The gens Fabia was one of the most ancient patrician families at Rome. The gens played a prominent part in history soon after the establishment of the Republic, and three brothers were invested with seven successive consulships, from 485 to 479 BC, thereby cementing the high repute of the family. Overall, the Fabii received 45 consulships during the Republic. The house derived its greatest lustre from the patriotic courage and tragic fate of the 306 Fabii in the Battle of the Cremera, 477 BC. But the Fabii were not distinguished as warriors alone; several members of the gens were also important in the history of Roman literature and the arts.
The family is generally thought to have been counted amongst the gentes maiores, the most prominent of the patrician houses at Rome, together with the Aemilii, Claudii, Cornelii, Manlii, and Valerii; but no list of the gentes maiores has survived, and even the number of families so designated is a complete mystery. Until 480 BC, the Fabii were staunch supporters of the aristocratic policies favoring the patricians and the senate against the plebs. However, following a great battle that year against the Veientes, in which victory was achieved only by cooperation between the generals and their soldiers, the Fabii aligned themselves with the plebs.
One of the thirty-five voting tribes into which the Roman people were divided was named after the Fabii; several tribes were named after important gentes, including the tribes Aemilia, Claudia, Cornelia, Fabia, Papiria, Publilia, Sergia, and Veturia. Several of the others appear to have been named after lesser families.
The most famous legend of the Fabii asserts that, following the last of the seven consecutive consulships in 479 BC, the gens undertook the war with Veii as a private obligation. A militia consisting of over three hundred men of the gens, together with their friends and clients, amounting to a total of some four thousand men, took up arms and stationed itself on a hill overlooking the Cremera, a little river between Rome and Veii. The cause of this secession is said to have been the enmity between the Fabii and the patricians, who regarded them as traitors for advocating the causes of the plebeians. The Fabian militia remained in their camp on the Cremera for two years, successfully opposing the Veientes, until at last they were lured into an ambush, and destroyed. Three hundred and six Fabii of fighting age were said to have perished in the disaster, leaving only a single survivor to return home. By some accounts he was the only survivor of the entire gens; but it seems unlikely that the camp of the Fabii included not only all of the men, but the women and children of the family as well. They and the elders of the gens probably remained at Rome. The day on which the Fabii perished was forever remembered, as it was the same day that the Gauls defeated the Roman army at the Battle of the Allia in 390 BC. This was the fifteenth day before the kalends of Sextilis, or July 18, according to the modern calendar. The story was considerably embellished at a later date in order to present it as a counterpart of the Battle of Thermopylae, which took place in 479 BC (hence the number of 306 Fabii, similar to the 300 Spartans of Leonidas). However, Tim Cornell states that there is no reason to doubt the historicity of the battle, because the tribus Fabia--presumably where the Fabii had their country estates--was located near the Cremera, on the border with Veii.
Throughout the history of the Republic, the Fabii made several alliances with other prominent families, especially plebeian and Italian ones, which partly explains their long prominence. The first of such alliances that can be traced dates from the middle of the fifth century and was with the Poetelii; it lasted for at least a century. In the fourth century, the Fabii were allied to the patrician Manlii and the plebeian Genucii and Licinii, whom they supported during the Conflict of the Orders. They then occupied an unprecedented leading position in the third century, as three generations of Fabii were princeps senatus--a unique occurrence during the Republic.[i] During this period, they allied with the plebeian Atilii from Campania, where the Fabii had significant estates, the Fulvii and Mamilii from Tusculum, the Otacili from Beneventum, the Ogulnii from Etruria, and the Marcii. They also sponsored the emergence of the Caecilii Metelii and Porcii, who owed their first consulate to the Fabii, as well as the re-emergence of the patrician Quinctii. The main direction of the second war against Carthage was disputed between the Fabii and the Cornelii Scipiones. The death of Fabius Verrucosus in 203 marks the end of the Fabian leadership on Roman politics, by now assumed by their rivals: Scipio Africanus and his family. After the consulship of Fabius Maximus Eburnus in 116, the Fabii entered a century-long eclipse, until their temporary revival under Augustus.
The name of the Fabii was associated with one of the two colleges of the Luperci, the priests who carried on the sacred rites of the ancient religious festival of the Lupercalia. The other college bore the name of the Quinctilii, suggesting that in the earliest times these two gentes superintended these rites as a sacrum gentilicum, much as the Pinarii and Potitii maintained the worship of Hercules. Such sacred rites were gradually transferred to the state, or opened to the Roman populus; a well-known legend attributed the destruction of the Potitii to the abandonment of its religious office. In later times the privilege of the Lupercalia had ceased to be confined to the Fabii and the Quinctilii.
According to legend, the Fabii claimed descent from Hercules, who visited Italy a generation before the Trojan War, and from Evander, his host. This brought the Fabii into the same tradition as the Pinarii and Potitii, who were said to have welcomed Hercules and learned from him the sacred rites which for centuries afterward they performed in his honor.
