It is well known that the Romans referred to the Mediterranean Sea as mare nostrum, especially after the Punic Wars when they had claimed Iberia, Northern Africa, Sicily, etc.

But what did they call it before the Punic Wars? For instance, what would they have called the Mediterranean during, say, the Samnite wars? What about during the Latin wars?

2 Answers 2


The best reference for such questions is Brills’s New Pauly.

Eckart Olshausen (Universität Stuttgart), the author of the book Einführung in die Historische Geographie der Alten Welt (1991), writes that “[a]s a term of Roman imperialism Mare Nostrum first occurs in Caes. B Gall. 5,1,2, whereas mare mediterraneum is a medieval word formation (cf. Isid. Orig. 13,6,1)” (Olshausen, 2006; emphasis mine - Alex B.). Mare internum seems to be the most common choice in the Historical Atlas of the Ancient World.

Olshausen also mentions, besides the above-mentioned mare nostrum, some other possible variants, mare internum and mare intestinum (Plin. HN 2,173 and Flor. 2,13,293).

The Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World similarly adopts “Internum Mare.”


Cicero (Att. 8,3) and Pliny (3. 5. 6) each refer to mare superum.

Lemprière's Classical Dictionary, which often has a wealth of detail on such topics, has nothing of direct use, but from its rather obscure information I deduce that the name Tyrrhenum Mare is reliably old: for example, Tyrrheus was the keeper of flocks for king Latinus, while Tyrrhenus, son of a king of Lydia, having come to Italy, first had what eventually became Etruria named after him.

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