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In The Annals, the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus wrote about the British chieftain Caractacus and how he was captured by the Romans. According to him, Caractacus was taken to Rome along with his family to be publicly humiliated and then executed. But, before his execution, he managed to deliver a speech to the emperor Claudius. After hearing the speech, the emperor decided to pardon Caractacus and set him free.

We don't know if the speech was so eloquent as Tacitus portrays it, but it was probably not so inarticulate, either. Besides, the emperor (and Tacitus himself) seemed to understand it very well. The problem is: Caractacus's native language was Brythonic and the Romans, of course, spoke Latin. So, in what language did he deliver that speech? Is it possible that Caractacus was fluent in Latin? Or, what seems more plausible, were Brythonic and Latin mutually intelligible (cf. Italo-Celtic hypothesis)?

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Could it be as simple as the speech was translated by an interpreter? –  mgkrebbs Mar 6 '12 at 6:10
No, they were not intelligible, and Italo-Celtic is a complete nonsense as understood now (even if not, it was far before that point when the languages could be mutually intelligible). –  Anixx Mar 10 '12 at 11:45
Neither tape recorders nor Hansard existed at that time, so the speech as reported by Tacitus is simply his best recollection, possibly several years after the fact. –  Pieter Geerkens Jan 9 at 18:34
Tacitus was born two years after Claudius died, so it is at best the recollection of someone else. –  Oldcat Jan 10 at 19:34
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2 Answers

Being that Britain had been exposed to Roman influence for close to a century - Caesar having made first contact with his invasion around 55bc. There was constant diplomatic and trade relations between the British and Romans following that.

As Caractacus was a member of the ruling class, it's entirely possible that he spoke Latin to some extent.

As mgkrebbs points out, a translator is the other likely option!

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It is possible, but seems rather unlikely. Do you have a reference for "constant diplomatic" relations? –  Felix Goldberg Dec 7 '12 at 1:13
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Since Tacitus probably made it up, like most speeches put in the mouths of historical figures by ancient historians, the answer would be "Latin".

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