Origin of Latin language

Latin is a member of the Italic languages, subgroup of the Indo-European family of languages. Below is a chart showing the Indo-European language family tree.






 History of the Latin language

Brought to Italy about 1000 B.C. by a group of Indo-European immigrants from Northern Europe, Latin begins as a local tongue of a small territory on the Tiber River, called Latium. It soon spreads over a larger part of Italy and, with the Roman Empire, to a big portion of the known ancient world. The Latin of Rome becomes the literary model of the new Empire. While classical Latin develops in the city of Rome, a spoken vernacular form of Latin is carried by the Roman army throughout the Roman territories. Little by little, the use of Latin in these regions overcomes the pre-Roman dialects of Italy, Gaul and Spain. However, some idioms and expressions remain intact and, once mixed with the spoken Latin, give birth to new languages known as the Romance languages.

The Latin language of the origins was influenced by the Etruscan, a non-Indo-European language from Central Italy. It was also affected by the Celtic dialects from Northern Italy and by the Greek language. As the Roman Empire grows, Latin language becomes the tool for the political unity of the Italian peoples and the different communities living around Rome start losing their dialects.

The early period for Latin literature covers the 3 last centuries before our era (250 B.C.- 80 B.C.). It includes the writings of Plautus and Terence. The golden age of ancient literary Latin occurs between 80 B.C. -14 A.D. The most famous authors of this time are Livy, Cicero, Catullus, Vergil, Horace, Caesar and Ovid. Then, Latin knows another time of glory that ends in the middle of the second century of our era with authors like Tacitus, Juvenal, Pliny the Younger and Suetonius. The late Latin period (2d century - 6th century) coincides with the decline of the Empire. Invading barbarian tribes modify Latin by bringing forms and idioms coming from their own languages. What was once Classical Latin has become a form of corrupted Latin.

During the Middle Age (6th century - 14th century), the Latin language will remain alive in Europe thanks to the Church but also as a media for writing. Latin is kept as an international language to write scientific, religious or philosophical literature till the late 17th century. Later on, Latin progressively disappears to be replaced by languages that not only scholars but also the people can speak: French, Italian, Spanish, German, English, ... Less and less books are written in Latin and classical Latin authors are translated in vernacular.

In the 20th century, Latin is used only by the Vatican, siege of the Roman Catholic Church.

Below is an account of the milestones in the evolution of the Latin language in Europe.

around 1000 B.C.

Latin brought to Italy by Indo-European immigrants

7th century B.C.

Creation of the Latin alphabet, based on the Etruscan alphabet

753 B.C. - 476 A.D.

The Roman Monarchy, then the Republic and the Roman Empire, spread the use of Latin throughout the Roman territories.

70 B.C. -14 A.D.

golden age of literary Latin

14 A.D. - 130 A.D.

silver age of literary Latin

2d century - 6th century

Latin corrupted by idioms and forms from languages brought by invading barbarians

Middle Age

Latin is the language of the Church and the language of writing.

15th century - 17th century

Latin is used to write scientific, religious and philosophical literature.

17th century - 19th century

Vernacular languages start replacing Latin in writing. Classical Latin is translated.


Latin is used by the Vatican, siege of the Roman Catholic church




The Indo-European language is thought to be the language spoken by a nomadic tribe that moved into Europe from Asia around 4,500 BC. The Indo-European hypothesis explains common characteristics shared by many modern languages. The first full alphabet was developed by the Greeks around 750 BC.





Group of languages which evolved from the language spoken by tribe members that settled in areas that today include India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, ...





Group of languages which evolved from the language spoken by tribe members that settled in areas that today include Greece.





Group of languages which evolved from tibe members that settled in modern day Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Romania, ...





Group of languages which evolved from the language spoken by tribe members that settled in modern day Scotland, Ireland, the area of French Brittany, ...





Group of languages which evolved from the language spoken by tribe members that settled in Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, ...), Holland, England, Germany, ...