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Surnames of the Cornelii

Article by Nephele

Without a doubt the Cornelia gens contributed the greatest number of magistrates to the Roman Republic, perhaps making the connected families of the Cornelii the most influential gens of the Republic.

The different families (both patrician and plebeian) of the Cornelii were distinguished by their hereditary cognomina -- with some families further distinguishing themselves with the addition of agnomina (nicknames and titles of honor).

I have attempted here to list and define the various surnames used by those Cornelii who served in magisterial positions during the time of the Republic, as noted in Broughton's Magistrates of the Roman Republic. For the purpose of this list, I have included hereditary cognomina, adoptive cognomina, and agnomina under the collective term of "surnames."

Surnames of the Cornelii

Aemilianus - An adoptive surname formed from the nomen gentilicium of Aemilius, assumed by the younger son of Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus (the conqueror of Macedonia), when he was adopted by the son of the conqueror of Hannibal, and his name then became Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Aemilianus.

Africanus - A victory surname which became hereditary, conferred upon the great general Scipio on his triumphal return to Italy from Africa in 201 BCE, having defeated Hannibal at Carthage.

Arvina - Meaning "grease; fat." One of many cognomina referring to a dish or meal that perhaps may have been a favorite of the original bearer of the surname. Or, possibly this may have been originally a nickname, the English translation being: "Fatty; Fatso."

Asiagenus - Alternate name for Asiaticus.

Asiaticus - A victory surname assumed by Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus in 191 BCE, when he entered Rome in triumph after having defeated Antiochus at Mount Sipylus in Asia the previous year.

Asina - Meaning "she-ass." Macrobius relates the story behind this surname of the Cornelii in his Saturnalia, saying that a head of the Cornelian clan who, having been required to produce guarantors for a transaction involving either the purchase of some land or the contracting of a marriage, brought a she-ass loaded with money to the forum instead.

An alternate origin for this surname has been offered in discussion with author and historian, Philip Matyszak, who cited Val. Max. as his reference: "Scipio Asina... first of the line with that name was also Rome's first Admiral during the Carthaginian wars. He took Rome's shiny new fleet (first attempt by Rome to become a sea power) and ran it straight into a Carthaginian ambush. Lost the fleet, lost the crews and was taken prisoner. The Carthaginians who won with hardly a man hurt released him, perhaps in the hope that he'd do it again. Anyway, he got the name 'Asina' for pure bone-headed incompetence, and the feminine ending was, I fear, intended to compound the insult as the Romans believed that ladies made less competent generals, or admirals for that matter."

Augur - Meaning "a diviner; a soothsayer." Although no Cornelian with the surname of "Augur" appears in the magistracies of the Republic compiled by Broughton, I have included the surname on this list because of a consul of 14 BCE named Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Augur.

Balbus - Meaning "stammering; lisping." Several gentes, in addition to a plebeian branch of the Cornelii, bore this surname, which would have been given to someone with a speech impediment.

Barbatus - Meaning "bearded." In addition to the Cornelii, the Horatii also included this surname in their gens.

Blasio - Meaning "stammerer," and possibly of Etruscan origin.

Calussa - A surname borne by a Cornelii who was a Ponifex Maximus circa 332 BCE. The meaning is unknown.

Calvus - Meaning "bald-headed, hairless." This cognomen was also borne by members of the Licinia gens.

Caudinus - A victory surname conferred upon Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Caudinus, consul in 275 BCE, in honor of the part he took in the capture of the city Caudium.

Cethegus - A very old surname whose meaning is lost in history. This branch of the Cornelii, however, were further distinguished by the fashion of wearing their arms bare (which has nothing to do with the meaning of the surname).

Cinna - A surname of suggested Etruscan origin, due to its -na ending, but perhaps derived from the Latin cincinnatus or cincinnus), meaning "curly hair."

Clodianus - An adoptive surname formed from the nomen gentilicum of Clodius or Claudius, borne by Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus (consul in 72 BCE), originally a Claudian who was adopted into the Lentulus branch of the Cornelii.

Corculum - An affectionate diminutive nickname meaning "little heart." This surname was conferred upon Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum (consul in 162 and 155 BCE) "on account of his sagacity."

