Saturday, June 16, 2012

That's Not My Name

Roman names are a great showcase of how the Romans can be very similar to modern society while still demonstrating a cultural/generational gap. Just like learning the nomenclature system, experience is the real key to understanding Roman names... family trees are a great way of seeing the names of a whole family of Romans.

Male Roman citizens would have three names: praenomen, nomen, and cognomen. Generally women would only have one name - the feminine form of their father's nomen - although in earlier times women would sometimes have two names.  If there were many daughters all in one family (with the same name) they would have nicknames to distinguish between the siblings, or be named in order (Elder Claudia, the second Claudia, the third Claudia, et cetera)

Praenomen: There are 3 dozen possible praenomina but really only about 17 were commonly used. You can imagine how confusing this could become:
Marcus: Have you seen Gaius today?
Sextus: Gaius Julius Caesar or Gaius Gracchus?
Marcus: Neither: Gaius Marius.
Or imagine yelling "Quintus!" to your friend in a crowded market and seeing 20 people turn around.
Praenomina have standard abbreviation; because there are so few, everyone would be well acquainted with what latter represents what name. One matter that confuses Latin students today is that Gaius is abbreviated C and Gnaeus is Cn. Just take my word that the letter G evolved from C and the abbreviations keep the old, traditional spelling.

The eldest Roman son generally would have the same praenomen as his father, but not always. In funerary inscriptions, a Roman's full name is give (Gaius Julius Caesar) and his father's praenomen is given (son of Gaius).  It was a given the the rest of the father's name would be the same as his son's.  Publius Licinius Crassus, son of Marcus give us enough information to know that his father's name was Marcus Licinius Crassus.

Here are some examples of what a Roman's name would look like on a tombstone or public inscription:
 L(ucius) HOSTILIVS C(aii) F(ilius)
Lucius Hostilius, son of Gaius.
Lucius  was probably not the eldest son of Gaius.
For Gaius Oppius, son of Gaius.
Gaius was most likely the eldest son of Gaius, as they have the same praenomen.
Gaius Erucius, son of Gaius
Titus Titius Flaccus, son of Lucius

Titus Titius not only has a super awesome name, but he shares a cognomen (Flaccus) with Quintus Horatius Flaccus, more commonly known as Horace of "Carpe Diem' fame.

Quintus Tullius, son of Quintus

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Observing the proper rites and traditions of burial was very important to the Romans. All tombs were outside the city; if you were rich, you could buy land for a tomb on one of the main streets leading into the city, so every traveler would see your final resting place. The land bought for a tomb was sacred and was not to be disturbed... of course, this doesn't mean that it wasn't.  Some Romans specifically demarcated the land that was theirs and shouldn't be messed with.  Others inscribed threats of bad luck that would befall you if you should be so callous as to disturb their tomb site.

This minimalist stele from the Musei Civici in Vicenza (originally from Nanto, Veneto) simply states the amount of space around it to be left free.  Information from the museum says that it is from no later than the Caesarian Age. 

 P(edes) ·III

Let 3 feet be left free from the edge.

 From the front, you can see some great ligatures.  Ligatures combine letters, usually to save space.  On this very narrow surface, the word VACET and FINE have been cut down to only three letters.

· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·
This inscription from Verona is more specific about what kind of violations it forbids, and also gives a little taste of the punishment one would receive.  In the vaguest terms possible, really. 


 He who brings dung inside the marker stones or who violates them,
let him not enjoy life.

Watch out where you dump your dung!  Romans are watching!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Separation of Church and State

In ancient Rome, holding a priesthood was more like holding a government office than having any personal calling to the religious order. There were several colleges (groups) of priests who would have official government duties and functions. Often Roman men would go from political office to the priesthood and vice versa.

As an example, I bring you this dedication (not a tombstone!) to the duty/responsibly of Gaius Calvisius Sabinus found in the Museo Civico di Spoleto.

