The word res alone can mean state, and especially res publica means that (or republic). Looking at meanings of res and publicus, this is not the only possible translation of res publica, if no context is given. Is there an example of res publica not referring to the state in classical literature?

For example, it sounds possible to say about different forms of violence within family: Vexatio est res privata, caedes est res publica. "Harassing is a private thing, murder a public thing." I would like to see examples of res publica meaning "public thing" in a way like this. I have been unable to locate any.

This question was inspired by an earlier one about translating res.

  • My guess is that your example sentence is more likely to be rendered Vexatio est scelus privatum, cædes publicum or something of the sort rather then using res. Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 2:33
  • @JoelDerfner, I agree. The example may not be optimal, but I hope it gets my point across. If you have good artificial examples, I would be happy to add them. (Attested examples, if any, belong to answers.)
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 6:39
  • Ah, yes, it definitely gets your point across! I didn't mean to be critical—I was intending more to muse. Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 11:20
  • I'm pretty sure res publica also applies to a wider range of related meanings such as politics, public welfare, etc. in Ecclesiastical Latin. I'll do some research. Would that be what you are looking for?
    – Rafael
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 13:25
  • 1
    @Rafael, I'm not sure that qualifies. (1) I was looking for classical examples, although later ones are interesting as well. (2) Spelling respublica together indicates (to me at least) that it not meant as the adjective publica modifying the noun res, but something more special. (3) It is not clear to me that something other than "state" is meant in the text you cite. (4) I was looking for something more like "public thing" than "society" or "public welfare".
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 14:20

1 Answer 1


According to Lewis and Short (see meaning K), res publica, also written as one word (respublica, reipublicae), has a wide range of meanings, not limited to Republic:

Res publica, also as one word, respublica, the common weal, a commonwealth, state, republic (cf. civitas); also, civil affairs, administration, or power, etc.

It cites several examples of res publica confronted to res privata, although a scheptic could still argue that the confrontation may well be between private affairs and the Republic (I think). In my opinion, one clear example is:

Si re publica non possis frui, stultum est nolle privata (Cic. Fam. 4, 9, 4)

The term is also used in Ecclesiastical Latin to mean things other than the Republic (either the form of government or in the -arguably different- wider Roman sense), e.g. several times in Rerum Novarum to refer to public goods/or affairs. One such example is:

Neque est, cur providentia introducatur reipublicae: est enim homo, quam respublica, senior (RN, 8)

(this is said in the context that the fact that God has given the world to the whole human race does not rule out private property).

  • 1
    That quote from Cicero is close to what I was after. The translations in your first blockquote are not; I wanted something much closer to "public thing" than "society", "state", "administration" or the like. (I had difficulties articulating this clearly in my question.) This is a very useful answer.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Jun 1, 2016 at 14:35

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