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.)

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    One point to consider is that his family came from Iberia, though Marcus was born in Rome. The question is what speech varieties he was exposed to, and which ones had an influence on his Latin pronunciation. Also, it is very likely that he would have spoken several different lects of Latin (as well as of Greek) in different contexts, to different people. That's what happens when only a thin veneer of the culture is literate and everybody else speaks whatever works.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 2:38
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    @jlawler Yeah, I mention that in my post actually. :-) Most people tend to be influenced predominantly by their general environment more than their parents however, in the long run, and M.A. had training in rhetoric, philosophy, and other things from a young age (albeit mainly from Roman Greek scholars I believe).
    – Noldorin
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 2:46
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    Welcome to the Latin site!
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 5:18
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    Nice to see new people here. You have an interesting question! Unless an answer is posted shortly, I will consult Vox Latina when I get back home and see if he has any comments on 2nd century Latin.
    – Canned Man
    Commented Jul 9, 2019 at 6:46
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    No answer yet... Vox Latina sounds like a very interesting book, so that would be great.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Jul 10, 2019 at 15:39

1 Answer 1


For the most part, the upper classes in Rome still spoke Classical Latin in the 2nd century AD.

Features in common with Classical Latin

  • c - hard, as /k/. The softening came much later.
  • g - hard, as /g/ (although whether it was still /ŋ/ before "n", or had become a simple /g/ there too by this time, is unclear).
  • h - the educated élite probably still pronounced it, at least in careful speech.
  • i - still /j/ as a consonant.

Likely change: consonantal u

  • It's likely that by this point, consonantal "u" was no longer /w/ and was realised either as [v] or more likely [β].

Likely change: vowels

  • By sometime in the 2nd c. AD Velius Longus observed a qualitative difference between long and short "i". This suggests that Latin short "ĭ" and long "ē" had already started their convergence towards Romance [ẹ], while "ī" remained [i].

Possible change: diphthongs

  • ae - unclear whether it was still /ae/ or had become /e/ at this point.
  • au - would have become /a/ in unstressed syllables, but might still have been /au/ in stressed syllables.

The above observations are deduced or inferred from Allen, Vox Latina.

  • 1
    Thanks, that’s interesting.
    – Noldorin
    Commented Aug 22, 2020 at 19:04

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