Bruno Rochette

Was there a Roman linguistic imperialism during the Republic and the early Principate?

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One of the main consequences of the Roman conquest was the diffusion of the Latin language and of Roman culture throughout the conquered countries. According to many texts of the imperial period, Latin became a universal language during the Imperium Romanum. But what is the reality? Did Rome develop any linguistic policies? There is some evidence to show that Rome's response regarding the sociolinguistic problems that arose under its rule was to be flexible and willing to adapt to the specific requirements of each situation. Under the Republic and the early Principate, there was, in fact, a great flexibility in language use by the Romans in their dealings with the Greek world. Even though Latin-Greek bilingualism was widespread among the Romans of the Republic and the early Principate, in the public context, Latin maintained a high-level role because it represented the language of Rome's power. In spite of this flexible approach to language use, a natural competition developed between the language of the dominant and the language of the dominated. In the Occident, without minimizing the importance of local languages that survived in many regions around the Mediterranean world, Latin became the main vehicle of communication, both oral and written, whereas in the Orient, one notes a paradoxical situation: the Hellenization of the Romans due to the high cultural position of the Greek language. However, this dichotomy did not produce a division of the Roman Empire into two impenetrable parts, closed to mutual linguistic and cultural influences, but rather, it generated a more complicated situation, especially in the Oriental part of the Empire. It is this situation that will be analyzed in the present paper.


  • Imperium Romanum
  • Roman Administration
  • Language Policies
  • Greek Language
  • Latin Language


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