From the book Rebilius Crusoe by Francis William Newman, the term aurea mala, or golden apples is used to describe oranges. Did any of the Latins have an actual name for this fruit, or was it simply something like fructus aureum? Were any of the modern scientific terms for oranges used, such as citrus aurantium, citrus bergamia risso, poncirus trifoliata, or citrus reticulata, or many even just citrus, to refer to any fruit of the genus? Surely, across the vast Roman Empire that once spread all over Europe and in parts of Africa, with a powerful navy, would have discovered these.

  • I also saw that an online dictionary defined citrus as a term for an African citrus tree. Feb 6, 2017 at 17:18
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    In Classical Latin there were no oranges. The Citron, a large, knobbly, bitter lemon for medicine must have existed in Africa. Mala Aurea are Quinces.
    – Hugh
    Feb 7, 2017 at 15:25
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    Apparently in ancient Pompeii there are frescoes depicting both oranges and lemons so those two fruits had already been imported in Italy before the eruption of Mount Vesusius in AD 79.
    – Maria
    Feb 2, 2020 at 18:48
  • @Maria Welcome to the site and thanks for sharing! That's a good find. (Consider registering your account if you want to be able to use the site more efficiently.)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Feb 3, 2020 at 14:25
  • @Middle School Historian: What about the colour, orange? It seems to be the same adjective for both orange & yellow-luteus. Students of biology will be familiar with the "corpus luteum", "the yellow body". Lewis & Short give "golden-yellow, saffron-yellow, orange-yellow". Continuing the drift to the "orange" side, egg-yolks (Plin. 30.15.49): "lutea ex ovis quinque columbarum" = "orange from the eggs of five doves/ pigeons". L & S continue the confusion by adding "flame-coloured" & "rose-coloured".
    – tony
    Feb 4, 2020 at 10:27

2 Answers 2


According to Quicherat’s French-English dictionary, you can say malum aureum or aurantium for translating orange.

An interesting discussion about the Citrus Aurantium can be found in this book (in French). According to the author, the oranges were called mala aurea or mala Hesperidum by the Ancients and aurentia during the Middle Age.


Quod potui, puero silvestri ex arbore lecta 70
aurea mala decem misi; cras altera mittam.
Eclogues III, 71

Tum canit Hesperidum miratam mala puellam;
Eclogues VI, 61

Or in PHI : mala aurea.

(in Flora virgiliana, seu catalogus plantarum in Virgilii operibus occurentium, A. L. A. Fée, 1823)

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    I would side with M. Gallesio in this discussion. Quinces are golden, are vaguely apples, have a scent to suit paradise, and come from the Middle East. For a reliable History of Oranges try Helena Attlee. Edible lemons and oranges were first brought to Italy by the Arabs.
    – Hugh
    Feb 7, 2017 at 14:35
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    "The citron is the oldest Italian inhabitant among the citrus trees; its fruit is larger than a lemon, with very thick, knobbly skin. It was brought to Italy from Assam at the beginning of the second century AD. " Quoted from a review of Helena Attlee's book in The Telegraph. telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/10741327/…
    – Hugh
    Feb 7, 2017 at 14:38

(I know the question asks about Classical Latin, but to those who come here just interested in how to say orange in any form of Latin, a few additions might be helpful.)

The Vatican's Lexicon Recentis Latinitas uses malum Sinense (dulce) for (sweet) orange. This is actually the name used in the respective Wikipedia entry too. References in that article using such name date back at least since the 17th century.

Notice that the term Citrus aurantium (mentioned in Luc's answer) seems to refer only to the bitter orange, and not to the sweet orange. See the link.

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