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Surnames of the Porcii

Article by Nephele

The Porcii were an aristocratic plebeian gens that had its origins in Tusculum. The name is derived from porcus, a Latin word meaning "pig," and most likely this was a metonymic name indicating that the earliest members of the gens were noted for keeping and breeding swine. The most distinguished branch of the gens was without a doubt the Porcii Catones, and the first member of the Porcii to obtain the consulship was M. Porcius Cato Censorius (Cato the Elder) in 195 BCE.

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

Cato - Meaning "skillful; prudent; experienced." This name also signified one who was particularly sagacious or shrewd when it came to politics. The first of the Porcii to bear this cognomen was also the first of the Porcii to be elected consul (in 195 BCE): M. Porcius Cato Censorinus (also known as Cato the Elder)."

Censorius - An additional cognomen conferred upon Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Elder) due to his having administered his office of censor (184 BCE) with notable strictness.

Laeca - Meaning "left-handed" and derived from the Latin word laevicus. This name belonged to one of the two republican era branches of the Porcii other than the Catones (see also Licinus).

Licinianus - This was a matronymic bestowed upon the elder son of Marcus Porcius Cato Censorius (Cato the Elder). The name was derived from the name of Censorius' first wife, Licinia, and was used to distinguish this son, also a Marcus Porcius Cato, from his younger half-brother of the same name (see also Salonianus).

The use of a matronymic was an Etruscan custom that later spread to Rome. The earliest recorded instance of the Roman use of a matronymic in the form of an additional cognomen occurs in this family of the Porcii Catones, which was based in Tusculum. Although Tusculm was not an Etruscan city, it was thought that Tusculum had at one time been under Etruscan influence, as evidenced by the name of the city which is thought by some to have been derived from Tusci, another word for the Etruscans.

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. This name belonged to one of the two republican era branches of the Porcii other than the Catones (see also Laeca). This was also a surname of a patrician branch of the Fabia gens, as well as of other gentes.

Priscus- Meaning "ancient" -- not necessarily as in age, but rather "old-fashioned," and referring to a nostalgia for earlier times. This was the earlier cognomen of Marcus Porcius Cato Censorinus (Cato the Elder), which was later replaced by the cognomen of Cato.

Salonianus - This was a matronymic bestowed upon the younger son of Marcus Porcius Cato Censorius (Cato the Elder). The name was derived from the name of Censorius' second wife, Salonia, and was used to distinguish their son, also a Marcus Porcius Cato, from his older half-brother of the same name (see also Licinianus).

Salonia was the daughter of Censorius' secretary, who was formerly a slave and later a client of Censorius. Censorius was a widower at this point, and had been carrying on a secret affair with Salonia within his household -- until the day it was discovered by the disapproving son of Censorius' deceased wife. To amend the uncomfortable situation, Censorius went to Salonia's father, asking whether Salonius had marriage plans for his daughter. Having been told that there were no such plans, Censorius promptly proposed himself for marriage to Salonia, stating (no doubt jokingly) that the elder man and patron would now be a son-in-law to Salonius.

Needless to say, this did not sit well with Censorius' son who, upon hearing the news, approached his father and asked what offense he had committed that his father saw the need to take another wife (and the much younger daughter of a former slave, as well), flying in the face of all Roman custom and propriety. Of course, such a reaction would be viewed today as being comical, and perhaps Censorius was ahead of his time when he wittily replied that, quite to the contrary, his son had not offended him at all, but in fact Censorius had found his son to be so praiseworthy that he was taking a young wife only because he desired to have more sons exactly like him.

A son was born to Salonia in the year 154 BCE, when Censorius had completed his 80th year of age. Two years later the first son of Censorius died, followed by his father three years after that. We can only imagine that Censorius died a happy man.

Sapiens - Meaning "wise" and a title frequently given to jurists. This was an additional surname conferred upon Marcus Porcius Cato Censorius (Cato the Elder) in his later years.

Cicero, in his De Amicitia, explains the significance of this surname by describing three notable Romans who bore it. The first was Lucius Atilius (an early juriconsult and teacher) "for his reputation as an adept in municipal law" (translation by Andrew P. Peabody). The second was Cato, for his wise planning and carrying through of many measures in the Senate, as well as for his skill at defending cases in the courts. The third was Gaius Laelius Sapiens, the subject of Cicero's work and friend of the younger Scipio Africanus (both of whose fathers had been close friends as well). According to Cicero, Laelius earned the name of Sapiens for his disposition, moral worth, knowledge, learning, and esteem of the common people.

Uticensis - Meaning "of Utica; belonging to Utica," a name posthumously conferred upon Marcus Porcius Cato (Cato the Younger), grandson of Marcus Portius Cato Salonianus, great-grandson of Marcus Porcius Cato Censorius (Cato the Elder). It was in Utica, on the northern coast of Africa, where Cato made his final stand against Caesar in the Civil War between Pompey and Caesar (46 BCE). Defeated and ever unwilling to surrender to Caesar, Cato stabbed himself with his dagger. Cato's death was particularly gruesome, as the stabbing wound didn't kill him outright. He determinedly fought off his friends and physician, pulling out his own bowels to complete the task of suicide. His posthumous surname of Uticensis not only marked the place of his death, but also served to note the respect held for him by the citizenry of Utica.

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.
Lewis, 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.
Plutarchus, Lucius Mestrius. "Cato the Censor." Plutarch's Lives. Trans. John Langhorne and William Langhorne. Cincinnati: Applegate and Co., 1854.
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 Porcii - Related Topic: Cato the Elder


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