Cossus - Meaning "wood-worm," and referring to a species of larva that lives under the bark of trees that eventually came to be regarded as a delicacy by epicures (as related by Pliny the Elder in Books 11 and 17 of his Naturalis Historia). Originally a very ancient cognomen, Cossus later was used as a praenomen in the Lentulus branch of the Cornelii. It is believed that both the Cossi and the Maluginenses (another Cornelian surname) were once of the same branch, as evidenced by a consul in 485 BCE who bore the name of Servius Cornelius Cossus Maluginensis.

Crus - Meaning "the leg; shank; shin." The circumstances are unknown as to how Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Crus, consul in 49 BCE, acquired this surname.

Cruscellio - Derived from the Latin crusculum, meaning "a small leg or shank." As a diminutive of the word crus, it implies that the bearer of this name may have been a son of the original Crus.

Dolabella - Meaning "little pick-ax, hatchet." This is a diminutive of the Latin word dolabra, a tool used in warfare for chopping out the stones in an enemy's city walls or other fortifications. Most likely the original bearer of this surname received such due to his ferocity with the use of the dolabra in battle.

Felix - Meaning "happy; fortunate." This was a surname that the general and dictator, Sulla, claimed for himself in 81 BCE to celebrate the triumph of his victory over Mithridates, attributing his success to "the favor of the gods." Pliny the Elder, in Book 7, Chapter 44 of his Natural History, made a comment regarding the irony of this name for Sulla, saying not only that Sulla was the only man (up until Pliny's time) who claimed this surname for himself, but also that Sulla's "happy" state was derived from the unhappiness of his murdered and oppressed countrymen.

Gaetulicus - Although no Cornelian with the surname of "Gaetulicus" appears in the magistracies of the Republic compiled by Broughton, I have included the surname on this list because of a Cossus Cornelius Lentulus who was consul in 1 BCE and who, in 6 CE, received his victory surname of "Gaetulicus" upon defeating the Gaetuli in Africa after they had invaded the kingdom of Juba.

Gallus - A surname indicating ethnic origin or association with the region of Gaul. This surname was also borne by other gentes, such as the Aquilii and the Sulpicii, in addition to a plebeian branch of the Cornelii.

Hispallus - A diminutive of the surname Hispanus (meaning "of Spain"), borne by Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Hispallus (consul in 176 BCE) whose father fought and died in Hispania and was believed to have had the surname of "Hispanus" conferred upon him. "Hispallus" would have indicated a son of Hispanus.

Hispanus - Meaning "of Spain." A surname conferred in recognition of military victory in Spain.

Lentulus - Meaning "tardy; slow." A surname borne by one of the most distinguished partrician branches of the Cornelii.

Lupus - Meaning "wolf."

Maluginensis - This surname is believed to have been derived from the name of a town that was lost in history, along with the meaning of its name. However, this name bears a strong similarity to the Latin word maluginosus, meaning "cunning; crafty." See also Cossus.

Mammula - Meaning "little breast" in Latin. Because this seems an odd name for a man, it is believed by some to be of Etruscan origin with a completely different meaning -- perhaps even related to the Oscan praenomen of "Mamercus."

Marcellinus - A surname derived from the common praenomen of "Marcus."

Merenda - Meaning "the mid-day meal." This surname is found in the Antonia gens, as well as the Cornelia gens.

Merula - Meaning "blackbird."

Nasica - Meaning "large or pointed nose." The first member of the Cornelii to be described as "Scipio with the pointed nose" was Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica, the son of Gnaeus Scipio Calvus ("the bald").

Niger - Meaning "black; dark; dusky" and referring to the color of the individual's hair, or to a dark complexion.

Rufinus - Meaning "reddish," and referring to the color of the individual's hair, or to a ruddy complexion.

Rufus - See Rufinus.

Rutilus - See Rufinus.

Salutio - See Salvitto.

Salvitto - A surname derived from the Latin salvus, or saluto, meaning "safe; healthy." Although Salvitto (sometimes referred to as Salutio) was not a magisterial Cornelian of the Republic, I include him here because of Pliny the Elder's mention of him in his Naturalis Historia, stating that he received his surname due to his resemblance to a stage mime with the same name.

