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Surnames of the Fabii

Article by Nephele

The Fabia gens was fourth in producing the greatest number of magistrates for the Roman Republic, following the Cornelia gens (first), the Claudia gens (second), and the Valeria gens (third).

I have attempted here to list and define the various surnames used by the Fabii 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 Fabii

Aemilianus - An adoptive surname borne by the consul of 145 BCE, Quintus Fabius Maximus Aemilianus. He was originally the eldest son of Lucius Aemilius Paullus (consul of 182 BCE and conqueror of Perseus), and was adopted into the Fabii Maximi.

Albus - Meaning "white" and most likely referring to the color of the individual's hair or skin. Albus describes a flat white, as opposed to the glittering white which the Latin term candidus describes.

Allobrogicus - A triumphal agnomen given Quintus Fabius Maximus Allobrogicus (consul of 121 BCE and son of Quintus Fabius Maximus Aemilianus) in celebration of his victory over the Allobroges, a tribe in Gaul.

Ambustus - Meaning "scorched; burned," or possibly "sunburned." This cognomen of the patrician Fabii was adopted in the late 5th century BCE first as an agnomen, and then later replacing their cognomen of "Vibulanus." (see Vibulanus).

Buteo - Meaning "a kind of falcon or hawk." Pliny the Elder stated (in Book 10, Chapter 8 of his Natural History) that there were at least sixteen different species of hawks known to his contemporaries, the appearance of many signifying favorable omens for the augurs. Pliny specifically mentioned the buteo as being one species which gave a favorable omen to by settling on a ship, and the commander of that ship subsequently took the name of that species of hawk for his own surname. This was family was a patrician branch of the Fabii.

Cunctator - Meaning "one who acts out of hesitation or tardiness; delayer." This surname was originally given to Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (see Verrucosus and Ovicula) by his master of horse, as a reproach. Later, however, Verrucosus' actions as a competent commander altered the meaning to: "a considerate or cautious person," and Verrucosus retained this surname as a badge of honor.

Dorso - See Dorsuo.

Dorsuo - Sometimes rendered as "Dorso," this surname of a patrician branch of the Fabii refers to an individual with a large back, possibly even possessing a conspicuous defect in the form of a hunchback.

Eburnus - A surname borne by the consul of 116 BCE, Quintus Fabius Maximus Eburnus, meaning "ivory white" and possibly referring to complexion.

Gurges - This surname literally means "a raging abyss; whirlpool," but figuratively it refers to an individual with an insatiable craving for luxury to the point of consuming all his resources, just as a raging abyss consumes all. It was Quintus Fabius Maximus Gurges (the son of Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus) who earned this surname as a result of his reputation for being a spendthrift with the family's wealth. Macrobius, in his Saturnalia (Book 3, Chapter 13) wrote of how this member of the Fabii Maximi acquired his name, and later redeemed himself (keeping his disparaging nickname as a sort of badge of honor): "I come now to the conquering heroes who overcame nations only to be overcome themselves by luxury. Of Gurges, who devoured his patrimony and so got his name, I shall say nothing, because the worthy and distinguished deeds of his later years atoned for his earlier faults."

Hadrianus - Indicating family origin from the town of Hadria in Picenum (from whence the Emperor Hadrian -- not of the Fabii himself -- claimed his own family to have originated), or indicating family origin from the town of Hadria in Venetia.

Hispaniensis - Meaning "of or belonging to Spain; existing in Spain." There is only one magisterial Fabius mentioned by Broughton as bearing this surname, and Lucius Fabius Hispaniensis served as a quaestor in Spain in 81 BCE. Miriam Griffin, Tutorial Fellow in Ancient History at Somerville College, Oxford, has suggested that the cognomen of this Fabius indicates that he was of immigrant stock, but that having been born in Spain would not prevent him, as a Roman citizen nonetheless, from attaining office, as such provincial families would still maintain their political connections with the city of Rome.

Labeo - Meaning "thick-lipped," and being a surname of a patrician branch of the Fabii.

Licinus - Meaning "bent or turned upwards" as in the horns of cattle, although this might also refer to tufts of hair turned upwards, or even to an upturned nose. While this was a surname of a patrician branch of the Fabii, this surname was also found in other gentes. In the form of "Licinius" it was the name of the plebeian gens which was one of the top contributors of magistrates during the time of the Republic.

