Polite forms of address in Ancient Rome

Ancient Rome was a civilization known for its complex social hierarchy and strict adherence to etiquette. The use of polite forms of address played an important role in Roman society, reflecting the values, power dynamics, and social interactions of the time. In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of polite address in ancient Rome, exploring the various titles and honorifics used to address individuals of different social status. Join us as we uncover the intricacies of Roman etiquette and gain insight into the importance of respect and hierarchy in Roman society.

The Influence of Social Status

Discuss the importance of social status in Roman society and its effect on polite address. Explain how a person’s rank and position determined the appropriate way to address them. Emphasize the differences between the nobility, senators, equestrians, freedmen, and common citizens and how their titles and honorifics reflected their position in society.

The nobility and patricians

Examine the forms of address used for members of the Roman aristocracy, including patricians and other high-ranking families. Explore the honorifics such as “dominus” (master) and “nobilis” (noble) used to address these individuals, showing the reverence and deference given to their elevated status.

Senators and Magistrates

Detail the specific forms of address reserved for senators and magistrates, who held significant political power in ancient Rome. Explain how senators were addressed as “honorabilis” (honorable) or “clarissimus” (most distinguished), while magistrates were addressed by their official titles, such as “consul” or “praetor. Emphasize the importance of these titles in conveying respect and acknowledging their authority.

Horsemen and military officials

Explore the polite forms of address used for equestrians, who were members of the Roman middle class and often held positions in the military or civil service. Discuss how equestrians were addressed as “eques” (knight) or “tribunus” (tribune), emphasizing their important role in Roman society and the respect accorded them.

Freemen and Slaves

Explain how polite forms of address extended to freedmen and slaves, although in a different context. Discuss how freedmen were addressed as “libertus” (freedman) followed by the name of their former master, indicating their status as former slaves. Emphasize the complexity of the relationship between freedmen and their former masters, and how polite address played a role in maintaining social boundaries.

The Role of Women

Discuss the role of women in Roman society and the specific forms of address used for them. Discuss how women of high status, such as the wives of senators or emperors, were addressed as “domina” (lady) or “augusta” (empress). Explore how polite forms of address for women were influenced by their marital status, kinship ties, and association with influential men.

Public and Private Life

Examine how forms of address varied in public and private settings. Discuss how individuals were addressed differently depending on whether they were in a formal public setting, such as the Senate, or in a more intimate, private context. Emphasize the fluidity and adaptability of Roman etiquette in different social situations.

Changing Political Landscape

Discuss how the evolution of Roman politics and the transition from the Republic to the Empire influenced polite address. Explore how the rise of the emperors affected hierarchy and the use of honorifics, as individuals were expected to address the emperor with reverence and titles such as “imperator” (commander) or “divus” (divine).

Addressing the Emperor

Study the specific forms of address used to address the Roman emperors. Discuss the titles and honorifics associated with the imperial office, such as “Augustus” or “Princeps,” and how these titles conveyed the emperor’s supreme authority. Explain how addressing the emperor with the utmost respect and deference was an important aspect of Roman etiquette.

Addressing Religious Officials

Examine the polite forms of address used for religious officials in ancient Rome, such as the high priest or pontifex maximus. Discuss how these individuals were addressed with honorifics such as “pontifex” or “flamen,” emphasizing the close connection between religion and social hierarchy in Roman society.

Regional and Cultural Variations

Explore how forms of address may have varied in different regions of the Roman Empire or among different cultural groups. Discuss how local customs and traditions may have influenced the way individuals were addressed, demonstrating the diversity within the vast Roman Empire.

Changes over time

Emphasize how polite forms of address in ancient Rome may have changed over time. Discuss how social changes, political shifts, and cultural influences may have affected the use of titles and honorifics, reflecting the dynamic nature of Roman etiquette in different historical periods.

Relationships and familiarity

Discuss the role of familiarity and personal relationships in shaping polite address. Discuss how close friends or family members may have used less formal or affectionate terms of address, emphasizing the interplay between social hierarchy and personal connections.

Language and Linguistic Choices

Examine the linguistic aspects of polite address in ancient Rome. Discuss the use of Latin and the specific vocabulary and grammatical structures used to convey respect and formality. Explore how linguistic choices influenced perceptions of politeness and hierarchy.

Politeness Strategies

Explore the underlying politeness strategies used in ancient Roman society. Discuss how the use of honorifics, deferential language, and gestures of respect served to maintain social harmony, demonstrate loyalty, and manage interpersonal relationships within the rigid framework of Roman etiquette.

Satire and subversion

Recognize instances of satire and subversion in the use of polite address. Discuss how comedy, literary works, or political satire may have played with or subverted the norms of polite address, offering a humorous or critical perspective on the social hierarchy and power dynamics of ancient Rome.