Another early legend stated that at the founding of Rome, the followers of the brothers Romulus and Remus were called the Quinctilii and the Fabii, respectively. The brothers were said to have offered up sacrifices in the cave of the Lupercal at the base of the Palatine Hill, which became the origin of the Lupercalia. This story is certainly connected with the tradition that the two colleges of the Luperci bore the names of these ancient gentes.
The nomen of the Fabii is said originally to have been Fovius, Favius, or Fodius;Plinius stated that it was derived from faba, a bean, a vegetable which the Fabii were said to have first cultivated. A more fanciful explanation derives the name from fovea, ditches, which the ancestors of the Fabii were said to have used in order to capture wolves.
It is uncertain whether the Fabii were of Latin or Sabine origin. Niebuhr, followed by Göttling, considered them Sabines. However, other scholars are unsatisfied with their reasoning, and point out that the legend associating the Fabii with Romulus and Remus would place them at Rome before the incorporation of the Sabines into the nascent Roman state.
It may nonetheless be noted that, even supposing this tradition to be based on actual historical events, the followers of the brothers were described as "shepherds," and presumably included many of the people then living in the countryside where the city of Rome was to be built. The hills of Rome were already inhabited at the time of the city's legendary founding, and they stood in the hinterland between the Latins, Sabines, and Etruscans. Even if many the followers of Romulus and Remus were Latins from the ancient city of Alba Longa, many may also have been Sabines already living in the surrounding countryside.
The earliest generations of the Fabii favored the praenominaCaeso, Quintus, and Marcus. They were the only patrician gens to make regular use of Numerius, which appears in the family after the destruction of the Fabii at the Cremera. According to the tradition related by Festus, this praenomen entered the gens when Quintus Fabius Vibulanus, the consul of 467, married a daughter of Numerius Otacilius of Maleventum, and bestowed his father-in-law's name on his son.[ii]
Although the Fabii Ambusti and some later branches of the family used the praenomen Gaius, Quintus is the name most frequently associated with the Fabii of the later Republic. The Fabii Maximi used it almost to the exclusion of all other names until the end of the Republic, when they revived the ancient praenomen Paullus. This was done in honor of the Aemilii Paulli, from whom the later Fabii Maximi were descended, having been adopted into the Fabia gens at the end of the 3rd century BC. A variety of surnames associated with the Aemilii were also used by this family, and one of the Fabii was called Africanus Fabius Maximus, although his proper name was Quintus Fabius Maximus Africanus. In a manuscript of Cicero, Servius appears among the Fabii Pictores, but this seems to have been a corruption in the manuscript, which originally read Numerius.
Branches and cognomina
Denarius of Gaius Fabius Hadrianus, 102 BC. On the obverse is the head of Cybele, a possible allusion to the visit to Rome of Battaces, a priest of Magna Mater. The reverse depicts Victoria driving a biga, with a flamingo below.
The cognomina of the Fabii under the Republic were Ambustus, Buteo, Dorso or Dorsuo, Labeo, Licinus, Maximus (with the agnominaAemilianus, Allobrogicus, Eburnus, Gurges, Rullianus, Servilianus, and Verrucosus), Pictor, and Vibulanus. Other cognomina belonged to persons who were not, strictly speaking, members of the gens, but who were freedmen or the descendants of freedmen, or who had been enrolled as Roman citizens under the Fabii. The only cognomina appearing on coins are Hispaniensis, Labeo, Maximus, and Pictor.
In imperial times it becomes difficult to distinguish between members of the gens and unrelated persons sharing the same nomen. Members of the gens are known as late as the second century, but persons bearing the name of Fabius continue to appear into the latest period of the Empire.
The eldest branch of the Fabii bore the cognomen Vibulanus, which may allude to an ancestral home of the gens. The surname Ambustus, meaning "burnt", replaced Vibulanus at the end of the 5th century BC; the first of the Fabii to be called Ambustus was a descendant of the Vibulani. The most celebrated stirps of the Fabia gens, which bore the surname Maximus, was in turn descended from the Fabii Ambusti. This family was famous for its statesmen and its military exploits, which lasted from the Samnite Wars, in the 4th century BC until the wars with the Germanic invaders of the 2nd century BC. Most, if not all of the later Fabii Maximi were descendants of Quintus Fabius Maximus Aemilianus, one of the Aemilii Paulli, who as a child was adopted into that illustrious family.[iii]
Buteo, which described a type of hawk, was originally given to a member of the Fabia gens because such a bird on one occasion settled upon his ship with a favorable omen. This tradition, related by Plinius, does not indicate which of the Fabii first obtained this surname, but it was probably one of the Fabii Ambusti. Crawford suggests that the buteo of the legend was not a hawk, but a flamingo, based on the appearance of a bird resembling a flamingo on the coins of Gaius Fabius Hadrianus, who may have sought to associate himself with that family by the use of such a symbol. Hadrianus and his descendants form the last distinguishable family of the Fabii. Their surname surname was probably derived from the Latin colony of Hatria, and it is likely that they were not lineal descendants of the Fabii Buteones, but newly-enfranchised citizens. The flamingo might also allude to the family's coastal origins.
