In my research I found something about an old latin and that that is where the locative case comes from. So I clicked on the old latin page, and surprise, it's just an older version of latin. So is there a major difference between Old Latin and Classical Latin? If I know one could I read the other? Why do we just define one as before 75 B.C.E. was there a sudden change?

1 Answer 1


Old Latin bears the same kind of relationship to Classical Latin as English of, a few centuries ago does to modern English. The oldest Old Latin texts we have, unless I'm remembering incorrectly, are from the 3rd century BC, so there wasn't a whole lot of time for the language to change between then and 75 B.C. Old Latin has one more case than Classical Latin (locative), some of the case endings are a little different (-os instead of -us ending for second declension nominative masculine, -eis instead of -is for first and second dative and ablative, etc.), and some of the spellings and pronunciations are a little different. There's little evidence for what the verb forms were, and it's pretty inconsistent.

As for what happened in 75 B.C., no, there wasn't a sudden shift—it's just that people in the modern world, when thinking about the history of Latin, needed a place to start Classical Latin. Somebody else here probably knows much better than I, but my guess is that there was either a historical event in 75 that seemed appropriate or an appearance or disappearance of some linguistic feature.

EDIT: Unsurprisingly, I was remembering incorrectly. The earliest records we have, though fragmentary and very problematic, are from the early sixth century B.C.

Here's a much clearer account than I could give of the development of Old Latin, from Blackwell's Companion to the Latin Language, chapter 14, by John Penney:

The earliest remains of Latin are dated to the seventh century BCE; by the middle of the first century BCE, Classical Latin had become established as the dominant prestige variety. The language of the six pre-Classical centuries is sometimes labelled as a whole “Archaic Latin” or “Early Latin” or “Old Latin”, and a single term has the advantage of acknowledging that there is a continuum, but a division into periods has also been proposed by some scholars and these same labels (and others) may then be applied in narrower senses, which may unfortunately vary from author to author. For instance, Meiser (1998) 2 distinguishes between Frühlatein (“Early Latin”), from the first attestations down to 240 BCE and the first literary productions, and Altlatein (“Old Latin”) from 240 down to the first half of the first century, and is happy to use Archaisches Latein (“Archaic Latin”) as an all-embracing term. Weiss (2009) 23 makes a similar division between “Very Old Latin” (down to the third century and the first literature) and “Old Latin” (third and second centuries). Clackson and Horrocks (2007) adopt an alternative division between the language of the first inscriptions, down to c. 400, which is labelled “Archaic Latin”, and the language from c. 400 to the first century, which is labelled “Old Latin”; there is virtually no evidence for Latin in the later fifth and early fourth centuries which makes 400 a convenient dividing point. The . . . terminological divergences and disagreements should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the development of the language continues seamlessly throughout the whole period, and indeed on into Classical Latin.

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    +1, Very good answer!
    – Eithne
    Mar 28, 2016 at 8:37
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    I've added what I know, which isn't much, alas. Mar 29, 2016 at 2:25
  • The concept of Old Latin (Prisca Latinitas) is as old as the concept of Classical Latin – both labels date to at least as early as the late Roman Republic. In that period Cicero, along with others, noted that the language he used every day, presumably upper-class city Latin, included lexical items and phrases that were heirlooms from a previous time, which he called verborum vetustas prisca, translated as "the old age/time of language". The classical Romans distinguished Old Latin as prisca Latinitas and not sermo vulgaris.
    – Ana Maria
    Sep 3, 2022 at 12:39

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