Department of History

University College London

Festus Lexicon Project

‘The goodlie Dictionarie of Pompeius Festus’ (Roger Ascham)

The Lexicon of Festus (de uerborum significatu) is a Latin dictionary compiled in the Roman imperial period which preserves a great deal of priceless information about the history, society, religion and topography of Rome and Italy in earlier centuries. It draws on a rich series of studies by the writers of Cicero's day, who collected and analysed information about the traditions of their past and the institutions of their own day, which they believed were in a state of serious decay. These were encyclopaedic works, familiar in antiquity, but now almost completely lost, so that Festus provides a crucial link to this whole tradition of learning.

The Lexicon itself has come down to us in a fragmentary state: some of it is preserved in a single, damaged, manuscript; the rest in a summary form made at the end of the eighth century AD. For modern readers, there is a critical text, published in the early part of the twentieth century; but no translation or commentary is available and the text itself needs modern re-assessment. Many individual entries from the dictionary have been much debated and play a major role in our understanding of the republican period; but there has been no collection of this bibliography and little attempt to look at the dictionary itself or at the information it provides as a coherent whole.

The objectives of this project are:

1] to make this mass of information available to researchers in a usable form.
2] to stimulate debate on Festus' own work, on the antiquarian tradition from which he was drawing and on the subsequent history of the text in the Renaissance and thereafter.
3] to enrich and renew studies on the many particular areas of Roman life on which Festus provides such essential information.

The Project Team
The Project is housed in the Department of History at University College London, and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

The project employs one full time research fellow at UCL, Fay Glinister. She works in collaboration with Clare Woods of Duke University (North Carolina), who is responsible for examining the manuscripts and early printed editions of Paul. The project is supervised by John North and Michael Crawford.

Dr Fay Glinister, Research Fellow
Fay Glinister studied Ancient and Medieval History at University College London before completing a PhD on The Roman Kingship in the Sixth Century BC. Subsequently she was awarded a British Academy Post-Doctoral Fellowship (held at University College London), and then a Leverhulme Study Abroad Studentship (held at the British School at Rome), to write a book on Sanctuaries and Society in Archaic Central Italy. She has published a number of articles on the religious history of Rome and Italy, and is presently completing a book on the goddess Diana for Routledge.

Professor Michael Crawford, Co-Director

Michael Crawford was formerly Professor of Ancient History at University College London. He is an expert on Roman law and numismatics, and is completing a book on Rome and Italy during the Republic. His project to catalogue Italic inscriptions, Imagines Italicae, is nearly complete.

Professor John North, Director
John North was formerly Professor and Head of the Department of History at University College London. He is an expert in the religious history of Rome.

Dr Clare Woods, Associate Research Fellow

Clare Woods is Assistant Professor in the Department of Classical Studies, Duke University. She took a BA and MA in Classics at King's College London before producing for her PhD a critical edition of the sermons on the virtues and vices from the ninth-century Latin sermonary compiled by Hrabanus Maurus for Haistulf of Mainz. She held a Frances Yates Fellowship at the Warburg Institute before taking up an Assistant Lectureship in Late Latin and Palaeography at University College Dublin. She is now an Assistant Professor of Late and Medieval Latin and Palaeography at Duke University in North Carolina. Her critical edition of Hrabanus' complete sermon collection will shortly be published by Brepols in the Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Medievalis series.

The Database (Filemaker Pro 7)

We are presently completing our comprehensive database of the text of Festus and of Paul the Deacon. The database will also provide a complete translation and extensive commentary, together with parallel texts, and bibliography for these works. It includes the texts of Mueller and of Lindsay's two editions, which form the basis for our completely revised text.

Sample database entries will be published on this website. Please email us your comments and queries.

The full version of texts, translation and commentary will be published in book form. The materials will also be made available digitally. Before then we intend to release sample entries on this web page and we would welcome any comments from visitors to the site.

2007 saw the arrival of the first publication resulting from the project, being based on papers delivered at a conference held in the Institute of Classical Studies, London, in June 2002:
F. Glinister and C. Woods with J.A. North and M.H. Crawford, Verrius, Festus and Paul: Lexicography, Scholarship and Society (Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies Supplement 93: London, 2007).

Varro, Verrius, Festus and Paul

These four authors stand at the heart of the Festus Lexicon project.


Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BC), was the most famous scholar of late Republican Rome. Born at Reate, he undertook an active public career. Although he was a supporter of Pompey, his scholarly fame meant that after the battle of Pharsalus Julius Caesar appointed him to set up Rome’s first public library (never completed). He was proscribed by Mark Antony, but survived, and spent the rest of his long life writing books.

