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Surnames of the Aemilii

Article by Nephele

The Aemilia gens (originally "Aimilia") was one of the most prominent of the gentes in producing the greatest number of magistrates for the Roman Republic. Plutarch, in his Life of Numa (VIII.9-10, Loeb Classical Library edition, translated by Bernadotte Perrin) offered this origin of the gens name: "Another proof is that one of the four sons born to king Numa was named Mamercus, after the son of Pythagoras. And from him they say that the patrician family of the Aemilii took its name, Aemilius being the endearing name which the king gave him for the grace and winsomeness of his speech."

I have attempted here to list and define the various surnames used by the Aemilii of the Republic, particularly those 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 cognomina, adoptive cognomina, and agnomina under the collective term of "surnames."

Surnames of the Aemilii

Barbula - "A little beard," suggesting that the original bearer of this surname followed a fashion of young Roman society in sporting a small beard.

Buca - The name of a town in Samnium, indicating the family's origin. The Aemilii were of Sabine origin, and the Samnites were an offshoot of the Sabines.

Lepidus - Meaning "pleasant, agreeable, charming." This was the name of one of the most distinguished branches of one of Rome's most distinguished gentes.

Livianus - An adoptive surname formed from the nomen gentilicium of Livius. The consul of 77 BCE, Mamercus Aemilius Lepidus Livianus had been adopted into the Aemilii Lepidi.

Macedonicus - A triumphal surname bestowed upon the consul of 182 and 168 BCE, Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus, in commemoration of his victory over King Perseus of Macedonia in 168.

A story is told how this Aemilius, upon being told by his little daughter Tertia that her pet dog named "Perseus" had died, decided that this was an omen indicating that he would be successful in his compaign against King Perseus of Macedonia.

Of additional interest, this Aemilius gave two of his sons for adoption into other patrician families: the eldest son, Quintus (consul of 145 BCE), became Quintus Fabius Maximus Aemilianus upon his adoption into the Fabii. The younger son, Publius (consul of 147 and 134 BCE), became Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Aemilianus upon his adoption into the Cornelii (the family of his father's sister).

By the end of the final Punic War, the aristocratic families of Rome were dying out to the extent that there weren't enough adult males eligible for nomination every year as candidates for the highest magistracies. This affected the influence of the families, and so adoption of sons among the families was seen as a remedy. Munzer states that the three princely clans of the Aemilii, Cornelii, and Fabii affirmed their unification thus through inter-adoption. These three princely clans also considered the clan of the Servilii to be of equal birth: The consul of 142 BCE, Quintus Fabius Maximus Servilianus, was a Servilius by birth who had been adopted into the Fabii. His adoptive father (Quintus Fabius Maximus Aemilianus), in turn, had been an Aemilius by birth who had been adopted into the Fabii.

Mamercinus - Derived from Mamercus.

Mamercus - A name of Oscan origin believed to have been derived from Mamers, the Oscan name for the god known to the Romans as Mars. The name passed into Latin as both an uncommon praenomen (customarily abbreviated as "MAM.") and cognomen. As both praenomen and cognomen, Mamercus (and its derivative, Mamercinus) appears to have been used exclusively by the Aemilii. Plutarch explained that this had originally been a name of one of the sons of Pythagoras, which Numa (who emulated Pythagoras) chose to bestow upon one of his own four sons.

Numida - A surname of at least one 3rd century BCE decemvir from the Aemilii. The name might be a diminutive of the name of Numa Pompilius, the second King of Rome, from whom the Aemilii were said by some to have been descended. But, seeing as how the surname of Numida was used by other gentes, it may be more likely that the bearer of the name had some association (triumphal or otherwise) with the region of Numidia in Northern Africa.

Paullus - Meaning "little; small in stature." While not exclusive to the Aemilii, this surname is most often associated with that gens.

Paulus- A later, alternate rendering of the earlier, Republican-era form of Paullus.

Porcina - Meaning "pork," indicating that the consul of 137 BCE, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus Porcina, may have had a notable fondness for that particular dish.

Privernas - Meaning "of or belonging to Privernum," the name of an ancient Volscian town of Latium, today known as Piperno. This surname was conferred upon Lucius Aemilius Mamercinus, consul of 341 and 329 BCE, in victory celebration of his capturing the town of Privernum in 329 BCE.

Papus- A cognomen derived from a rare and obsolete praenomen of Oscan origin, the meaning lost.

Regillus - Meaning "royal, regal, magnificent." Although this was also the name of the Sabine town from which the Claudii originated (as recounted by Livy, 2.16), it is believed by Kajanto that the Aemilii acquired this name not through association with the town of Regillus or Regillum, but instead as a sort of "occupational" surname to indicate their ruling status.

Scaurus - Meaning "large and swollen ankles; having the ankles bunching out." Signifying a notable physical defect in the original bearer of this surname.

Broughton, T. Robert S. The Magistrates of the Roman Republic 2 vols. 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.
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.
Münzer, Friedrich. Roman Aristocratic Parties and Families. Trans. Thérèse Ridley. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.
Plutarch. Lives, Vol. I.. Translated by Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914.
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".


Surnames of the Aemilii - Related Topic: Republican Statesmen


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