Scapula - Meaning "shoulderblade," and referring to an individual with prominent shoulderblades.
Scipio - Meaning "rod; staff." Macrobius relates the story behind this surname of the Cornelii in his Saturnalia, saying that an early Cornelius was in the habit of acting as a human staff in guiding his blind father. It was this act of filial devotion that earned him (and his descendants) the surname of "Scipio."

Serapio - A name, not Roman in origin, but Egyptian, having been derived from the name of the Hellenistic-Egyptian deity Serapis. This surname was given to Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio out of derision by the tribune Gaius Curiatius, due to this Cornelian's resemblance to (as described by Pliny the Elder) "a vile slave of a pig-jobber" (a dealer in sacrificial animals) who bore that name. Despite the pejorative origin of his nickname, this Cornelian perversely took enough of a fancy to it that he proudly kept it. One might presume one reason being to spite Curiatius.

Sibylla - This surname was received by the 3rd century BCE decumvir Publius Cornelius Rufus who, according to Macrobius in his Saturnalia, advised consultation of the Sibylline Books upon the institution of the Games of Apollo.

Sisenna - A surname from the Etruscan dialect (identified by the Etruscan -na ending), the meaning lost.

Spinther - Meaning "a kind of bracelet which kept its place on the arm by its own elasticity." This surname was given to Publius Cornelius Lentulus Spinther not because of any affectation of dress, but because of his uncanny resemblance to a stage actor of the same name. Pliny the Elder, in Book VII, Chapter 10 of his Naturalis Historia, relates the story behind this surname being borne by Publius Cornelius Lentulus Spinther: "In the same way, too, Spinther and Pamphilus, who were respectively actors of only second and third rate parts, gave their names to Lentulus and Metellus, who were at that time colleagues in the consulship [in 57 BCE]; so that, by a very curious but disagreeable coincidence, the likenesses of the two consuls were to be seen at the same moment on the stage."

Sulla - There is much dispute as to the origin and meaning of this surname, with some stating that it is a diminutive of Sura, others that it is an ancient word with roughly the same meaning as "Rufus" ("red-haired" or "ruddy-complexioned"), and others that it is derived from the name "Sibylla" (see Sibylla), which was supposedly later shortened to "Sylla."

Sura - Meaning "the calf of the leg." While this surname is found in other gentes in addition to the Cornelia gens, the Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura who bore this surname is said by Plutarch (and recounted by Smith in his Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology) to have received the nickname when serving as quaestor to Sulla in 81 BCE. When called by Sulla to give an accounting of himself, Sura "answered by scornfully putting out his leg, 'like boys,' says Plutarch, 'when they make a blunder in playing at ball.' (Cicero 17)."

Sylla - See Sulla.

Uritinus - A surname believed to be connected to the Greek Chouretinos. Diodorus Siculus, in his Eleventh Book wrote: "When Ariston was archon in Athens, the Romans elected as consuls (459 BCE) Quintus Fabius Vibulanus and Lucius Cornelius Curitinus." This Lucius Cornelius Curitinus is rendered as Lucius Cornelius Maluginensis Uritinus elsewhere.

References
Broughton, T. Robert S. The Magistrates of the Roman Republic New York: The American Philological Association, 1952.
Chase, George Davis. "The Origin of the Roman Praenomina." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Vol. 8. (1897), pp. 103-184.
Diodorus Siculus. Diodorus of Sicily in Twelve Volumes. Trans. C.H. Oldfather. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989.
Kajanto, Iiro. The Latin Cognomina. Helsinki: Keskuskirjapaino, 1965.
Charlton T. and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary: Founded on Andrews' Edition of Freund's Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879.
Macrobius, Ambrosius Aurelius Theodosius. Saturnalia. Trans. Percival Vaughan Davies. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.
Matyszak, Philip. From the UNRV discussion board, Jan. 24, 2008.
Pliny the Elder [Gaius Plinius Secundus]. Natural History. Trans. John Bostock and Henry Thomas Riley. London: Taylor and Francis, 1855.
Smith, William, ed. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1867.

Did you know?

There was no direct Roman equivalent of "sir" or "madam".

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Surnames of the Cornelii - Related Topic: Sulla


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