Symbolism and Visual Representations

Explain how courtesy extended beyond verbal communication. Discuss how visual representations such as statues, inscriptions, or official seals were used to convey respect and honor to persons of high status. Explore the symbolism embedded in these visual representations and their role in reinforcing social hierarchies.

Etiquette and Roman Identity

Explain how the use of polite forms of address was not only a matter of social convention, but also a reflection of Roman identity and cultural values. Discuss how etiquette served as a means of reinforcing social hierarchies, maintaining order, and upholding Roman ideals of respect, loyalty, and honor.

Legacy and Influence

Highlight the lasting influence of Roman etiquette and polite forms of address on subsequent cultures and societies. Discuss how elements of Roman etiquette can still be observed in modern Western customs and institutions, demonstrating the enduring influence of ancient Roman social norms.


Polite address in ancient Rome provides a window into the complex social dynamics and values of Roman society. These honorifics and titles reflected the intricate web of social hierarchies, respect, and deference that governed interactions between individuals of different ranks and status. By understanding the nuances of Roman etiquette, we gain insight into the cultural fabric of ancient Rome and the importance placed on social norms and hierarchy.


How did people address each other in ancient Rome?

Roman men were usually known by their praenomina to members of their family and household, clientes and close friends; but outside of this circle, they might be called by their nomen, cognomen, or any combination of praenomen, nomen, and cognomen that was sufficient to distinguish them from other men with similar names

How do you greet someone in Roman?

Salve: A way to say ‘Hello’

This is a Latin phrase that’s particularly common in Rome. It’s a very popular informal greeting.

How did ancient Romans say hello?

Ave is a Latin word, used by the Romans as a salutation and greeting, meaning “hail”. It is the singular imperative form of the verb avēre, which meant “to be well”; thus one could translate it literally as “be well” or “farewell”.

Did Romans have addresses?

The best evidence always comes from Rome, and there the case is pretty clear: yes, roads had names. Regarding sending a letter, however, you wouldn’t address it the way we would today.

How did people greet each other in Rome?

If you want to say hello in ancient Rome, it would be enough to say Salvē (in case of one recipient) or Salvēte, if we would welcome a larger group of people. Naturally, you could also use the word Avē. Avē and Salvē can simply be translated as “Hi”.

How did ancient people greet each other?

The first was an ordinary handshake, always performed with the right hand and without any grasping of the forearms. (The left hand was commonly perceived as unclean and to offer someone one’s left hand was regarded as extremely rude.)

What is a Roman handshake?

The ‘Roman’ forearm handshake

Instead of exchanging handgrips, the two clasp each others’ forearms, just below the elbow. It seems more martial and physical, something fitting with the audience’s expectations of a very physical and martial society like Rome.

What does it mean to say an Ave?

Ave. is a written abbreviation for avenue.

Did the Romans say please?

I think the real answer to your question is that the Romans did not say “please”. The habit of attaching “please” more or less automatically to all imperatives is a phenomenon of modern European culture, which emerged (I assume) in courtly speech in the Baroque period.

What were Roman swear words?

cinaede, pathice, sceleste , perfide, barbare, inepte – words emphasizing slowness, lack of skills, cowardice, weakness.

Who first said hello?

The dictionary says it was Thomas Edison who put hello into common usage. He urged the people who used his phone to say “hello” when answering. His rival, Alexander Graham Bell, thought the better word was “ahoy.” Ahoy?

What is a cool Roman name?

Take a look at some Ancient Roman names that could make a perfect choice for your baby:

  • Albina. Saint Albina was a third century martyr from Caesarea.
  • Augustus. Augustus was the title given to Octavian, the first Roman emperor.
  • Cassia. Feminine form of Cassius.
  • Cicero.
  • Domitia.
  • Felix.
  • Hadriana.
  • Marcellus.

How did people communicate in the Roman Empire?

Latin and Greek were the official languages of the Roman Empire. Latin was used in Rome and it was the language of the imperial administration, legislation, and the military throughout the classical period. However, as the empire expanded new languages were introduced.

What were Rome’s friends called?

Rome’s foreign clients were called amici populi Romani (friends of the Roman people) and listed on the tabula amicorum (table of friends). They did not sign treaties or have formal obligations, but entered into alliance (societas) and friendship (amicitia) with Rome, generally in a dependent state.

How did slaves address their masters Rome?

In Ancient Rome, slaves addressed their masters as Dominus or Domina (male or female, respectively).

What did Romans call their citizens?

The term plebeian referred to all free Roman citizens who were not members of the patrician, senatorial or equestrian classes. Plebeians were average working citizens of Rome – farmers, bakers, builders or craftsmen – who worked hard to support their families and pay their taxes.

What did Romans call poor people?

plebeian, also spelled Plebian, Latin Plebs, plural Plebes, member of the general citizenry in ancient Rome as opposed to the privileged patrician class.

What did Romans call non citizens?

Those without Roman citizenship, or any of the lesser legal statuses that gave you some rights (like Latin status), were called peregrini (singular: peregrinus).

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