It is my understanding that Julius Caesar, Cicero, Octavian (Augustus) would have pronounced Latin in a manner that is decidedly Classical, characterised by:
- "v" as /w/
- "c" and "g" always hard (i.e., /k/ and /g/)
- both long and short vowels
- "ae" diphthong as /ae̯/
- consonantal "i" as /j/
(All these points distinguishing it from Vulgar and Ecclesiastical Latin pronunciation.)
I also understand that Vulgar Latin pronunciation started to develop around the first century BC as well, but took a long time to become the standard for the upper classes. I have heard it was standard even among the patricians and senators by the early 5th century, but quite possibly earlier.
My question relates to Marcus Aurelius (121–180), and how he and others of the higher echelons of Roman society would have spoken Latin. Of course, Marcus Aurelius grew up in Rome, so he would most likely have had a very orthodox pronunciation/accent for the time, despite his provincial heritage (from southern Hispania). Would his pronunciation likely have been totally Classical, like that of Caesar or Augustus, or would it already be showing signs of "vulgarisation"? How late did this "correct" Classical pronunciation persist amongst the highest classes during the Imperial period?
(Incidentally, I presume that Marcus Aurelius' usage of grammar and vocabulary – and probably spelling too – would all have been very much Classical/Ciceronian in any case.)