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date: 14 July 2024

grammar, grammarians, Latinlocked

grammar, grammarians, Latinlocked

  • Thomas J. Keeline


For the Romans, “grammar” (grammatica) encompassed the study of both language and literature. Although its precise origins are unclear, Latin grammar in its developed form—and in the only form that survives in the early 21st century—is a Romanised version of a Greek discipline, with the Greek influence pervasive and everywhere visible.

The word grammarian (grammaticus) was applied especially to professional teachers of Latin to children—native speakers at first but, in late antiquity, increasing numbers of non-native speakers too. According to Quintilian, the grammaticus had two tasks: to instruct his charges in correct Latinity and to elucidate the texts of the poets. In fact, these two tasks were bound up in each other: proper usage was shown by citations from approved authors, and approved authors were explicated particularly to illustrate proper usage. In teaching students about Latin with reference to the canonical authority of the past, the grammarian was also teaching students how to be good Romans in the traditional mould.

Only fragments remain from the early period of Roman grammatica; from late antiquity, a number of full treatises, such as Donatus’s canonical three-book Ars maior, Servius’s commentary on Vergil, and Priscian’s massive eighteen-volume Ars grammatica, survive. These would exercise a dominant influence on Latin instruction through the Middle Ages and beyond.


  • Latin Literature
  • Linguistics

Updated in this version

Article and bibliography expanded to reflect current scholarship. Primary texts section added.

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