In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Medieval Latin

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographies, Databases, and Internet Portals
  • Digital Corpora
  • Periodicals
  • Varieties of Medieval Latin
  • Medieval Grammar and Rhetoric
  • Prose Style and Cursus
  • Versification

Classics Medieval Latin
Carmen Cardelle de Hartmann, Dario Binotto
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0399


The term Medieval Latin refers to Latin from c. 500 until c. 1500 CE. In the first few centuries, Medieval Latin defines texts which contrive to follow the rules of formal literary language, in contrast to Vulgar Latin, which describes the non-formal registers of spoken language. Throughout its history, Medieval Latin texts often deviate from the usage of the canonical classical literature that was closely studied. The departures are owing partly to changes already evident in the grammatical writings and Christian poetry of Late Antiquity. Later developments reflect the influence of spoken languages (especially the Romance vernaculars) and the need of denominations for new realities. Most medieval authors received instruction in ecclesiastical institutions and many became clerics. Consequently their Latin was shaped by their daily readings and recitations from the Bible, liturgy, and Church Fathers. From the fourteenth century onward, the humanists endeavored to describe the usage of classical authors and to reestablish Classical Latin as a literary language. Medieval Latin orthography differs markedly from Classical. The differences may reflect the pronunciation of authors and scribes, but some variation also seems to have been tolerated. Some changes even became the new accepted norm (for instance e instead ae/oe from the twelfth century on). Morphological and syntactical changes mostly represent late antique developments which are continued and intensified, either through the influence of the spoken language or of the late antique readings. The greatest innovation, however, can be observed in vocabulary. The word stock was expanded through semantic adaptation and morphological changes, as well as through the incorporation of foreign words and neologisms. Medieval texts present a great range of linguistic variation, depending on the linguistic competence of the author, the register (for example administrative, literary, and legal language), and the style. Regional differences depend on the language spoken and school traditions, while other changes evolve over time. Moreover, many authors do not hesitate to depart from classical models by creating new genres, styles, and registers, sometimes by combining old ones. They adopt and further develop Late Antique innovations, such as the use of rhythm and rhyme.

General Overviews

Because Medieval Latin texts vary greatly, it is difficult to give a short overview which can serve as a quick introduction (e.g., in a course on another topic). Four can be recommended: Berschin 2019 (pp. 87–130) focuses on historical change; Stotz 2006 emphasizes the variety of registers; Dinkova-Bruun 2017 lists the most common differences from Classical Latin, as does Rigg 1986, which also gives a short description of medieval treatises on different aspects of language. Good overviews over the main characteristics of Medieval Latin can also be found in most Textbooks and Anthologies. Hexter and Townsend 2012 includes several chapters on the cultural aspects of language use as well as on style (see Hays 2012 in Prose Style and Cursus, and Boynton and Fassler 2012 and Tilliette 2012 in Versification). Larger introductions are Strecker 1963, with more detailed discussion of the main linguistic features, and Norberg 1968, which gives a history of Latin from the fourth to the thirteenth century and illustrates it with a small anthology of well-chosen and annotated texts. A fuller history of Latin language in the Middle Ages can be found in Stotz 2002. The most comprehensive introduction is provided by Mantello and Rigg 1996, with chapters on many different aspects of language use, styles, and registers.

  • Berschin, Walter. 2019. Einleitung in die lateinische Philologie des Mittelalters (Mittellatein): eine Vorlesung. 2d rev ed. Edited by Tino Licht. Heidelberg, Germany: Mattes Verlag.

    Brief introductory lectures on Medieval Latin philology, including two chapters on the history of Latin in the Middle Ages.

  • Dinkova-Bruun, Greti. 2017. Medieval Latin. In A companion to the Latin language. Edited by James Clackson, 284–302. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    First published in 2011. Provides an overview of the main linguistic features of Medieval Latin texts (orthography, morphology, syntax, and vocabulary), useful as a first introduction to the topic.

  • Hexter, Ralph, and David Townsend. 2012. The Oxford handbook of Medieval Latin literature. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195394016.001.0001

    Though mainly literary, this handbook also has chapters on cultural aspects of language use, and on style.

  • Mantello, F. A. C., and A. G. Rigg. 1996. Medieval Latin: An introduction and bibliographical guide. Washington, DC: The Catholic Univ. of America Press.

    A comprehensive introduction to Medieval Latin language, culture, and literature, organized into four parts: “General Reference and Research Tools,” “Medieval Latin Philology” (on all aspects of language), “Varieties of Medieval Latinity” (on medieval learning, science, and technology and their linguistic registers), “Varieties of Medieval Latin Literature” (on genres and themes). Each chapter provides a well-informed introduction to the subject and an extensive annotated bibliography.

  • Norberg, Dag. 1968. Manuel pratique de latin médiéval. Paris: Picard.

    A concise but comprehensive introduction to the history of Latin from the fourth to the thirteenth centuries, focusing on general developments and including a small collection of texts to illustrate various prose styles and metrical and rhythmic forms, each of them with a linguistic commentary.

  • Rigg, A. G. 1986. Medieval Latin. In Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Vol. 7. Edited by Joseph R. Strayer, 350–359. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

    After an introduction on the general characteristics of Medieval Latin, Rigg briefly presents medieval works for learning Latin and reviews the differences with Classical Latin.

  • Stotz, Peter. 2002. Handbuch zur lateinischen Sprache des Mittelalters. Erster Band. Einleitung. Lexikologische Praxis. Wörter und Sachen. Lehnwortgut. Munich: C. H. Beck.

    The first volume of the Handbuch (see Reference Works) begins with a history of Latin language in the Middle Ages (pp. 3–167), which has been translated into Italian: Peter Stotz, Il latino nel Medioevo. Guida allo studio di un’identitá linguistica europea. Edited by Luigi G. G. Ricci. Translated by Serena Pirrotta and Luigi G. G. Ricci. Florence: SISMEL Edizioni del Galluzzo.

  • Stotz, Peter. 2006. Mittelalterliches Latein: ein Haus mit vielen Wohnungen. Filologia mediolatina 13:1–25.

    A very useful overview of the different registers as well as diachronic and stylistic variation. A good first reading for undergraduates.

  • Strecker, Karl. 1963. Introduction to Medieval Latin. English Translation and Revision by Robert B. Palmer. Berlin: Weidmannsche Verlagsbuchhandlung.

    English translation of the third expanded edition of Einführung in das Mittellatein, published in 1939 by Weidmann in Berlin, with an updated bibliography. The second part, listing editions of Medieval Latin texts by genre, is now dated, but the first part, with chapters on orthography, morphology, and syntax, as well as introductions to meter, rhythmic poetry, and prose style, is still useful.

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