Latin became the language of Roman Imperial power and therefore all the land and peoples were familiar with the common form of ancient Latin after they were conquered by Roman military force. The question is - Why from all the languages did Latin become so popular. On the one hand Latin was the official language of the Roman bureaucracy. On the other hand a less formal Latin was used by the soldiers who conquered different regions and because some of them stayed to marry local women and raise their family, the military helped spread Latin. Latin carried on even after the Roman Empire ended. It became the basis for the romance languages so the power of the language was longer-lasting than Rome’s military power.
Broderick (1952) noted something surprising “All the ‘Italic’ languages are related to the Celtic and Latin languages (and so Latin is philologically) nearer to the Irish and Scottish Gaelic than to any other non-Latin language.” (p. 203) Broderick (1952) and Man (2000) both discussed the impact of the Etruscans on Latin even though this is not well-known. Emperor Claudius was married to a woman who was part-Etruscan. He was an intellectual emperor and wrote a twenty volume history of Etruscans; unfortunately none of it has survived. Although the Romans owed the Etruscans some credit for the Latin language the Romans never acknowledged the fact. For example the Romans used the shape of the Etruscan letter ‘C’ to make ‘G.’ The Latin alphabet is a mixture of Etruscan and Greek influences,, because the Romans had political and military power the alphabet spread throughout the Roman Empire. (Man, 2000, 261) The design of the letters is simple and decorative which reflected “the power and the authority” of Rome. (Man, 2000, p. 262)
Broderick explains the history that the Romans spread and the true story of how the Etruscans were expelled. In Italy the history is told about great Roman generals and soldiers tossing out the Etruscan kings. The records from history indicate that the Greeks settled on the
western side of the boot of Italy helped the Latin tribes overthrow the Etruscans. The motivation for the Greeks was to fight their biggest competitor. Rome was experiencing an anti-Etruscan trend. (Brodrick, 2000, p. 213)
The power of Rome was so great Latin was able to become the most used language although there were other languages that were the competition. The biggest competitor with Latin was Cyrillic. People conquered by Russia to the west, south and east learned Russian Cyrillic. Siberia, Caucasus and Central Asia adopted the language after they were conquered.
In conclusion Latin spread so far and became so important in the world for several reasons and some of them had to do with luck. The Romans were able to gain total credit for the written and spoken language of Latin by obliterating the people and the history of the Etruscans. They were able to spread the language throughout northern and eastern Europe by conquering people in the areas, in fact the Latin language is related to Celtic from the islands in the north off the coast of mainland Europe. The Roman Empire spread all the way to the East to where modern Turkey is located. (Further to the northeast Cyrillic ruled.) The spread of Latin was spread by force and coercion in the usual way great empires take over huge regions with the soldiers, scientists, missionaries and the bureaucrats who kept the books of the conquered regions.
People are more familiar with Latin than they probably realize because of the modern romance languages. Baldi (1999) explains that although written Latin survives, the Vulgar Latin we know about is from the indirect way of how it is used in the Romance languages. The Roman playwright, Plautus from the second century B.C.E. wrote his plays in vulgar language and so the difference between classical Latin and vulgar language. His audiences were not culture and they were not educated. “Plautine Latin evidences a definite style, one of which included parody and the intentional use of both archaisms and colloquialisms which must have appealed to the taste of his audiences.” (Baldi, 1999, p. 229)That demonstrates that Latin was a flexible language that people could adapt to their local ways of talking and having fun.
Proto-Latin was developed with the influences of the ancient languages of the Greeks and the Etruscans. It then developed into three different branches Latin-Faliscan, Sabellian, and Oscan-Umbrian. The branch of Latin-Faliscan broke into two branches one Latin and the other Faliscan. (Baldi, 1999, p. 170) Faliscan was the language with the closest similarities to Latin and it is referred to as a non-Roman Latin language. Once again with Rome conquered the lands of the people who used and spoke Faliscan it was replaced with Roman Latin. The vernacular language of the soldiers and the Romans who settled and visited conquered areas helped make Latin the accepted language. This was mainly possible because Vulgar Latin could compete with the local vernacular language. It could compete because it could adapt to the language and culture of the regions.
Mythology says that Romulus founded Rome in the year 753 B.C. At the time Rome was located in an area with a few thousand people living near what is modern Rome and speaking Italic. Inscriptions from the 6th century B.C. have been found that are the earliest words related to Latin. After approximately three thousand years ancient Latin in the written form is still being studied in school in Europe. Spoken Latin can be imagined when listening to all the romance languages that were developed from Latin.
Brodrick, A. H. (1952). The Tree of Human History. New York: Philosophical Library. Retrieved from http://www.questia.com
Hekster, O., & Zair, N. (2008). Rome and Its Empire, AD 193-284. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Retrieved from http://www.questia.com
Man, J. (2000). Alpha Beta: How 26 letters shaped the Western world. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.