Several stories were told of the foundation of the Aemilii, of which the most familiar was that their ancestor, Mamercus, was the son of Numa Pompilius. In the late Republic, several other gentes claimed descent from Numa, including the Pompilii, Pomponii, Calpurnii, and Pinarii. A variation of this account stated that Mamercus was the son of Pythagoras, who was sometimes said to have taught Numa. However, as Livy observed, this was not possible, as Pythagoras was not born until more than a century after Numa's death, and was still living in the early days of the Republic.
This Mamercus is said to have received the name of Aemilius because of the persuasiveness of his language (), although such a derivation is certainly false etymology. A more likely derivation is from aemulus, "a rival". According to a different legend, the Aemilii were descended from Aemylos, a son of Ascanius, four hundred years before the time of Numa Pompilius. Still another version relates that the gens was descended from Amulius, the wicked uncle of Romulus and Remus, who deposed his brother Numitor to become king of Alba Longa.
In the late Republic, a number of minor families claimed descent from the figures of Rome's legendary past, including through otherwise unknown sons of Numa. Modern historians dismiss these as late inventions, but the claim of the Aemilii was much older, and there was no corresponding need to demonstrate the antiquity of a gens that was already prominent at the beginning of the Republic. In any case, the Aemilii, like Numa, were almost certainly of Sabine origin. The praenomenMamercus is derived from Mamers, a god worshipped by the Sabelli of central and southern Italy, and usually regarded as the Sabellic form of Mars. At Rome, this name, and its diminutive, Mamercinus, were known primarily as cognomina of the Aemilii and the Pinarii, although the Aemilii continued to use it as a praenomen. A surname of the later Aemilii, Regillus, seems to be derived from the Sabine town of Regillum, better known as the ancestral home of the Claudia gens, and perhaps alludes to the Sabine origin of the Aemilii.
The roots of the Aemilia gens was also connected to the very founding of Rome through the claim that it descended from Aemilia, the daughter of Aeneas and Lavinia.
The Aemilii regularly used the praenomina Lucius, Manius, Marcus, and Quintus, and occasionally Mamercus. The Aemilii Mamercini also used Tiberius and Gaius, while the Aemilii Lepidi, who had a particular fondness for old and unusual names, used Paullus, presumably with reference to the family of the Aemilii Paulli, which had died out nearly a century earlier. An obscure family of uncertain date seems to have used Caeso. The daughters of the Aemilii are known to have used the numerical praenomina Prima, Secunda, and Tertia, although these were frequently treated as cognomina, and placed at the end of the name.
Branches and cognomina
The oldest stirps of the Aemilii bore the surname Mamercus, together with its diminutive, Mamercinus; these appear somewhat interchangeably in early generations. This family flourished from the earliest period to the time of the Samnite Wars. Several other important families, with the surnames Papus, Barbula, Paullus, and Lepidus, date from this period, and were probably descended from the Mamercini. The most illustrious of the family was undoubtedly Mamercus Aemilius Mamercinus, three times dictator in the second half of the fifth century BC.
The Aemilii Papi occur in history for about a century and a half, from the time of the Samnite Wars down to the early second century BC. Their surname, Papus, like Mamercus, appears to be of Oscan origin. The name Aemilius Papus occurs again in the time of the emperor Hadrian, but properly speaking these appear to have belonged to the Messia gens, and probably claimed descent from the more illustrious Aemilii through a female line.
Barbula, or "little beard", occurs as the surname of one branch of the Aemilii, which appears in history for about a century beginning in the time of the Samnite Wars, and accounting for several consulships.
Paullus, occasionally found as Paulus, was an old praenomen, meaning "little". As a praenomen, its masculine form had fallen into disuse at Rome, although the feminine form, Paulla, in various orthographies,[i] was very common. As a surname, Paullus appeared in many families down to the latest period of the Empire, but none were more famous than the Aemilii Paulli. This family was descended from Marcus Aemilius Paullus, consul in 302 BC, and vanished with the death of Lucius Aemilius Paullus, the conqueror of Macedonia, in 160 BC. His sons, though grown, were adopted into the families of the Fabii Maximi and the Cornelii Scipiones. The Aemilii Lepidi revived the name toward the end of the Republic, when it was fashionable for younger branches of aristocratic families to revive the surnames of older, more illustrious stirpes.