He wrote a huge number of books on a range of subjects, each carefully researched. These works include the De vita populi Romani, De gente populi Romani, De iure civili, De poetis, De comoediis Plautinis, and De re rustica. Of most interest in relation to the Festus Lexicon Project is his partially-surviving work on the Latin language, De lingua Latina.


Festus' work was based on the De uerborum significatu (On the Meaning of Words) of Verrius Flaccus, the learned grammarian and antiquarian of the Augustan Age. Verrius was responsible for setting up in the Latin town of Praeneste a painted calendar of religious festivals with scholarly annotations, known as the Fasti Praenestini. Mommsen believed it to be based on a lost literary version, but this is unproven. Compiled close to the time that Ovid was writing his own poetical version of the calendar, the Fasti, it shows the keen interest taken by Romans of the period in their calendar, and the histories and myths that were so much a part of it. Verrius, in compiling his lexicon, undoubtedly used Varro's lost Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum (47 BC).

Early imperial writers such as Pliny the Elder made much use of Verrius' encyclopaedia, but it was huge in size (the letter A alone took up four books), and awkward to use, so it was ultimately lost, apart from the use made of it by Festus, and scattered fragments in the works of later authors.


We know very little of Festus himself. He probably lived in the later second century AD; some have suggested an origin in Narbo (Gaul), though this is far from certain. His only extant work is a dictionary-cum-encyclopaedia, in twenty books, stuffed with etymologies and grammatical explanations, descriptions of Roman legends and historical events, explanations of religious festivals and political and social institutions, and so on. The contents are ordered alphabetically, but the layout is not strictly alphabetic: only the initial letter of each entry is identical, and strings of glosses are frequently grouped by source, affinity of argument, or a common theme (e.g. groups using material from Cato or from Plautus, or groups concerning augural law).

The text of Festus as we have it does stem largely from that of Verrius, and essentially reflects the enormous intellectual effort made in the Augustan Age to put together information on the Roman world.

Paul the Deacon

Paul the Deacon was renowned as a poet, a grammarian and a historian that one modern scholar has described as 'the most distinguished Italian author of the eighth century, and the first to write at any length since Pope Gregory the Great (604)'.

Born probably in the late 720s in Forum Iulii (modern Cividale) in Friuli, Northern Italy, Paul was of noble family and spent much of his youth at the courts of Lombard Kings, first that of Ratchis, then of Desiderius at Pavia. His intelligence and scholarship clearly impressed Desiderius, who made him tutor to his daughter Adalperga. After the latter's marriage to the Duke of Beneventum, Paul accompanied her south, dedicating poetry to her (including his earliest datable poem, composed in 763), and his first historical work, the Historia Romana. At some point between his arrival in Beneventum and before 781, he entered the abbey of Monte Cassino, which would be his home for most of the rest of his life. Perhaps his entry into monastic life was prompted by Charlemagne's conquest of the Lombard kingdoms (Pavia fell in 774), or by Charlemagne's quelling of a Lombard rebellion in 776, which certainly affected other members of Paul's family. His brother Arichis was dispossessed and taken to Charlemagne's court as a hostage: an event which caused his family hardship as Paul's poem-epistle to Charlemagne attests. The poem caught Charlemagne's attention and Paul - like many other gifted, scholarly men at this time - was summoned to the Frankish king's court, where he gained a reputation as a writer of court poetry and as a teacher and grammarian. He spent perhaps only four years in the Frankish kingdom attached to the itinerant court, but received as a consequence a number of important editorial commissions. For Adalhard of Corbie, he was invited to put together a collection of the letters of Gregory the Great; for Charlemagne he carried out two major commissions. One was a large and highly influential patristic homiliary, designed for liturgical use at the night office; the second - and the work which forms an important part of the Festus Lexicon project - was his epitome of Festus' De uerborum significatu. It is probable that all these works were composed in Monte Cassino. Paul the Deacon died at Monte Cassino, towards the end of the eighth century, perhaps around 799, leaving unfinished one of his most famous works, the History of the Lombards.


