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Surnames of the Claudii

Article by Nephele

The Claudia gens was second to the Cornelia gens in producing the greatest number of magistrates for the Roman Republic. "Clodius" was an alternate spelling of the name "Claudius" and, even though some members of the Claudii eventually chose to use the form of "Clodius" all the time while other Claudii alternated between spellings, both the Claudii and the Clodii were of the same original gens.

I have attempted here to list and define the various surnames used by those Claudii 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 and agnomina under the collective term of "surnames."

Surnames of the Claudii

Aeserninus - This surname was a title of honor given on the occasion of the siege of Marcus Claudius Marcellus at Aesernia, a fortified town in Samnium, in the social war of 90 BCE. The surname itself was conferred upon the son of Marcellus, rather than upon Marcellus, as his son was born at Aesernia during the siege.

Arquetius - See Arquitius

Arquitius - Alternately, "Arquetius," meaning "bowman, archer." This surname was found among those Claudians who rendered their nomen gentilicium as "Clodius."

Asellus - A diminutive of the Latin asinus ("ass"), this cognomen was also borne by members of the Annia gens, as well as by members of a plebeian branch of the Claudia gens. The original bearer of this name may not necessarily have been nicknamed "little ass" because of a personality trait, but possibly because of an event in his life which involved the animal for which he was named. As with the cognomen of "Asina" ("she-ass") of the Cornelii, when an early member of that gens acquired the name due to an unusual business transaction involving the animal. (See Asina in Surnames of the Cornelii).

Caecus - Meaning "blind." This surname was given to Appius Claudius (consul in 307 and 296 BCE; Dictator between 292 and 285 BCE) after he had gone blind. It was said that Caecus had been cursed by Hercules and struck with blindness on account of his sacrilegious transference of the ancient cult of Hercules from the Potitian family to public slaves.

Canina - Meaning "dog's flesh." A surname suggesting that the original bearer (of a plebeian branch of the Claudii) made a meal of dog's flesh. While the Romans didn't generally eat dogmeat, we read in Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia (Book 30, Chapter 27) that the flesh of a "sucking puppy" was one of the ingredients in a concoction to be consumed by one seeking a cure for epilepsy.

Caudex - Meaning "block of wood" and, in this instance, referring to the wooden planks of a ship, in accordance with the legend that Appius Claudius Caudex (consul in 264 BCE) was thus named because he was the first to teach the Romans to board a ship.

Centho - Or, alternately, "Cento," meaning "a cap worn under the helmet." My thanks to UNRV history writer Chris Heaton who, during a private conversation back in May of 2007 regarding Roman names and their meanings, found for me a translation of the writing of the historian Ammianus Marcellinus (19.8.8), for which I had unsuccessfully been searching for a reference to the Roman centho or cento. This passage shed light on at least one use for such a cap, recounting how dehydrated soldiers, unable to reach the water at the bottom of a deep well, used a cento as an improvised sponge, lowering it down into the well by rope and then drawing it back up so that the soldiers might quench their thirst.

Cento - See Centho.

Centumalus - While this surname was more often seen in a plebeian branch of the Fluvia gens, it was also found as a surname of a plebeian branch of the Claudii. No Claudius Centumalus held a magisterial office during the time of the Republic, but I nevertheless include the surname here because it was noted by Charles Peter Mason, 19th century Fellow of Univeristy College, London, in his article on the Claudia gens in William Smith's Dictionary. The original meaning of the surname is undetermined, but it most likely had something to do with a quantity of some sort, as it consists of the Latin word centum, literally meaning "a hundred," and figuratively meaning "an indefinite, large number."

Cicero - Some translators of Livy's History of Rome (Book III, Chapter 31) give the name of the tribune who prosecuted Romilius in 454 BCE as being "Gaius Claudius Cicero," while others give "Gaius Clavius Cicero." T.R.S. Broughton was of the opinion that the name was "Clavius" and not "Claudius," although William Ramsey (19th century Professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow and contributor to W. Smith's Dictionary) was of the opinion that the tribune was named "Claudius Cicero" and he was the only historically mentioned member of a plebeian branch of the Claudii bearing the surname of Cicero. Regardless, whether the gens in question was Claudia, Clavia, or even Claudia rendered as Clavdia, the surname of Cicero is most noted in history as belonging to that famous orator of the Tullia gens (Marcus Tullius Cicero). The surname itself is most likely an occupational surname, related to the Latin word cicer (meaning "a small pea; chickpea") and referring to one who raised chickpeas. While this definition of the surname is the most etymologically probable (due to the suffix -o having been used to form occupational terms from names of things), it should be noted that Plutarch (writing on the life of Cicero of the Tullii, translated by Bernadotte Perrin), explained the origin of the surname of the famous orator as having been derived from a physical defect of one of his ancestors, who possessed "a faint dent in the end of his nose like the cleft of a chick-pea."

