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The phrase ante Christum natum translates to 'before the birth of Christ,' and Wikipedia says it is the (likely outdated) Latin equivalent to BC, in the same way post Christum natum is the equivalent to AD.

I came across this phrase today and I'd really like to use it in a piece of academic writing in which I'm constantly drawing distinctions between the Christian and the Classical. I want to know if it would be acceptable to use the phrase as part of a sentence to refer to something occurring before the year AD 1, but not to a specific year in time. Here is an example:

Virgil, who writes ante Christum natum, links the figure of Fortune to the divine will of Jupiter.

What do you think?

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  • What additional information would the Latin phrase give to your readers that the English phrase, "before the birth of Christ" would not?
    – Juhasz
    Commented Dec 10, 2018 at 16:53

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As a Latin student, I would say that, unless you are using full Latin phrases elsewhere in the same paper, you should avoid using the full form of archaic Latin-based abbreviations. To provide an example: if I use the abbreviation "i.e.," the modern reader sees no wrong, and knows intrinsically what I mean; however, if I expand the abbreviation into "id est," the average person will have no inkling as to my meaning. It would be acceptable to use the extended form of BCE, "before the common era," but I would steer clear of using ante Christum natum both because it is an antiquated form of BCE (and we are modern scholars) and because it is sometimes awkward to expand a Latin abbreviation in the middle of a paper written predominantly in English (unless you are studying the significance of Latin in modern abbreviations).

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