Sextus Pompeius Festus

Sextus Pompeius Festus (/ˈfɛstəs/) was a Roman grammarian who probably flourished in the later 2nd century AD, perhaps at Narbo (Narbonne) in Gaul.

Festus' modern editors sum up his importance:

The text, even in its present mutilated state, is an important source for scholars of Roman history. It is a treasury of historical, grammatical, legal and antiquarian learning, providing sometimes unique evidence for the culture, language, political, social and religious institutions, deities, laws, lost monuments, and topographical traditions of ancient Italy.[1]


He made an epitome in 20 volumes of the encyclopedic treatise in many volumes De verborum significatu, of Verrius Flaccus, a celebrated grammarian who flourished in the reign of Augustus. Festus gives the etymology as well as the meaning of many words, and his work throws considerable light on the language, mythology and antiquities of ancient Rome. He made a few alterations, and inserted some critical remarks of his own. He also omitted such ancient Latin words as had long been obsolete; these he apparently discussed in a separate work now lost, entitled Priscorum verborum cum exemplis. Even incomplete, Festus' lexicon reflects at second hand the enormous intellectual effort that had been made in the Augustan Age to put together information on the traditions of the Roman world, which was already in a state of flux and change.

Of Flaccus' work only a few fragments remain, of Festus' epitome only one damaged, fragmentary manuscript. The rest is further abridged in a summary made at the close of the 8th century, by Paul the Deacon.


The Codex Farnesianus at Naples is the sole surviving, 11th-century, Festus manuscript. It was rediscovered in 1436 at Speyer by the Venetian humanist and bishop Pietro Donato.[2] When he found it, half of the manuscript was already missing, so that it only contains the alphabetized entries, M-V, and that not in perfect condition. It has been scorched by fire and disassembled.

Collating these fragmentary abridgments, and republishing them with translations, is a project being coordinated at University College London, with several objectives: to make this information available in usable form, to stimulate debate on Festus and on the Augustan antiquarian tradition upon which he drew, and to enrich and to renew studies on Roman life, about which Festus provides essential information.


  1. Festus Lexicon Project, Department of History - University College London (archived from the original)
  2. Stinger, Charles L (1998). The Renaissance in Rome. Indiana University Press. p. 64 via Google Books.


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