Clineas - This surname is unusual for a Roman, and perhaps may be somehow related to that Clinias who was the father of the great Athenian statesman, Alcibiades. Sadly, the bearer of this surname, Marcus Claudius Clineas, did not appear to have the statesmanlike qualities of the son of his namesake. For, as a lieutenant legate in the year 235 BCE, he made a peace agreement on behalf of Rome with the Corsicans, which was repudiated, and he was subsequently delivered up to the Corsicans. The Corsicans refused to accept him, and so the unfortunate Clineas was then either imprisoned or banished, or possibly even executed.

Crassinus - Sometimes rendered as "Crassus." See Crassus.

Crassus - Meaning "fat." Although used by the Claudii, this cognomen was more often found in the Licinia gens.

Drusus - Actually, this a surname of the Livia gens, but this name found its way into the Claudia gens via Livia Drusilla (wife of the Emperor Augustus), whose sons were fathered by her first marriage to Tiberius Claudius Nero. One son was named Nero Claudius Drusus (afterwards called Drusus Germanicus, husband to Antonia Minor). According to Suetonius (in his life of Tiberius, translated by J.C. Rolfe), the original Drusus acquired his name as a victory title for having slain "Drausus, leader of the enemy, in single combat."

Flamen - Literally meaning "one who burns offerings." In addition to this surname belonging to a plebeian branch of the Claudii, this was also the title for a priest devoted to a particular deity.

Glaber - Meaning "bald-headed."

Glicia - This surname (also rendered "Glycias") comes from the Greek word meaning "sweet" and was most likely the original name of the freedman of Publius Claudius Pulcher, serving as his former master's clerk. As was customary, upon manumission, Glycias assumed the nomen gentilicium of his former master (now his patron). Claudius Glycias had a brief but memorable magisterial career, when his former master, upon being commanded by the Roman Senate to account for a defeat at Drepana in 249 BCE and to appoint a dictator, contrarily appointed his freedman, Glycias, as an insult to the Senate. We can imagine that Glycias' astonishment was exceeded only by his subsequent disappointment, when the Senate immediately cancelled the appointment.

Glycias - See Glicia.

Hortator - Meaning "an exciter, encourager, exhorter."

Inregillensis - A surname that might also be rendered as "Regillensis," meaning "of or belonging to Regillus," the name of a Sabine town from which the Claudii originated. The name of the town, Regillus, itself means "royal, regal, magnificent." This surname, as "Regillensis," was also seen in the Postumia gens, but in that case it is said to have been bestowed upon the consul Postumius in 496 BCE as a victory title won at Lake Regillus near Tusculum.

Lepidus - Meaning "pleasant, agreeable, charming." Although we find one Marcus Claudius Lepidus of the Republican era who was a legate envoy (190 BCE), this surname was more frequently seen in the Aemilia gens.

Marcellus - A diminutive of the common praenomen "Marcus," rendered as a surname. This was a surname of the most illustrious of the plebeian branches of the Claudii.

Nero - Meaning "strong, valiant" in the Sabine language, and in the Oscan language apparently a title of rank, this surname of the Claudia gens was originally a rare praenomen. By the time of the Emperor Augustus, this surname had again been brought back into use as a praenomen in the imperial family.

Pulcher - Meaning "handsome."

Regillensis - see Inregillensis.

Russus - From a Latin word meaning "red," this surname referred either to the color of the orginal bearer's hair, or to his ruddy complexion.

Sabinus - A surname indicating the Sabine origin of the Claudii.

Unimanus - Meaning "having only one hand." This surname belonged to Claudius Unimanus, a praetor of Nearer Spain (Hispania Citerior) in 146 BCE.

Vestalis - A theophoric surname related to the goddess Vesta; meaning "belonging to Vesta." This surname was found among those Claudians who rendered their nomen gentilicium as "Clodius."

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.
Kajanto, Iiro. The Latin Cognomina. Helsinki: Keskuskirjapaino, 1965.
Lewis, Charlton T. and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary: Founded on Andrews' Edition of Freund's Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879
Mason, Charles Peter. "Claudia Gens." Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.. Ed. William Smith. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1867.
Matyszak, Philip. Chronicle of the Roman Republic.. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2003.
Pliny the Elder [Gaius Plinius Secundus]. Natural History..Trans. John Bostock and Henry Thomas Riley. London: Taylor and Francis, 1855.
Plutarch. Lives, VII, Demosthenes and Cicero.. Trans. Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1913.
Ramsey, William. "Cicero." Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.Ed. William Smith. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1867.
Suetonius [C. Suetonius Tranquillus]. The Lives of the Caesars. Trans. J.C. Rolfe. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1913.

Did you know?

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


Surnames of the Claudii - Related Topic: Gracchi Brothers


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