Ancien = former / old (adjectives that change meaning according to position)

Certain adjectives change their meanings depending if they appear before or after the noun.

Here's the case of ancien:

L'ancienne maison où j'habitais The former house where I lived

La maison ancienne où j'habite The old house where I live

Mon ancien petit copainMy ex-boyfriend

Ce tableau ancienThis ancient painting

Before the noun, ancien means former / ex- / no longer

After the noun it means ancient / old
The adjective ancien in the sense of "ancient" is not really used in French for people.

 

Remember that generally adjectives appear after the noun, but some very common adjectives go before (See Adjectives usually go AFTER nouns (adjective position) and Short and common adjectives that go BEFORE nouns (adjective position))

See also: 

Propre = own / clean (adjectives that change meaning according to position) 

Cher= dear / expensive (adjectives that change meaning according to position) 

Certain = specific / sure (adjectives that change meaning according to position) 

Dernier = final / previous (adjectives that change meaning according to position)

Vrai = real / true (adjectives that change meaning according to position)  

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Examples and resources

La maison ancienne où j'habite The old house where I live
Un vase ancienAn ancient vase
L'ancienne maison où j'habitais The former house where I lived
Ce tableau ancienThis ancient painting
Un ancien collègueA former colleague
Mon ancien petit copainMy ex-boyfriend
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