How should I go about naming groups of animals in Latin? Should I use a single word like grex in all situations, or should I use varying words depending on something?

In English — and I simplify for the purpose illustration — a group of mammals is a herd, a group of birds is a flock, and a group of fish is a school. I can imagine that in different languages the choice of words is based on something else, like the size of the group or whether they are domestic or wild. Therefore I am reluctant to ask for just translations of "herd", "flock", and "school", not knowing whether the Latin system aligns with the English one well enough.

How does this system work in Latin? I am looking for an overall approach or a rule of thumb to this naming issue; any peculiarities can be explored in separate questions. Feel free to paint with broad strokes. My main interest is classical Latin, but other eras are welcome if they come with a nice answer.

1 Answer 1


I am not sure how this system works, but here's what seems to be the case:

Pecus, pecoris (n) which can refer to a herd of livestock, like horses, donkeys, mules, cattle, etc. Pecus, pecudis is feminine, and means one herd animal, and the plural is used to refer to the many herd animals. The feminine pecus can mean basically any large livestock, so sheep, goat, and swine are included as well as those described by the neuter pecus. In Late Latin it was decided that this was stupid, so everyone just used the neuter pecus to describe the animals.

I believe iumenta and armenta are groups of animals that pull carts and plows, respectively, and they're usually distinguished from pecus which are animals who can't draw carts or plows. These words were reanalyzed as being neuter plural, so you can also say iumentum and armentum to talk about one of these animals.

Grex is just anything that isn't iumenta, armenta, or pecus, so sheep, fish, wolves, humans, anything else. If any other words exist, I'll be sure to edit or make a new comment.

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