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Surnames of the Licinii

Article by Nephele

The Licinii were the most illustrious of Republican Rome's plebeian gentes, attaining the magisterial rank of consul in 364 BCE (with C. Licinius Stolo) when the patricians had formerly dominated this office.

The plebeian Licinii, however, were not without their patrician connections. Münzer noted: "The first consular tribune Licinius is thought to have been the brother of a Cornelius (Livy 5.12.12), thus originating from a mixed marriage...; the first magister equitum Licinius was thought to have been allied by 'close kinship' (propinqua cognatione) to a Manlius (Livy 6.39.4); the first or second consul Licinius was thought to be the son-in-law of a Fabius..."

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

Agelastus - Meaning "not laughing." This surname was bestowed upon M. Licinius Crassus Agelastus (Praetor in 126 BCE) because he never laughed -- or, if he ever laughed at all, it was but once in his entire lifetime.

Bucco - Meaning "garrulous; a babbler," related to the Latin bucca: "the cheek puffed out in speaking."

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

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

Damasippus - Meaning "tamer of horses."

Dives - Meaning "abounding, copious, rich." This surname was also found in the Baebia and Canuleia gentes.

Esquilinus - A geographical cognomen, relating to Rome's Esquiline hill. Many such geographical cognomina obtained from the immediate vicinity of Rome were borne early in Rome's history by the nobility.

Geta - One of a number of barbaric ethnics (this one from the province of Getae/Dacia) that began to appear as the cognomina of the Roman nobility as various peoples came under Roman control and influence. In addition to this surname having been borne by C. Licinius Get(h)a (consul of 116 BCE), this surname was also found in other gentes, with its greatest frequency among soldiers.

Getha - Alternate spelling of Geta. See above.

Imbrex- Meaning "a pipe-like roofing tile." This was not the name of any magistrate, but Licinius Imbrex receives a mention here for having lived during the time of the Republic. He was a comic poet and a contemporary of Plautus.

Iunianus - See Junianus.

Junianus - An adoptive surname of P. Licinius Crassus Dives Junianus (Tribune of the Plebs in 53 BCE), who was originally of the Junia gens.

Lucullus- A diminutive most likely derived from the praenomen "Lucius," meaning "little Lucius."

Macer - Meaning "thin."

Mucianus - An adoptive surname of P. Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus (consul in 131 BCE). He had been born the son of plebeian P. Mucius Scaevola, who was consul in 175 BCE.

Murena - Meaning "lamprey" -- a type of eel-like fish that was a favorite Roman dish. The branch of the Licinii bearing this surname did not receive the name due to any resemblance to a lamprey, but instead because they were known (as recorded by Macrobius in his Saturnalia, 15.1-2) for their inordinate love of lampreys. Pliny, in his Naturalis Historia (9.80) mentioned how Licinius Murena was the first to build holding pools for the convenient keeping of live lampreys and how other nobles followed his example in building their own vivaria at enormous expense for the benefit of their palate.

Nerva - Meaning "strong; powerful." This surname was also borne by the Cocceii.

Pollio - Possibly a somewhat pejorative diminutive of the cognomen "Paullus" (meaning "little; small in stature").

Ponticus - Meaning "associated with Pontus," the region along the southern coast of the Black Sea in Asia Minor. This was a victory surname conferred upon L. Licinius Lucullus Ponticus (consul of 74 BCE) in recognition of his invasion of Pontus and subsequent military victories in the Mithridatic war.

Sacerdos - Meaning "priest." It is interesting to note that a branch of the plebeian Licinii bore this surname, considering that the priesthood in Rome's early days was almost completely reserved for the patricians. In a private discussion about this with UNRV member M. Porcius Cato, MPC suggested that the Licinii may have been connected with the Ceres cult. MPC explained that the worship of Ceres was traditionally supervised by the plebeian aediles, with the temple to Ceres being situated on the very plebeian Aventine hill and in the practice of dispensing a grain dole to the poor. (A "thank you" to MPC, for his input.)

Stolo - Meaning "useless sucker." While comedic possibilities abound for such a name, the "useless sucker" in this case refers to a vegetative shoot or twig springing from the root of a tree. Pliny wrote in his Naturalis Historia (17.1) that the first member of the Licinii to bear this name of "Stolo" (most likely the consul of 364 BCE) received this name due to his having been somewhat of a horticulturist and having discovered the best method for trimming vines and clearing away useless shoots.

Strabo - Meaning "blink-eyed, squinting," or referring to one who looks with suspicion or mistrust at another. This surname was found in other gentes, as well.

Tegula - Meaning "a flat roof tile." This was not the name of any magistrate, but P. Licinius Tegula receives a mention here for having lived during the time of the Republic. He was mentioned in Livy's History (31.12) as having composed a hymn in 200 BCE to be sung by "thrice nine virgins" as an offering to the goddess Juno for a remedy against several monstrous prodigies that had occurred.

Varus - Meaning "bent inwards" and referring to one with his legs bent inwards; knock-kneed. This is the actual Latin meaning of the name/word, although it is often taken to mean the opposite ("bow-legged") due to modern usage of the term in orthopedics to describe the inward turning of the distal part of the leg below the knee to produce a bow-legged appearance.

Broughton, T. Robert S. The Magistrates of the Roman Republic 2 vols. New York: The American Philological Association, 1952.
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.
Livius, Titus. "The History of Rome: Books Twenty-seven to Thirty-six.." Trans. Cyrus Edmonds. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1850.
Macrobius, Ambrosius Aurelius Theodosius. Saturnalia. Trans. Percival Vaughan Davies. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.
Münzer, Friedrich. Roman Aristocratic Parties and Families. Trans. Thérèse Ridley. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999.
Pliny. Natural History. Trans. John Bostock and Henry Thomas Riley. London: Taylor and Francis, 1855.
Pliny. Natural History: Books 8-11.. Trans. H. Rackham. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983.
Smith, William, ed. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: John Murray, 1890.

Did you know?

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


Surnames of the Licinii - Related Topic: Republican Statesmen


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