Did individuus refer to individual persons in Ancient Rome?

  • It would help greatly if you have a source from literature at the time?
    – Chris Gan
    Jun 24, 2022 at 14:27

1 Answer 1


Seems not. Checking Lewis and Short first shows no usage analogous to "a single person."

in-dīvĭdŭus , a, um, adj. 2. in-divido.
I. Lit., not divided, indivisible (class.): “arbores,” with stems not branched, Plin. 16, 30, 53, § 122: “ille atomos, quas appellat, id est, corpora individua,” Cic. Fin. 1, 6, 17: “nihil esse individuum potest,” id. N. D. 1, 23, 65: “corpuscula,” Amm. 26, 1, 1.—Hence, subst.: indīvĭdŭum , i, n., an atom, indivisible particle: “ex illis individuis, unde omnia Democritus gigni affirmat,” Cic. Ac. 2, 17 fin.: “ne individuum quidem, nec quod dirimi distrahive non possit,” id. N. D. 3, 12, 29.— II. Trop., inseparable, not separated (postAug.): “comitatus virtutum,” Sen. Ep. 67 med.: “contubernium,” App. M. 4, p. 154, 16: “Rhodum secuti et apud Capreas individui,” Tac. A. 6, 10: pietas, undivided, impartial, Ps.Quint. Decl. 5, 3.

Just to be sure, I checked the Oxford Latin Dictionary as well and still came up short.

The meaning of "a single person" is a development that begun in the Medieval era but really only takes full shape in English. From Etymonline:

"single object or thing," c. 1600, from individual (adj.). Meaning "a single human being" (as opposed to a group, etc.) is from 1640s. Colloquial sense of "person" is attested from 1742. Latin individuum as a noun meant "an atom, indivisible particle," and in Middle English individuum was used in sense of "individual member of a species" (early 15c.).

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