The surname Pictor, borne by another family of the Fabii, signifies a painter, and the earliest known member of this family was indeed a painter, famed for his work in the temple of Salus, built by Gaius Junius Bubulcus Brutus between 307 and 302 BC. The later members of this family, several of whom were distinguished in the arts, appear to have been his descendants, and must have taken their cognomen from this ancestor. The cognomen Labeo ("the one with large lips") appears at the beginning of the second century BC; Quintus Fabius Labeo, the first of that name, was also a poet, but his line vanished before the end of the century.
Quintus Fabius M. f. K. n. Vibulanus, consul in 467, 465, and 459. The only survivor of the Battle of the Cremera. He fought against the Aequi in each of his consulships, and was awarded a triumph during the last one. He was finally a member of the second Decemvirate in 450, and also urban prefect in 462 and 458.
(Fabia) Eburna, inferred by Ronald Syme from an inscription naming Eutychia, the slave-girl of a woman named Eburna; another inscription names a slave-woman named Alexa, perhaps belonging to the same Eburna.
Fabius Numantinus, one of eight young men admitted to an undetermined sacerdotal college, possibly the sodales Titii, between AD 59 and 64.
Denarius of Numerius Fabius Pictor, 126 BC. On the obverse is the head of Roma; on the reverse is Quintus Fabius Pictor, the praetor of 189, holding an apex and shield inscribed QVIRIN, alluding to his status of Flamen Quirinalis.
Denarius of Quintus Fabius Labeo, 124 BC. The obverse depicts the head of Roma, while the obverse shows Jupiter driving a quadriga. The prow below alludes to his grandfather's naval triumph.
Quintus Fabius Q. f. Q. n. Labeo, quaestor urbanus in 196 BC. Praetor then propraetor in 189 and 188, he defeated the naval forces of Antiochus III, for which he received a naval triumph the following year. He was triumvir for establishing the colonies of Potentia and Pisaurum in 184, and Saturnia in 183. He was consul in 183, and proconsul in Liguria the following year. He also became pontiff in 180, and was part of a commission of ten men sent to advise Aemilius Paullus on the settlement of Macedonia in 167. He was also a poet, according to Suetonius.
Quintus Fabius Q. f. Q. n. Labeo, a learned orator known whose eloquence is mentioned by Cicero. He must have lived about the middle of the second century BC, and either he or more probably his son was proconsul in Spain, where the name occurs on some milestones.
Quintus Fabius Q. f. Q. n. Labeo, triumvir monetalis in 124 BC. He was probably proconsul in Spain between 120 and 100 BC.
Gaius Fabius M. f. C. n. Hadrianus, praetor in 58 BC, and subsequently proconsul in Asia, where he minted coins.
Tetradrachm of Gaius Fabius Hadrianus, as proconsul at Pergamon (with the local magistrate Demeas), circa 57 BC. On the obverse is a Cista mystica within ivy wreath; on the reverse is a bow case between two serpents, with a thyrsus on the right.
^Ryan dismisses Pliny's account of the three consecutive principes: Ambustus, Rullianus, and Gurges. He suggests instead Rullianus, Gurges, and Verrucosus, but does not believe that they served consecutively.
^This story is doubted by Münzer and Ogilvie, who consider it to be anachronistic, as Otacilius is described as a Samnite, and there was no significant contact between Rome and the Samnites for another century. Münzer argues that Numerius appears only among the collateral stirpes of the Buteones and Pictores, but never among the main line of the family, the Vibulani, Ambusti, and Maximi. Manuscripts of Livy give Gnaeus instead of Numerius among the older Fabii, which has generally been amended to Numerius, following the Capitoline Fasti. Carolus Sigonius followed this scheme in his editio princeps of Livy in 1555, as have most later historians. However, Münzer prefers Gnaeus, otherwise unused by the Fabii, as Livy had access to sources predating the chronology of Varro, which was used to compile the Fasti. According to Münzer, the first of the Fabii to bear the name was Numerius Fabius Buteo, the consul of 247; his father, Marcus, did not follow the usual convention of giving his praenomen to his eldest son, and must therefore have been the Fabius to whom Festus referred.
^Broughton thought he could have been the son of Quintus Fabius Maximus Gurges, the consul of 292 and 276, and thus assigned him the consulship of 265. However, Ryan disagrees and gives the three consulships to Gurges.
Barthold Georg Niebuhr, The History of Rome, Julius Charles Hare and Connop Thirlwall, trans., John Smith, Cambridge (1828).
Wilhelm Adolf Becker, Handbuch der Römischen Alterhümer (Handbook of Roman Antiquities), Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, Leipzig (1846).
Karl Wilhelm Göttling, Geschichte der Römischen Staatsverfassung von Erbauung der Stadt bis zu C. Cäsar's Tod (History of the Roman State from the Founding of the City to the Death of Caesar), Buchhandlung des Waisenhauses, Halle (1840).