Definition for AN'CIENT

AN'CIENT, a. [Fr. ancien; It. anziano, anzi; from L. ante, antiquus.]

  1. Old; that happened or existed in former times, usually at a great distance of time; as, ancient authors, ancient days. Old, says Johnson, relates to the duration of the thing itself, as an old coat; and ancient, to time in general, as an ancient dress. But this distinction is not always observed. We say, in old times, as well as ancient times; old customs, &c. We usually apply both ancient and old to things subject to gradual decay. We say an old man, an ancient record; but never the old sun, old stars, an old river or mountain. In general, however, ancient is opposed to modern, and old to new, fresh, or recent. When we speak of a thing that existed formerly, which has ceased to exist, we commonly use ancient, as ancient republics, ancient heroes, and not old republics, old heroes. But when the thing which began or existed in former times, is still in existence, we use either ancient or old; as, ancient statues or paintings, or old statues or paintings; ancient authors, or old authors, meaning books. But in these examples ancient seems the most correct, or best authorized. Some persons apply ancient to men advanced in years still living; now this use is not common in modern practice.
  2. Old; that has been of long duration; as, an ancient forest; an ancient city.
  3. Known from ancient times; as, the ancient continent, opposed to the new continent. – Robertson.

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