At some point in childhood I learnt there were speech competitions in ancient Rome when people would express complex ideas in very few words. And I believed since those short sentences called "maxima"

This happened couple decades before public Internet and wikipedia.

I always believed it to be common knowledge. However tried recently to find confirmation and couldn't get past "plural for maximus" copy/paste on 50 websites.

Are there real scholars of Latin and/or ancient Rome history who can confirm or correct my understanding that maxima is a short phrase which explains a complex construct

I don't know if this example would qualify as maxima in ancient times but looks good to me:

If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything. – Mark Twain

1 Answer 1


The word maxima [sententia] indicates a sentence that is a general truth or is generally assumed to be true.

Not necessarily it explains a complex context, you can instead think of a maxima as an axiom, that for its evidence becomes a foundation or a rule of behaviour. It is a "maxima" sentence because of its universal validity.

Maxima is still present in English as "maxim", in Italian as "massima", which have the same meaning.

  • Actually. Your version of what maxima is could be one of the definitions. I am pretty sure there were competitions in ancient Rome who says best maxima. In that context my definition fits (people would hardly compete in stating obvious) Commented Jul 22, 2022 at 21:38

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