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Nephele

Surnames of the Claudii

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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...

 

...read the full article about Surnames of the Claudii

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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.

 

As I did with my Surnames of the Cornelii, 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.

 

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."

 

References

 

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.

 

-- Nephele

 

What about Clodius Albinus, the claimant emperor circa 193 AD?

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What about Clodius Albinus, the claimant emperor circa 193 AD?

 

An interesting fellow. But, as you will see in my introduction, I was sticking mainly to those surnames found during the period of the Republic, belonging to those who held magisterial positions during that time. By the time of the Empire, there were many, many different surnames attached to the various gentes, and this was due to the many freedmen who assumed the nomina gentilicia of their former masters.

 

But, anyway... Albinus is a surname meaning "white-haired" or "having a pale complexion."

 

-- Nephele

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Another very nice contribution.

 

Regarding "Asina", my understanding was that it was meant to denote stubbornness. Though I do like the anecdote regarding the business transaction.

 

Also, whatever happened to the Potitia? The fact that they were in charge of the cult of Herakles suggests that they were truly an ancient family, but why did Caecus deprive them of their honors?

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Another very nice contribution.

 

Regarding "Asina", my understanding was that it was meant to denote stubbornness. Though I do like the anecdote regarding the business transaction.

 

Also, whatever happened to the Potitia? The fact that they were in charge of the cult of Herakles suggests that they were truly an ancient family, but why did Caecus deprive them of their honors?

 

Thank you, MPC.

 

Yes, it would seem logical that "Asina" might describe a personality trait of donkey-like stubbornness, especially considering the great number of pejorative cognomina that were in existence. However, the fact that "Asina" literally translates into "she-ass" suggests another meaning behind the name, else why should the she-ass be considered more stubborn than the he-ass? (Comparisons to women vs. men will not be appreciated here! :)) But Macrobius tells the story of the Cornelian Asinae in his Saturnalia -- an English translation of which I found difficult to come by and had to research at the New York Public Library.

 

As for the disappearance of the Potitii... I didn't go into them in depth because they weren't related to the Claudii, being an entirely different gens. They are not mentioned at all in Broughton's Magistrates as having held any magisterial positions during the Republic which, yes, does seem odd, considering that they were an ancient family. But Livy gives a brief accounting of the legendary disappearance of the Potitii in Book IX, Chapter 29 of his History (translated by D. Spillan and Cyrus Edmonds):

 

"A circumstance is recorded, wonderful to be told, and one which should make people scrupulous of disturbing the established modes of religious solemnities: for though there were, at that time, twelve branches of the Potitian family, all grown-up persons, to the number of thirty, yet they were every one, together with their offspring, cut off within the year; so that the name of the Potitii became extinct, while the censor Appius also was, by the unrelenting wrath of the gods, some years after, deprived of sight."

 

Smith's Dictionary also gives an accounting of the disappearance of the Potitii, adding (from other ancient sources) that Appius Claudius had originally induced the Potitii to forego their sacred duties in favor of public slaves performing them, for the sum of 50,000 pounds of copper. In the same article, Niebuhr is cited as having been skeptical of the tale of the avenging god, and having attributed the disappearance of the Potitii to a plague which occurred roughly fifteen or twenty years after the event with the priesthood of Hercules. Niebuhr also gives the reason why Appius Claudius had initiated all of this, it being that the worship of Hercules as conducted by the Potitii (and also by the Pinarii) had little to do with the State Religion, and so this is why Appius Claudius wanted public slaves to take over what had previously been a "family business." I suppose this might be kind of analogous to our modern-day phenomenon of government taking over private enterprise.

 

Maty, in his Chronicle of the Roman Republic, also tells the story of Appius Claudius and the Potitii. Perhaps we can induce Maty to shed some more light on this event?

 

-- Nephele

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I can't help much here, because we are looking at a time when Roman history has just tiptoed over the line from being myth. Appius Claudius Caecus is one of the first Romans we can be reasonably certain existed as he was described in the historical record. Before that we have to take historians like Livy on faith. Consequently, the only mention we have about this family cult of Hercules comes from the story of Ap. Claud himself. In more general terms of this discussion a rather good description of the early Claudians is in the Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974- I think) "Personality and Power: Livy's Depiction of the Appii Claudii in the First Pentad" by Ann Vasaly. All we know of the Potitii is in connection with Ap. Claud going blind, which this story tries to explain. Why he removed management of the cult from the family is unknown, but given that we are talking of Appius Claudius Caecus, spite and malice probably played a part.