Paul's Epitome of Festus' De uerborum significatu

According to the dedicatory letter which accompanied his epitome, Paul composed the work with the intention of adding a little something (aliquid) to Charlemagne's library. Given that Paul probably used a manuscript of Festus available to him among the treasures of Monte Cassino's library, it is possible that he was responding to requests from Charlemagne to send rare works to him for the enrichment of the court library. In epitomizing Festus, Paul kept the basic order of Festus' entries, but cut those he considered superfluous or unnecessary, adjusted those he thought obscure and left some just as they stood. In fact, if one compares that portion of Festus which survives in MS F with the corresponding section of Paul's epitome, it is clear that Paul may have cut quite a large percentage of Festus' entries, often also suppressing the citations from ancient authors, which Festus had provided as context for the words discussed. For most of Festus, Paul is all that is left. The epitome survives in numerous manuscripts, a small and relatively early selection of which (though no manuscript used by Lindsay is earlier than the tenth century) is listed and utilised by Lindsay in his edition.

As a first stage in this project, we aim to compile a handlist of manuscripts of Paul the Deacon's Epitome, which will enable us to provide a fuller collation of the work than any yet attempted.

Paul dedicated his epitome of Festus to 'the sublime' Charlemagne, at whose court he spent time. It was 'designed to add something to your libraries, because I am not at all fit enough on my own account, by necessity, I altered another's work, in short, Sextus Pompeius, sufficiently learned in Roman studies, as good as opening up the origins of hidden of words as he is at opening up the origins of certain matters. His work extends to twenty large volumes, from which profusion I, passing over certain superfluous and less necessary things, with my own pen picking out certain deeply hidden things, and leaving some things as they had been placed, I offered this compendium to be read by Your Highness. In the course of which if you will not disdain to go and read it, you will find not inconveniently grouped certain things according to knowledge (artem) and certain things according to etymology, and you will discover words treating especially of your Romulean city [Rome], of its gates and streets and mountains and places and tribes. And besides that, the rites and customs of the gentiles, and also the various utterances belonging to the poets and writers of history which they regularly placed in their works. Which little work of my smallness, if your wisdom and most subtle intellect will not have thoroughly repulsed it, it will encourage my impoverished self to better things, while I live.'

Transmission of the Text
A single (eleventh century) manuscript of the text of Festus survives. It has had something of a chequered history. A significant part was already lost before the rediscovery of the manuscript (probably in the 1450s), so that nothing survives before the letter M. Moreover, at some point in the fifteenth century the manuscript suffered fire damage, and the edges of the outer column are entirely burnt away. The manuscript suffered further losses when Manilius Rhallus lent it to the humanist scholar Pomponius Laetus, who dismantled it and kept part for himself. Agustín likened the Farnesianus to 'a soldier whose comrades have been defeated and massacred, and who creeps along at random with his legs broken, his nose mutilated, one eye gouged out, and one arm broken' (tr. A. Grafton).

However, the text can be supplemented in various ways, for example from medieval epitomes (especially that of Paul the Deacon) and glossaries, and from manuscripts of classical authors with scholarly annotations taken from Festus. Moreover, fifteenth century copies of the manuscript (made after the fire, but when the manuscript was in a better state than now) have enabled us to reconstruct some missing sections. Festus is not only significant for the study of antiquity: some of the many editions of the text have been produced by very notable scholars: for example Scaliger's restorations of glosses in the manuscript stand as one of the first examples of modern scholarship.

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.

Festus is important, too, in terms of his numerous explicit citations of early Roman authors, from Fabius Pictor on. He quoted or used many ancient sources, including authors - poets, grammarians, jurists and antiquarians - whose works do not survive elsewhere. In the case of Plautus, the quotations that survive in Festus are particularly important, as they antedate the edition from which the archetype derives, and sometimes preserve a true reading not otherwise attested. We could sometimes wish that Festus included more: in quoting, his practice is typically to complete the line, whether or not the sense of the passage can be understood. The text of Festus sometimes preserves very early traditions, or readings of other authors. For example, the quotation from the Augustan jurist Antistius Labeo's work on pontifical law in Festus 474, 476L, apparently from priestly records, may be earlier than Varro's discussion of the Septimontium in LL 5.41.

