Referring to progressively more distance ancestors, I would list my

  • Pater (father)
  • Avus (grandfather)

After this point, it gets a bit shaky. This, for example, gives past ancestors as

  • Proavus (great-grandfather)
  • Abavus (great-great-grandfather)
  • Atavus (great-great-great-grandfather)
  • Tritavus (great-great-great-great-grandfather)

See also here.

I don't know how far back this system went on — I have yet to find anything further — although it seems somewhat absurd that someone should need to refer to someone this distantly related.

If I were to literally translate "grand" in this usage, I would end up with some form of magnus, which could then be applied as successive prefixes. However, I doubt that this has actually been used; it seems like a misrepresentation. The book I cited also gave pro- as meaning

'add one generation away from ego.'

This might then mean that my atavus could also be called my pro-pro-proavus. However, pro- can also be used to indicate steps in future generations — and may in fact have been used more commonly in this way.

What system was most commonly used in Classical Latin — the specific naming system, applicable to at least six generations back in time, the pro- system, which could apparently be used for an arbitrary number of generations (which I'm slightly more interested in here), or something completely different?

  • 4
    Tangentially, I wonder whether Horatius in Maecenas atavis edite regibus means great-great-great-grandparents or ancestry in general. I'm not even sure how many Romans even knew the difference between atavus and tritavus.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Feb 27, 2016 at 20:12
  • It is not so absurd. William I of England was the tritavus of Edward I, who was the tritavus of Henry VI. David I of Scotland was the tritavus of Robert I, who was the tritavus of James III (britroyals.com/royaltree.asp).
    – Jasper May
    May 30, 2020 at 13:50

2 Answers 2


An interesting question to which I don't actually know a definitive answer, but I'll try to shed what light I can.

I glanced at the source you link and couldn't find tritavus, but it seems an obvious possibility that the prefix "tri" could refer to the number 3, in which case one could imagine going back further with quartavus, quintavus, septavus, and so on. Since the Romans used sescenta in the way we use "thousand/thousands/umpteen" ("There were like a thousand people there" = Sescenta aderant), one could even imagine sescentavus as "umpteenth-great-grandfather," though of course that's not attested, as far as I know. (However, further investigation proves that the first vowel of tritavus is short, which could imply that my derivation from 3 is incorrect.)

With relatives closer than five generations away, though, Latin actually has a lot more words distinguishing blood relatives than most languages. Maternal blood uncle and aunt are avunculus and mátertera. Paternal blood uncle and aunt are patruus and amita. (There were no specific words relating to in-laws, so your maternal aunt by marriage was just avunculí uxor.)

When cousins come in it starts getting complicated. Your paternal uncle's child is your fráter/soror patruélis. Your paternal aunt's children AND your maternal uncle's children are your frátres/sorórés amitíní/æ. Your maternal aunt's child is your fráter/soror cónsobrínus/a. Your plain old brothers and sisters are frátrés/sorórés germání/æ.

Unfortunately I have these from lecture notes, so I can't source them, but even if I could, I get so exhausted keeping them straight that I might just give up anyway.

  • Regarding tritavus, it's with the others under the section of "Prenominal Pro-" with the others, on page 50. Interesting answer, though; I was aware of similar structures on other languages (Old English, too, I believe), but I didn't know if it was also the case with Latin.
    – HDE 226868
    Feb 28, 2016 at 0:04
  • Ah, okay—I was reading too quickly and missed it. Thanks! Feb 28, 2016 at 0:16

Attention, all my sources are post-Classical. Thus they do not entirely fit the question but I think they are very useful for the concept itself.

This is what I attested so far skimming these books:

https://books.google.com.br/books?id=BtlDAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA80 - I found here up to produovicatavus, but there could be more.

https://books.google.com.br/books?id=z4ETdGOufBUC&pg=PP8 - I found here up to prooctotricatavus, but again there could be more.

Here is a very long list of ancestors: 0. Ego 1. Pater 2. Avus 3. Proavus 4. Abavus 5. Atavus 6. Tritavus 7. Protritavus 8. Quadritavus 9. Proquadritavus 10. Quintitavus 11. Proquintitavus 12. Seditavus 13. Proseditavus 14. Septitavus 15. Proseptitavus 16. Octotavus 17. Prooctavus 18. Nonitavus 19. Prononitavus 20. Decatavus 21. Prodecatavus 22. Undecatavus 23. Proundecatavus 24. Duodecatavus 25. Produodecatavus 26. Tredecatavus 27. Protredecatavus 28. Quadridecatavus 29. Proquadridecatavus 30. Quindecatavus 31. Proquindecatavus 32. Sedecatavus 33. Prosedecatavus 34. Septendecatavus 35. Proseptendecatavus 36. Octodecatavus 37. Prooctodecatavus 38. Novendecatavus 39. Pronovendecatavus 40. Vicatavus 41. Provicatavus 42. Univicatavus 43. Prounivicatavus 44. Duovicatavus 45. Produovicatavus ... 76. Octotricatavus 77. Prooctotricatavus

From this book I saw that you can basically do the same thing with descendants: https://books.google.com.br/books?id=uEY5AQAAMAAJ&pg=RA1-PA334.

So you can go:

  1. Ego
  2. Filius
  3. Nepos
  4. Pronepos
  5. Abnepos
  6. Atnepos
  7. Trinepos
  8. Protrinepos
  9. Quadrinepos etc.

Hope this helps.

  • Can you name the books and summarize what you found? Google Books links are not equally visible to everyone; what is freely visible to you might not be to me. It'd be nice to know whether they are extending the system by analogy or listing attestations. I expect the tail of the list to be later than classical.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    May 17, 2020 at 16:53
  • 1
    Oh sorry, no problem. The first book's title is gargantuan: Trophaei Europaei, Sive Tokeologias Illustrium Universalis, Exhibentis, 62. Majores, utpote 31. Progenitores [et] 31. Progenitrices usq[ue] in quintam generationem, Omnium Imperatorum, Regum, Electorum ... Quotquot hodie in Orbe Christiano supersunt, vel paulò ante nostram aetatem vixerunt ... Centuria Athenaea. The second book's title is: Austriotokeologia, Maximili-Rodolpho-Matthiana The third book is called: The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volumes 1-2.
    – Victor BC
    May 17, 2020 at 18:06
  • They are definitely not classical, but personally I don't mind as long as it's good Latin.
    – Victor BC
    May 17, 2020 at 18:07
  • 1
    @Joonas you are right. I will update my comment.
    – Victor BC
    May 18, 2020 at 19:06
  • 1
    @JasperMay I find these things interesting. It is probably because this is such a medieval need (Romans wouldn't have needed such precise genealogy) that it took forever to actually define things so far back and it wasn't ever standardized. The good thing though is that they are pretty much mutually intelligible variants. I love how one can go so far back with such small words in Latin lol
    – Victor BC
    May 19, 2020 at 15:02

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