 

I can help with Scipio Asina though - first of the line with that name was also Rome's first Admiral during the Carthaginian wars. He took Rome's shiny new fleet (first attempt by Rome to become a sea power) and ran it straight into a Carthaginian ambush. Lost the fleet, lost the crews and was taken prisoner. The Carthaginians who won with hardly a man hurt released him, perhaps in the hope that he'd do it again. Anyway, he got the name 'Asina' for pure bone-headed incompetence, and the feminine ending was, I fear, intended to compound the insult as the Romans believed that ladies made less competent generals, or admirals for that matter.

 

Also, perhaps we should give a mention to Attus Clausus, the very first of Rome's Claudian line, who joined the Republic almost the day it was founded. (Invited in by Valerius Poplicola.) Also don't underestimate the Nerones. It was a Claudius Nero who won the battle of the Metaurus in 207, and so prevented crucial reinforcements from reaching Hannibal. The reason the name became popular in the imperial era was because Livia, wife of Augustus was originally married to Tiberius Claudius Nero, who was the father of the emperor Tiberius. (Livia was also a Claudian by blood incidentally, though adopted into the Livian clan.)

Edited by Maty

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Livia was also a Claudian by blood incidentally, though adopted into the Livian clan.

 

That explains everything. What branch? Plebeian or patrician?

Edited by M. Porcius Cato

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Thanks for the information, Maty! So, the Asina story from Macrobius is apocryphal, then? And there were no Cornelii before the consul of 221 BCE to bear that surname? I'll have to amend my list, then. Considering that my Macrobius reference is from the 4th century CE and so far removed from the time of the original events, I can believe it may have been a bubbe meiseh. Do you have an ancient source to which I can refer?

 

Also, what is your opinion on the thought that there may not have been a Potitia gens at all, but that the potitii were actually some sort of class of priesthood, possibly even public slaves to begin with? This I read in a footnote to F.X. Ryan's article "Some Observations on the Censorship of Claudius and Vitellius, A.D. 47-48" (The American Journal of Philology, 1993). In his footnote, Ryan quoted from recently deceased classics professor Robert E.A. Palmer's earlier article:

 

"Palmer, 'Censors of 312 B.C.' 293-308, argued that the potitii were never members of a Roman clan, but public slaves like their successors; the urban praetor probably began his supervision of the cult in 312, replacing the Pinarii. Though the removal of the potitii could have resulted from the censorial power to let out contracts for the purchase of slaves, Claudius with his teacher might have believed that the republican censorship exercised a supervision over the state religion. But Claudius perhaps understood the censorship better: he asked for a decree of the Senate when undertaking the sole religious reform of his censorship."

 

Palmer's original article appeared in a 1965 issue of Historia, which I'm trying to track down.

 

Again, many thanks for your additions/corrections!

 

-- Nephele

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Livia was also a Claudian by blood incidentally, though adopted into the Livian clan.

 

That explains everything. What branch? Plebeian or patrician?

 

Suetonius wrote that the Livii (the adoptive gens of Livia's father) were plebeian, but that the Claudian branch of Livia's father's birth family (the Claudii Pulchri) was patrician.

 

-- Nephele

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Indeed, Livia's dad stared life as yet another Appius Claudius Pulcher. Tiberius was doubly a Claudian as Livia's first marriage was back into the line - though to a different branch. I got my reference for Asina is in Val. Max though I'd be surprised if Polybios (and therefore Livy) don't give the story an airing as well. I'll look it up later and let you know. (Am currently dummy in a round of bridge, and as my partner is wrapping things up nicely, I'd better do the same!)

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I am currently reading Maty's book on the Julio-Claudian dynasty ("The Sons of Caesar") and he does a good job explaining the tangled web of relations therein.

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As a family, the Claudii have a reputation for arrogance, cruelty, malice, and spite--from Appius Claudius the Decemvir (who sold the free girl Verginia into slavery) to Publius Claudius Pulcher (who threw the sacred chickens overboard before destroying a Roman fleet) to Livia herself. I'm wondering when this family reputation was first noted: Was it read back into far history from the knowledge of Livia's behavior, or was it acknowledged even before?

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As a family, the Claudii have a reputation for arrogance, cruelty, malice, and spite...

 

In his article on the Claudia Gens for Smith's Dictionary, Professor Charles Peter Mason quotes Niebuhr describing the house of the Claudii as having produced "hardly a single noble-minded one. In all ages it distinguished itself alike by a spirit of haughty defiance, disdain for the laws and iron hardness of heart."

 

Mason also goes on to state that no patrician Claudii of the Republic ever adopted anyone of another gens. Whether or not this is another example of haughtiness I couldn't say, but the statement is borne out by the fact that there are no adoptive cognomina for the Republican Claudii included on my Surnames of the Claudii listing above, as such could not be found in Broughton's Magistrates.

 

Ursus, thanks for mentioning Maty's book on the Julio-Claudian dynasty. I'll have to order that one for my public library.

 

-- Nephele

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