Other frequently cited authors include Lucilius, Caecilius, Accius, Afranius, Titinius, the grammarian Cornificius, and of course Varro (directly cited about twenty times; in addition a number of other entries have been attributed to him). Festus also includes many glosses of legal character, and cites jurists such as Mucius Scaevola, Sulpicius Rufus, Ateius Capito and so on. Festus' many sources represent a wide range of Republican scholarly antiquity, but it is also worthwhile looking at him in the context of his own time. The choice he made to work on such material is quite an interesting one. Clearly, he was interested in the Roman past, but as the first part of his work is lost, we lack any explicit personal statement of his aims. Nevertheless, his literary activity can be understood in the general context of the cultural attitudes of the second century. He is concerned with the recovery of Roman antiquities of all kinds, and with early literary works (such as those by Ennius and Cato), which fits in with the arcaising and antiquarian interests of a number of near-contemporary Latin authors such as Probus, Apuleius, and most notably Aulus Gellius, author of the Attic Nights. Antiquarian scholarship can be understood as one way Romans had of ordering the world around them, in Italy and beyond, and of assimilating the traditions and culture of other peoples, especially the Greeks. For such authors, knowledge of the past played a role in helping them define their social and political identity.


Major editions (in date order) (the key editions are those by Müller and Lindsay)

G.B. Pio (Milan, 1500) (editio princeps)

Aldus Manutius [Aldo Manuzio] (Venice, 1513)

A. Augustin, M. Verrii Flacci quae extant, et Sex. Pompei Festi De verborvm significatione, lib. XX in eundem Festum annotationes, index rerum obiter dictarum, ex bibliotheca Antonij Augustini (Venice, 1559 ; repr. with corrections 1560)

J.J. Scaliger (Paris, 1575)

F. Orsini (Rome, 1581)

A. Dacier, De Verborum Significatione libri XX [...] in usum serenissimi Delphini. Accedunt in hac nova editione notae integrae Josephi Scaligeri, Fulvi Ursini, & Antonii Augustini, cum Fragmentis & Schedis, & indice novo (first edition Paris, 1681; repr. Amsterdam, 1699 and 1700)

A.J. Valpy, De verborum significatione libri xx. Ex editione Andreae Dacerii cum notis et interpretatione in usum Delphini variis variorum recensu editionum et codicum et indicibus locupletissimis accurate recensiti (London, 1826)

D. Godefroy (Gothofredus) (Coloniae Allobrogum, 1585, 16022)

F. Lindemann, Corpus Grammaticorum Latinorum veterum II. Pauli Diaconi Excerpta ex libris Festi De significatione verborum et Sexti Pompeii Festi fragmenta librorum De significatione verborum / collegit, auxit, recensuit ac potiorem lectionis varietatem adiecit Fridericus Lindemannus sociorum opera adiutus; cum commentariis Antonii Augustini, Fulvii Ursini, Iosephi Scaligeri integris, aliorum exerptis (Leipzig 1832)

A.E. Egger, Scriptorum Latinorum nova Collectio (Paris, 1838)

A. Savagner, Sextus Pompeius Festus, De la Signification des mots (Paris, 2 vols., 1846) (French translation)

C.O. Mueller, Sexti Pompei Festi De uerborum significatione quae supersunt cum Pauli Epitome (Leipzig, 1839, 1882)

E. Thewrewk, Sexti Pompei Festi de uerborum significatu quae supersunt cum Pauli epitome, Pars I (Budapest, 1889)

E. Thewrewk de Ponor, Codex Festi Farnesianus XLII tabulis expressus (Budapest, 1893) (facsimile)

W.M. Lindsay, Sexti Pompei Festi. De uerborum significatu quae supersunt cum Pauli Epitome. Thewrewkianis copiis usus edidit (Leipzig, 1913)

W.M. Lindsay, Glossaria Latina iussu Academiae Britannicae edita 4 (Paris, 1930), pp. 93-467 (reprinted Hildesheim, 1965, with indices by A. Thierfelder)

A. Moscadi, Il Festo farnesiano (Cod. Neapol. IV.A.3). Università degli studi di Firenze, Dipartimento di scienze dell’antichità ‘Giorgio Pasquali’ (Florence, 2001)

P. Pieroni, Marcus Verrius Flaccus’ De significatu verborum in den Auszügen von Sextus Pompeius Festus und Paulus Diaconus. Einleitung und Teilkommentar (154,19–186,29 Lindsay). Studien zur Klassischen Philologie 147 (Frankfurt am Main, 2004)

Useful Links

The Institue of Classical Studies provides a page with links to Classics gateway sites. Especially useful sites include The Latin Library , Lacus Curtius and Perseus.

Of particular interest for Festus, see the French Remacle site, which contains Savagner’s text and French translation of Festus and Paul (to be used with care). Fragments of Verrius Flaccus from Egger's edition are online in the Forum Romanum site.

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Created and maintained by Fay Glinister and Simon Renton. All images are believed to be in the public domain; if not, the copyright holders are invited to contact us. Last updated 7th September 2009 (SJJC).