quingenti)

M: 1000 (mille)

Pompeii wall writing
Pompeii wall writing

Author: Valentín Ortiz Juez

Colaborator: Eduardo Ortiz Pardina