Latin is the language that was spoken by the Romans in Italy from about 700 BC to AD 500. Actually Latin is still spoken in Vatican City - the tiny independent country in the middle of Rome where the Pope lives.

Latin is very important because many of the modern languages spoken in Europe come from it. Italian is still very close to Latin. French and Spanish also come directly from Latin. Also an enormous number of words in English come from Latin words. The word 'number' for example comes from the Latin word 'numerum'. The alphabet used in English is called the 'Latin' or 'Roman alphabet'.

Until about 15 years ago Latin was a compulsory subject in schools because it is so important for learning grammar. Until about 500 years ago most books used in universities were written in Latin, including most maths books, so it was essential to be able to read it. Latin is still used by Roman Catholics for many church services, such as Requiem Mass. In Oxford and Cambridge Universities Latin is used for the speeches at ceremonies, but translations are now provided for the audience so they know when to laugh at the jokes.