What Language Did The Romans Speak?
It is generally agreed amongst historians that the language of ancient Rome was Latin.
If we want to determine the language the first ancient Romans spoke, we need to look at what evidence has been found in Rome.
What Evidence is There That Romans Spoke Latin?
At one end of the Forum in Rome, close to the slopes of the Capitoline Hill, before the end of the first century BC was a pavement. In this pavement was a series of slabs in black stone, around 4 x 3.5 meters. At the start of the 20th century, the archaeologist Giacomo Boni (who was a bit of a celebrity at the time as he was one of the discoverers of the city of Troy), excavated the stone and found a short stone pillar covered in early Latin writing.
The Black Stone or The Lapis Niger
This stone is the earliest examples of Latin writing. The writing on the stone looks very similar to that of Greek. However historians have since confirmed it is an archaic form of Latin. It is the general consensus that that the stone was inscribed in the second half of the 6th century BC.
Today The Black Stone can be seen in Rome, in front of the Arch of Septimius Severus, protected by metal railings.
Roman Language And Writing
When I mention Roman language I am talking about the language spoken in ancient Rome. An important factor to consider when talking about language and writing, is how many Romans could read and write. In Mary Beards book SPQR she suggests that well under 20 per cent of adult men were literate.
However in the cities, it must have been higher than a 20 per cent literacy rate in ancient Rome. This is because many small traders, craftsmen and slaves would have needed some level of basic literacy and numeracy to take orders, count cash and so on.