It is well-known that the Romans referred to a particular year by reporting the names of the two consuls that had been elected to serve during that year. We have numerous inscriptions that confirm this (see here for a few examples).

However, how did they do this in conversation, or in prose? More specifically:

  • How did they differentiate between different years during which the same magistrate was in charge? Inscriptions just use numerals (e.g. M CLAUDIO MARCELLO II CON), but I wonder how they would have read it out loud.
  • If necessary, would they have specified that there was a dictator in charge, and how? And what about consules suffecti, tribuni consulares, and consules sine collega? Do these specifications pertain exclusively to inscriptional writing?
  • I doubt dictators would figure in the year labels much, simply because they were generally in position for less than a year - while the cycle of consular elections was (mostly) nice and regular.
    – SamBC
    Jan 31, 2019 at 22:57

1 Answer 1


IIRC, Romans would add specific epithets as necessary, i.e. During Cicero's 2nd term as consul, etc. if that type of situation came up. But looking at wikipedia's list of Roman consuls, you can see for yourself that there weren't that many occasions where it came up. Especially since they had two consuls, and they usually weren't both consul at the same time again.

They also used A.U.C. or Ab urbe condita which means, from the city's founding. Counting up from 753 B.C. This was not nearly as common, and used mostly by historians.

Also, during the Imperial era, Romans could measure time based on the rule of an Emperor, but this did become a bit difficult when you had multiple Emperors in the span of one year.

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