[C(ai)] CALVISI C(ai) F(ilii) SABINI
VII VIR(i) EPUL(onum) CUR(ionis) MAX(imi)

To the duty
Of Gaius Calvisius Sabinus, son of Gaius
Septemvir of the Epulones and Curio Maximus

Our friend G. Calvisius Sabinus was a patron, which was common in Rome, and a consul. There were two consuls in ancient Rome, who served for one year. Ostensibly, there was a one term limit, but history is filled with exceptions to this rule. Consul was the highest political position one could achieve. G. Calvisius Sabinus tried to save Julius Caesar on that fateful day of March 15th, when his assassins attacked. Because he was consul in 39 BC, it seems that he was given the consulship by the Second Triumvirate as a reward for his loyalty (pietas).

But G. Calvisius Sabinus was also a septemvir epulonum (one of seven men of the epulones) who was in charge of feasts and banquets during public games. He was also the curio maximus, which even Wikipedia calls "obscure." Even so, it was important enough to be an identifying office to the people who made this dedication to him.

This inscription is CIL XI, 4772.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Someone get an eraser!

In the last post, we saw that VF is the abbreviation for Vivus Fecit, which means the tombstone was commissioned while the 'user' was still alive. This meant you could have total control over how your family and friends would remember you but it could also cause some problems.

On this tombstone from the Museo Archeologico in Bergamo we see one of the problems of composing your epitaph before you're dead. When he was alive, he had been a sexvir (one of 6 men, like a double triumvirate) and a priest of the cult of the emperor Augustus. BUT THEN, after he had finished his tombstone, he became a flamen, another type of priest. That last piece of information had to be crammed into his already completed tombstone.

Note that sexvir is written with the Roman numeral 6 (IIIIII) and the noun VIR.

L(ucius) BLANDIVS C(aius) F(ilius)
VOT(uria tribu)
VALERIAE L(ucius) F(ilia)

Lucius Blandius, son of Gaius, from the Voturia tribe, a sevir, priest of Augustus and flamen, made this while alive for himself and for this wife, Valeria Rustica, daughter of Lucius.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I'm not dead yet!

The last post had a tombstone with the abbreviation TFI, which stands for Testamento Fieri Iussit (He ordered it to be made in his will). This is what was put on tombstones if the deceased had not arranged for a tombstone to be made while he was alive, which was common practice for the Romans. If he had, the abbreviation VF would be on the tomb, for Vivus Fecit (He, while alive, made it), as in the following inscription from a museum in Brescia, found in Tremosine in 1754.

V(ivus) f(ecit) | Triumus | Celeris f(ilius) | sibi et | Duci|avae Turi f(iliae) | uxs(ori)

Triumus, son of Celer, while he was still alive made this tombstone for himself and for his wife Duciava, daughter of Turus.

All the names on this tombstone (besides Celer) point to indigenous, non-Roman citizens. Freed slaves would normally take three Roman names (praenomen, nomen, and cognomen), often influenced by the name of their former master. It's not unusual that members of the same nuclear family would have very different names, depending on their legal status.

This inscription included a CIL listing (CIL V 4881). The Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (Body of Latin Inscriptions) is a catalog of all the Classical Latin inscriptions known. The volumes are divided by date (I is the oldest inscriptions), by geography (II-XIV), or by special topics (XV-XVII). The CIL is headquartered at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences in Germany and has sister Corpora of Greek and Etruscan inscriptions.

Friday, June 24, 2011

VIP? How about an IOU?

Lol! OMG! jk! The Romans would have adored these internet abbreviations; as stone-cutting was a difficult, laborious task, Romans had standardized abbreviations used liberally in inscriptions. But when there are more abbreviations than actual Latin, it becomes difficult for the novice reader to make heads or tails of it. This inscription from Museo Civico Archeologico in Milan reads:

Testamento Fieri Iussit
which means "He ordered it to be made in his testament (will)."

Easier to say in Latin, no? The column looking things are fasces, symbols of power in ancient Rome and where we get the word fascism. In the middle is a seat with a frieze of weapons, a pillow and a footstool. All these show that this stele (large stone slab) commemorates an important magistrate or politician, but his identity is lost to time because of missing words (called a lacuna).