Article by Nephele
The Servilia gens, while counted among the gentes minores and consisting of both patrician and plebeian families, nevertheless was one of the most prominent gentes of the Roman Republic in its production of magistrates.
The three princely clans of the Aemilii, Cornelii, and Fabii considered the clan of the Servilii to be of equal birth with them, and the Fabii had adopted a Servilius (Q. Fabius Maximus Servilianus, consul of 142 BCE) into their clan. The adoptive Fabian father of this Servilius, Q. Fabius Maximus Aemilianus, in turn had originally been an Aemilian who had been adopted into the Fabii.
The Servilii were of Alban origin, as Livy tells us (The History of Rome, 1.30) how they, along with the other notable houses of the defeated Albans -- the Julii, Quinctii, Geganii, Curiatii, and Cloelii -- were enrolled among the patricians of Rome by King Tullus Hostilius. The first of the Servilii to obtain the consulship (495 BCE) was Publius Servilius Priscus Structus.
I have attempted here to list and define the various surnames used by the Servilii 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."
Ahala - From the Latin ala, literally meaning "the wing of a bird"; in reference to a human, meaning the upper and under part of the arm where it unites with the shoulder. This surname figuratively referred to one with a prominent shoulder, or it might refer to the armpit.
Axilla - An alternate surname for Ahala, with the same meaning. (see above) The Latin ala is a contraction of axilla.
Brocchus - Indicating one with large or projecting front teeth. The ancient Roman equivalent of the modern-day nickname: "Bucktooth".
Brutus - This surname appears only among the Servilii in conjunction with the purported adoption of the late Republic's Marcus Junius Brutus (a plebeian, noted for his role in Caesar's assassination) by his mother's brother, Quintus Servilius Caepio (a patrician). This resulted in Brutus having styled himself, for a time, as "Quintus Caepio Brutus", as opposed to the customarily expected form of adopted name: "Quintus Servilius Caepio Junianus".
Münzer offers an explanation for this odd, temporary choice of name on the part of Brutus: "When the ancient patrician house died out with Q. Caepio in 67, one of his sisters had a son who was fatherless, the young M. Brutus; all parties involved would gladly have regarded and claimed as the clan's heir this sole boy in whose veins on the mother's side flowed the blood of the Caepiones, and found some way to realize this. The unusual form of the name in itself arouses the suspicion that Q. Caepio Brutus did not acquire it through one of the legal forms of adoption, but by some kind of fictitious adoption... The testamentary adoption by women of a child reveals that the practice among the high aristocracy in Rome at that time had possibilities... Perhaps the death in childhood of the small daughter whom Q. Caepio left behind and of whom there is nowhere further mention caused the family subsequently to raise up a son [M. Brutus] for the father, who had become childless, as it were, after his death, to prevent the complete extinction of the name; the fictitious adoption, then, would have taken place between 67 and 59." (Roman Aristocratic Parties and Families, pp. 309-310.)
The surname Brutus means "dimwit," and Livy relates in his History of Rome (1.56) that the original member of the Junii to bear this surname -- Lucius Junius Brutus (consul of 509 BCE) -- pretended to be a harmless idiot in order to avoid the same fate suffered by the chief men of the city, as well as his brother, who had been put to death by Brutus' uncle, Tarquin the Proud.
Caepio - It has been suggested that, because this surname bears a similarity to the Latin word caepa (meaning "onion"), this surname indicated one who cultivated or sold onions. However, Kajanto and W. Schulze (Zur Geschichte lateinischer Eigennamen, Berlin, 1933) are of the opinion that this surname is actually Etruscan in origin, and may have first been an ancient praenomen which vanished from use so early on that the original meaning of the name is now lost.
Casca - A surname of a plebeian branch of the Servilii, derived from the Latin cascus, meaning "old-fashioned".
Longus - An additional surname of at least one member (Tribune of the Plebs in 43 BCE) of the plebeian Servilii Cascae, indicating a tall individual.
Fidenas - A victory surname that became hereditary, said to have been bestowed upon the Servilius who defeated the Veii and captured the town of Fidenae in 435 BCE. This agnomen replaced the earlier agnomen of "Structus" in this branch of the Servilii gens. (see also Structus)
This victory surname is said to have also been bestowed upon a member of the Sergia gens -- Lucius Sergius Fidenas (consul of 437 and 429 BCE), for having served in war against Fidenae in 437 BCE. Another Fidenas of a different gens -- Manius Largius Fidenas -- is similarly mentioned by Livy as having participated in battle against Fidenae.
It must be noted that Kajanto takes a skeptical view of many of these oldest victory surnames of the 5th century BCE, such as Regillensis, Coriolanus, and Fidenas, stating that they are "of dubious authenticity, for the stories of the victories may have been fabricated to explain cognomina which really denoted native places."
Geminus - Meaning "twin." This hereditary surname of the Servilii was first bestowed upon Publius Servilius Geminus (consul of 252 and 248 BCE) and his twin brother Quintus, due to the famous resemblance of the two.
Glaucia - Derived from glaucus, meaning "bluish-grey or greenish-grey" and possible referring to the color of the bearer's eyes. This was a surname of a plebeian branch of the Servilii.
Globulus - Meaning "morsel of food; dumpling." This was a surname of a plebeian branch of the Servilii.
Isauricus - A victory surname which became hereditary, conferred upon Publius Servilius Vatia, a member of a plebeian branch of the Servilii. Vatia received this surname in 78 BCE, in recognition of his conquest of the marauding inhabitants of the country of Isauria, located in a mountainous region of Asia Minor.
Priscus - Meaning "ancient," and appropriately borne by an ancient branch of the Servilii most noted during the early years of the Republic. (see Structus and Fidenas)
Pulex - Meaning "flea," this was an additional surname borne by the consul of 202 BCE, Marcus Servilius Pulex Geminus, a member of a plebeian branch of the Servilii.
Structus - Meaning "built up," and referring to the character of the individual. Kajanto, however, is of the opinion that this surname may have been originally an ancient praenomen of obscure origin. This was an additional surname borne by the Servilii Prisci, and was later supplanted by the additional surname of Fidenas. (see also Fidenas)
Rullus - A surname of a plebeian branch of the Servilii, meaning "uncultivated, boorish" or "beggar." P. Servilius Rullus, the father of that Rullus who was Cicero's contempory, is related by Pliny (Naturalis Historia, 8.51) to have been the first Roman to have brought to the dining table an entire roast boar (the various cuts of wild boar meat having been popular dishes and dimly viewed by the ascetic Cato the Censor).
Tucca - Of Etruscan origin, the meaning lost to history. Kajanto notes that "the influence of Etruscan nomenclature was most marked among the republican and senatorial aristocracy, for a considerable number of their cognomina were Etruscan."
Vatia - Meaning "bent outwards" and referring to one with his legs bent outwards; bow-legged. Borne by a plebeian branch of the Servilii.
Did you know...?
There was no direct Roman equivalent of "sir" or "madam".