Classics Nonius Marcellus
Paolo Gatti
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0404


Nonius Marcellus is the most important lexicographer of ancient Latinity whose work has come down to us almost in its entirety. Of African origin, from Thubursicum Numidarum, today Khamissa in northeastern Algeria, he is placed chronologically between the fourth and fifth centuries CE. His work is entitled De conpendiosa doctrina. In it, Nonius interprets over 3,000 Latin words or expressions. The work is divided into twenty books. The importance of Nonius today, apart from the information on Latin vocabulary, lies in the numerous quotations from authors who preceded him and whom he cites as authoritative sources (auctoritates). They are mostly authors who worked in the republican period, including authors whose works, for the most part, have been lost in their direct tradition. In this case, Nonius’s testimony is particularly indispensable.

General Overviews

On Nonius and his work, the recent discussion in Schmidt 2020 is indispensable. On his person and the period in which he would have lived, one can only proceed conjecturally, based on the little information transmitted by Nonius himself or found in the manuscript tradition of his work: Mantero 1975, Della Corte 1987, Keyser 1994, Deufert 2001, Gatti 2004, Gatti 2011.

  • Della Corte, Francesco. 1987. I modelli di Nonio. In Studi noniani XII. 27–39. Genoa, Italy: Università di Genova.

    An attempt to place Nonius chronologically after Alexander Severus, in the first half of the third century.

  • Deufert, Marcus. 2001. Zur Datierung des Nonius Marcellus. Philologus 145:137–149.

    DOI: 10.1524/phil.2001.145.1.137

    This is an important and probably decisive study that dates Nonius around the year 400. To arrive at this dating, some linguistic peculiarities are analyzed. An attempt is also made to describe the format—papyrus rolls or codices—of the sources from which Nonius draws the auctoritates.

  • Gatti, Paolo. 2004. Introduzione a Nonio Marcello. In Prolegomena Noniana III. Edited by Ferruccio Bertini, 123–188. Genoa, Italy: Università di Genova.

    On the person of the author, on his work, on his compositional method, consisting of the use of cards placed in a decidedly methodical manner.

  • Gatti, Paolo. 2011. Nonio Marcello e la Compendiosa doctrina. In The Latin of Roman lexicography. Edited by Rolando Ferri, 49–62. Rome: Fabrizio Serra Editore.

    More on the person of Nonius and especially his work, with its influence on the lexicographical collections of later centuries.

  • Keyser, Paul T. 1994. Late authors in Nonius Marcellus and other evidence of his date. Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 96:369–389.

    DOI: 10.2307/311331

    An attempt is made to chronologically place Nonius in the Severan age, i.e., between 193 and 235, on the basis of the auctoritates provided by more recent authors (e.g., Apuleius, Masurius Sabinus, Septimius Serenus), which would constitute a terminus post quem.

  • Mantero, Teresa. 1975. La inscriptio dei codici del De compendiosa doctrina e Nonius Marcellus peripateticus Thubursicensis. In Studi noniani III. 123–188. Genoa, Italy: Università di Genova.

    Nonius is located in the city of Thubursicum Numidarum, today Khamissa in northeastern Algeria, and his role would not be that of a true and proper philosopher, as the inscriptio that appears at the top of manuscripts seems to suggest, but of a grammarian, a schoolmaster.

  • Schmidt, Peter Lebrecht. 2020. Nonius Marcellus. In Die Literatur im Zeitalter des Theodosius (374–430 n. Chr.). Vol. 1. Edited by Jean-Denis Berger, Jacques Fontaine, and Peter Lebrecht Schmidt, 210–218. Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck.

    This is the most recent and essential comprehensive study on Nonius Marcellus, including an updated bibliography.

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