The cognomen Lepidus belongs to a class of surnames derived from the habits of the habits of the bearer, and evidently referred to someone with a pleasant demeanor. The Aemilii Lepidi appear only a generation after the Aemilii Paulli, beginning with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, consul in 285 BC, and produced many illustrious statesmen down to the first century AD. In the final decades of the Republic, they revived a number of names originally belonging to older stirpes of the Aemilian gens, including Mamercus as a praenomen, Regillus as a cognomen, and Paullus as both. The last generations were related by marriage to the imperial family.
The Aemilii Scauri flourished from the beginning of the second century BC to the beginning of the first century AD. Their surname, Scaurus, referred to the appearance of the feet or ankles; Chase suggests "swollen ankles".
The cognomina Regillus and Buca apparently belonged to short-lived families. Regillus appears to be derived from the Sabine town of Regillum, perhaps alluding to the Sabine origin of the gens. The Aemilii Regilli flourished for about two generations, beginning at the time of the Second Punic War.Buca, probably the same as Bucca, referred to someone with prominent cheeks, or perhaps someone known for shouting or wailing. The Aemilii Buci are known chiefly from coins, and seem to have flourished toward the end of the Republic.
As with other prominent gentes of the Republic, there were some Aemilii whose relationship to the major families is unclear, as the only references to them contain no surname. Some of these may have been descended from freedmen, and been plebeians. Aemilii with a variety of surnames are found in imperial times.
Tertia Aemilia L. f. L. n. Paulla, when a little girl, gave her father a favorable omen, when following his election as consul for 168 BC, in order to conduct the war with Perseus, he returned home to find Aemilia crying because her dog, also named Perseus, had died.
Aemilius L. f. L. n. Paullus, the elder of two sons of Macedonicus by his second wife, died at the age of fourteen, three days after his father's triumph in November of 167 BC.
Aemilius L. f. L. n. Paullus, the youngest son of Macedonicus, died at the age of twelve, five days before his father's triumph.
Obverse of a denarius of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, the triumvir
Aemilia M. f. M. n., daughter of the princeps senatus, was compelled by her stepfather, Sulla, and mother, to divorce her first husband, Manius Acilius Glabrio, from whom she was pregnant, to marry Sulla's supporter, Pompey. She died in childbirth at Pompey's house.
Caeso Aemilius K. f. Varrius, a military engineer of uncertain date.
Marcus Aemilius Avianus, a friend of Cicero, and the patron of Avianus Evander and Avianus Hammonius.
Aemilius Macer, a poet who flourished during the early decades of the Empire, and wrote upon the subjects of birds, snakes, and medicinal plants.
Aemilius Macer of Verona, a poet who wrote upon Homeric subjects He flourished toward the end of the reign of Augustus.
Aemilius Rectus, governor of Egypt in AD 15, was rebuked by Tiberius for returning more money to the treasury than had been requested; Tiberius replied that he wanted the governors to shear his sheep, not shave them.
^In addition to Paulla, the form Polla, was common in Latin, and either could be spelled with one 'l' or two. There were three distinct pronunciations of the vowel, which can be seen from Greek inscriptions, including , , and ?. The same variation was probably characteristic of the masculine Paullus, as with other Latin names, such as Claudius, which was frequently spelled Clodius, although this came to be regarded as a plebeian spelling.
^Klebs and Sumner tentatively identified him with the praetor peregrinus in 213 BC. Broughton was less certain, suggesting instead an identification with the curio maximus M. Aemilius Papus.
^Identified as Manius Aemilius Lepidus, the son of Manius, in Drumann; also formerly read as "Publius Licinius".
^Several sources indicate that he was consul a second time in 107, in place of Lucius Cassius Longinus, who fell in battle against the Tigurini. However, Pauly-Wissowa indicates that this is a phantom consulship, arising from a misplaced fragment of the Fasti Capitolini, identifying a consul Scaurus who should instead be identified with Marcus Aurelius Scaurus, consul suffectus in the preceding year.
^ abcdeDictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, vol. I, p. 30 ("Aemilia Gens").