What is the difference, if any, between using apud with the name of a town, and using the locative form of that name?

Reading Suetonius Tiberius 40, I noticed this usage:

statimque reuocante assidua obtestatione populo propter cladem, qua apud Fidenas supra uiginti hominum milia gladiatorio munere amphitheatri ruina perierant, transiit in continentem

My first thought was that this might mean "near Fidenae", but presumably the amphitheater would be in the town; and Alexander Thomson translates: "But immediately, the people of Rome being extremely clamorous for his return, on account of a disaster at Fidenae, where upwards of twenty thousand persons had been killed by the fall of the amphitheatre, during a public spectacle of gladiators, he crossed over again to the continent". So is there no difference between this and the locative Fidenis (which is found in Cicero and elsewhere)?

As another data point, Tacitus, recounting the same event, also uses apud (though with a singular form of the place name): "nam coepto apud Fidenam amphitheatro Atilius quidam libertini generis..."

Lewis and Short (section II B of the entry) give a definition of apud as "At, in = in with abl. or gen. or abl. of place", which seems to imply it can also be equivalent to a locative.

So is apud with a place name completely equivalent to a locative, or is there any difference at all, whether in meaning, style, or author/period-specific preferences?

  • 1
    Good question. I think there is considerable overlap, as the examples in L&S after "At, in = in with abl. or gen. or abl. of place" suggest. So it can mean simply at, but also near. Perhaps the amphitheatre was normally outside the city walls, so it was technically not in between the houses?
    – Cerberus
    Jul 20, 2016 at 2:49
  • Speculation: Could apud Fidenas mean more "among the people of Findenae" than "in Fidenae"? I read this tone in it, but I'm not sure if it's supposed to be there.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jul 20, 2016 at 11:52
  • @JoonasIlmavirta, surely that would be apud Fidenates?
    – TKR
    Jul 20, 2016 at 17:53
  • @TKR, that would be a more literal way to say so. But somehow I read that tone in apud Fidenas as well. It might be because I'm more used to seeing apud with people or groups of people.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Jul 20, 2016 at 18:00

1 Answer 1


In classical Latin, town names wanted the original case-only form. So we usually find passages like Caesar, BC, 1, 24, 1:

Pompeius Luceria proficiscitur Canusium

Prepositions could also be used, though, usually to increase precision, that is to clearly distinguish between movement towards place, movement from place, or stasis. Confusion happened, for example, because the locative for 3rd decl. and 1/2nd plural decl. was identical to the ablative: so stasis, which wanted the simple locative, was often identical to movement from place, which wanted the simple ablative.

By using the preposition instead they could not only clearly distinguish between the three main categories of place, they could also give different nuances depending of the particular preposition they used (yes, I am in this city with my army: but just ante or circum with my army? or I'm already intra?), just like they already did with generic names of place (oppidum).

This shift to prepositions already happened in Old Latin, such as in Plautus, Ep. 53:

apud Thebas

But it became increasingly mainstream following on the same path that lead Latin to lose its case system: the main cause of which was most probably this same need for clarity (disambiguation: is it locative or ablative? locative or accusative? accusative of what? and so on) and precision.

At the times of Suetonius and Tacitus the use of the simple case-only form was already reduced to "a literary elegantia that everyday language sacrificed to clarity" (Ernout-Thomas, Syntaxe Latine, par. 131 – this is the best book on historical syntax of Latin, by the way) by using prepositions.

By the way, in Old and Classical Latin you could also frequently find a preposition with names of Greek towns (Plautus uses both in Epheso and Ephesi): this was a direct influx from the Greek expression, which used the preposition.

  • 2
    +1 When you say to "increase precision," do you mean to distinguish ablative from locative or to make their syntactical function clearer (e.g. not confuse accusative of motion for D.O.)?
    – brianpck
    Sep 24, 2016 at 18:15
  • 2
    @brianpck I expanded my answer: hopefully it's clearer now; thank'you for asking
    – user786
    Sep 24, 2016 at 18:45

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