Maximus - While this was one of the oldest and most common surnames of the ancient Romans, of various gentes, it wasn't until most likely the late 4th century BCE that it was adopted as a cognomen by that patrician branch of the Fabii who replaced their earlier cognomen of Ambustus (with Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, consul in 322 BCE, probably being the first of his line to adopt this cognomen). The name "Maximus" could refer to the order of birth among siblings ("eldest"), but most likely for this branch of the Fabii the name was taken to mean "great, distinguished."

Ovicula - A diminutive of the Latin word ovis, meaning "little sheep" or "lamb." This was a childhood nickname of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (consul of 233 BCE), given to him by his peers on account of (as related by Plutarch in his Fabius, translated by Dryden) "...his extreme mildness of temper. His slowness in speaking, his long labour and pains in learning, his deliberation in entering into the sports of other children, his easy submission to everybody, as if he had no will of his own..." The nickname/agnomen was no doubt dropped as Verrucosus attained adulthood and (as also related by Plutarch) "his virtues exerted and showed themselves; his reputed want of energy then was recognized by people in general as a freedom of passion; his slowness in words and actions, the effect of a true prudence; his want of rapidity and his sluggishness, as constancy and firmness."

Pictor - Meaning "painter." This surname of the patrician Fabii was first borne by Gaius Fabius Pictor who, in the year 302 BCE, earned his distinctive, hereditary cognomen on account of his having painted the temple of Salus. As related by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (Book 35), it was this illustrious branch of the Fabii who first lent an air of esteem to the art of painting. Fabius Pictor's work on the temple lasted up until the reign of Claudius, when it was it was destroyed when the temple was burnt.

Rullianus - Sometimes rendered as "Rullus." It has been suggested by Kajanto and Chase that this surname was derived from the nomen gentilicium of "Rullius," having its origin in Rome. Despite the apparent adoptive suffix of -ianus, there is nothing to suggest that the bearer of this surname, five-time consul Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, was an adoptee from the Rulii. It is thought that the name means "uncultivated; boorish," and possibly "a beggar."

Rullus - See Rullianus

Sanga - This surname appears in Broughton as having belonged to a senator of 63 BCE named Quintus Fabius Sanga, and the etymology of the surname is open to interpretation. There is a possibility that "Sanga" may have been derived from the name of the "sangualis" -- an extinct bird mentioned by Pliny the Elder in his Natural History (Book 10, Chapter 8). (Compare with Buteo, and also with Corvus of the Valerii, regarding cognomina derived from the names of birds and signifying favorable omen.)

Senator - A "Fabius Senator" appears in Broughton as having been a praetor, but the date is uncertain and no other identifying information is given for him other than a reference to a brief passage in Pliny. (In Book 7, Chapter 5 of his Natural History, Pliny tells the story of the unfortunate praetor and senator, Fabius, who choked to death on a hair in his drink of milk.) While "Senator" is obviously a title, Kajanto assures us that this could also be a cognomen with the same meaning of "a higher magistrate; member of the Roman Senate."

Servilianus - An adoptive surname borne by the consul of 142 BCE, Quintus Fabius Maximus Servilianus (adopted by Quintus Fabius Maximus Aemilianus). He was originally the son of Gnaeus Servilius Caepio (consul of 169 BCE) and was the brother by birth of Gnaeus Servilius Caepio (consul of 141 BCE).

Vergilianus - Alternately rendered as "Virgilianus," but "Vergilianus" is the older form of the name. This was an adoptive surname of Quintus Fabius Vergilianus, who served as a legate under Appius Claudius Pulcher in Cilicia from 53 to 51 BCE. He no doubt began life as a member of the Vergilii, and was adopted into the Fabii.

Verrucosus - Meaning "warty." This surname was said to have been acquired by Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (consul of 233 BCE) due to a wart on his upper lip.

Vibulanus - This was the earliest cognomen of the patrician Fabii, its meaning unknown but most likely having been derived from the name of a locality that became lost to history. Quintus Fabius Vibulanus, consul of 412 BCE, added the agnomen of "Ambustus" to his full name (see Ambustus), and this eventually took the place of the cognomen "Vibulanus" in subsequent generations. By the 4th century BCE, however, this family had replaced the cognomen "Ambustus" with the cognomen "Maximus." (see Maximus)

Virgilianus - See Vergilianus.

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.
Griffin, Miriam. "The Elder Seneca and Spain." The Journal of Roman Studies. Vol. 62 (1972), pp. 1-19.
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.
Plutarch. Fabius. Trans. John Dryden. Provided by The Internet Classics Archive. http://classics.mit.edu/Plutarch/fabius.html
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".


Surnames of the Fabii - Related Topic: Punic Wars


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