Gens Aurelia

“The gens Aurelia was a plebeian family at Rome. They claimed descent from Agamemnon. The family was originally Sabine, having come to Rome from Sabinum only in the third century BCE. They anchored their Sabinity on their hereditary control of the of the cult of Sol, and their grandiose genealogy from the proto-Sabine Orestes.” (Gary D. Farney, Ethnic identity and aristocratic competition in Republican Rome (Oxford Univ. Pr. (2007)).

“Aurelius. Widespread plebeian gentilicium (ThlL 2,1482-87), which in ancient etymology is derived from Sabine and was derived via the older form Auselius from sol (sun) (Fest. p. 22; from this the modern derivation from the Sabine *ausel over Etruscan usil ‘Sun god’, cf. [1. 36; 2. 468]). The family attained noble status in the 1st Punic War with Aur. [3] and provides numerous consuls in the 2nd cent. BC from the branches of the Cottae, Orestae and Scauri.” (BrillOnline, “Aurelius“).

The name appears to derive from aureus (golden). The cognomina used by members of the gens include Orestes. Lucius Aurelius Orestes was Consul in 157 BCE. The Orestes from whom they took this cognomen was the Greek hero Orestes, son of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and member of the famous Greek family Atreides.

There was a sharp difference of opinion among ancient historians about the origin of the Sabines. According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, many Roman historians (including Porcius Cato and Gaius Sempronius) regarded the origins of indigenous Romans to be Greek, despite the fact that their knowledge was derived from Greek legendary accounts. Porcius Cato argued the Sabines were descendants of Spartan colonists led by Sabus, from whom they took their name. His father Sancus was worshiped as a god under the name Jupiter Fidius [Hercules].

“But the most learned of the Roman historians, among whom is Porcius Cato, who compiled with the greatest care the “origins” of the Italian cities, Gaius Sempronius and a great many others say that they [Aborigines] were Greeks, part of those who once dwelt in Achaia, and that they migrated many generations before the Trojan war. But they do not name the Greek tribe or city they belonged to, or the date or the leader of the colony, or what made them leave their mother country. Though they follow a Greek legend, they cite no Greek historian as their authority. It is uncertain, therefore, what the truth of the matter is.” (Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities, Book 1.11)

“But Porcius Cato says that the Sabine race received its name from Sabus, the son of Sancus, a divinity of that country, and that this Sancus was by some called Jupiter Fidius.” (Roman Antiquities, Book 2.49)

“There is also another account given of the Sabines in the native histories, to the effect that a colony of Lacedaemonians settled among them at the time when Lycurgus, being guardian to his nephew Eunomus, gave his laws to Sparta. For the story goes that some of the Spartans, disliking the severity of his laws and separating from the rest, quitted the city entirely, and after being borne through a vast stretch of sea, made a vow to the gods to settle in the first land they should reach; for a longing came upon them for any land whatsoever. At last they made that part of Italy which lies near the Pomentine plains and they called the place where they first landed Foronia, in memory of their being borne through the sea, and built a temple to the goddess Foronia, to whom they had addressed their vows; this goddess, by the alteration of one letter, they now call Feronia. And some of them, setting out from thence, settled among the Sabines. It is for this reason, they say, that many of the habits of the Sabines are Spartan, particularly their fondness for war and their frugality and a severity in all the actions of their lives. But this is enough about the Sabine race.” (Roman Antiquities, Book 2.49)

Shared to, Dec. 2, 2010.

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