Scipio (plural, Scipiones) is a Roman cognomen representing the Cornelii Scipiones, a branch of the Cornelii family. Any individual male of the branch must be named Cornelius Scipio and a female Cornelia. The nomen, Cornelius, signifies that the person belongs to the Cornelia gens, a legally defined clan composed of many familiae. The cognomen, Scipio, identifies the line, or branch within the clan. Other branches had other cognomina; during the Republic there were no Cornelii who did not belong to some branch of the ancient clan. As branches developed, each was identified by its own agnomen, such as Africanus. The formal names of the Cornelii were thus at least two names long; in the late Republic, three or more.
Individual names, or praenomina, offered but little more variation. Of 18 patrician praenomina, each clan preferred a limited repertory. The Cornelii Scipiones used only three: Gnaeus (CN.), Lucius (L.) and Publius (P.), as a glance at the list of males names below will confirm. In written records it was typically necessary to distinguish the individual with the name of a relative; for men, usually the father (patronymic). The patronymic appeared typically as initials of the relative inserted after the nomen with F. for filius ("son") or N. for nepos ("grandson"): Lucius Cornelius P. f. Scipio, "Lucius Cornelius Scipio son of Publius."
Although the Romans used Scipiones (in only a few known literary instances) as a plural to mean more than one Scipio, they customarily preferred Scipionarius or Scipioneus to refer to "a Scipio" or the plural of those words for "the Scipios." The poets however preferred the honorific Greek patronymic form, Scipiades or Scipiadas in the singular, Scipiadae in the plural (which scans better as poetry: Scípǐǎdáe), in deference to the well-known Scipionic predilection for Hellenica.
The proper noun, Scīpio, is identical to the Latin common noun (and only to that noun) for "staff" in the sense of sceptre or formal baton, a badge of governmental authority. The word is native Latin, deriving from Indo-European *skei-p-, "cut" (a staff is a cutting from wood). That the ancients understood the name to mean that is proved by a decree from Delos engraved on a stele about 193 BC, which thanks Publius Cornelius P. f. Scipio for his donation to the temple there and grants him a laurel crown. On the stele appear representations of the crown and a knotty staff.
The Cornelii Scipiones first appear in Roman history in 396 BC in the context of the destruction of Veii by Marcus Furius Camillus, who on being appointed Dictator selected Publius Cornelius Scipio as his "Master of Knights"; that is, his cavalry commander. Scipio subsequently served as military tribune, in essence a general. Already the Scipiones were a distinguished branch of one of the most powerful patrician families – the gens Cornelia. The use of the cognomen dates to the Roman Republic: the kings and their contemporaries had two names only, or earlier one. The first Scipio and the event leading to the branch name remain obscure.[note 1]
The family was one of the most distinguished of the republic. At least fifteen members became consuls, some re-elected many times, between 350 BC and 111 BC. Their family tomb, dated to the 3rd century BC and rediscovered in 1780, contained one of the earliest collections of Latin inscriptions, the elogia Scipionum ("inscriptions of the Scipiones"), an important historical source for the Roman Republic.
The Cornelii Scipiones were one of the main politically active patrician families contesting for high office in the Roman Republic. Their rise was phenomenal; in the fourth century BC, they held only one consulship; in the third century BC, they held eight consulships (and produced six consuls including Scipio Africanus). By the late second century BC, the Scipiones were traditional political allies of the Paulii branch of the Aemilius family, and intermarried with them at least once. When the most distinguished branch became extinct in the male line circa 170 BC, it survived a further generation by adopting an Aemilius Paullus (the future Scipio Aemilianus) into the Scipionic stemline.
Before and during the Second Punic War, the Scipiones struggled to get their views heard in preference to that of conservatives such as Quintus Fabius Maximus (head of the gens Fabia). The Scipiones and their allies, including the Aemilii, were said to favor war and expansionism; the Fabii, with their allies the Manlii, favored conservatism. The political differences gradually widened to include military differences; the brothers Scipio (who fell in Spain) sought to carry the war into Carthaginian territory, an idea backed by Scipio Africanus a few years later. The Scipiones are also believed to have been behind the election of Gaius Terentius Varro, which led indirectly to the disastrous defeat at Cannae survived by Africanus, then a very young commander.
The conquests of grandfather and adoptive grandson marked the end of an era, and the decline or demise of the Middle Republic. The two Scipiones, by destroying Carthage militarily and physically (on orders from the Senate), ensured that Rome had no major threat to her expansion around the Mediterranean. Ironically, another Scipio (Scipio Nasica) had opposed any further war with Carthage, arguing that Rome needed a strong rival to keep her older values.
The Scipiones were also famous for their interest in the Hellenistic way of life. Scipio Africanus was criticized by many in the Senate for his love of luxury and his Greek style of wearing the toga. Yet it was he and his friends who introduced the idea of formally educating women and children in Greek. They also spearhearded a luxurious style of living, with Africanus building an immense house on the Forum itself (subsequently rebuilt by his son-in-law into the Basilica Sempronia). Scipio is said to have introduced orange trees (from Iberia) to Rome, and also brought many rare flowering plants to Rome from Africa.
Scipio Aemilianus was famous for his Scipionic Circle, a group of scholars and philosophers that he gathered around him in his house in Rome. He was a patron and friend of the historian Polybius, the grammarian Lucilius, the playwright Terence, and others.
People of known relationship
Famous male Scipiones include:
- Publius Cornelius Scipio, consular tribune 395 BC, first Scipio to be named in Livy; was Master of the Horse to Marcus Furius Camillus.
- Lucius Cornelius P.f. Scipio, consul 350 BC, possibly son of the previous
- Lucius Cornelius Cn.f. Scipio Barbatus, consul 298 BC, apparently grandson of the previous
- Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Asina, consul 260 BC, 254 BC; apparently elder surviving son of the previous
- Lucius Cornelius Scipio, consul 259 BC, apparently younger surviving son of no.3
- Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus, consul 222 BC, eldest surviving son of the previous
- Publius Cornelius Scipio, consul 218 BC, second surviving son of no.5
- Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, famous general, defeated Hannibal of Carthage at Zama, elder son of the previous
- Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus, consul 190 BC, younger son of no.7
- Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica, consul 191 BC, son of no.6
- Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Hispallus, consul 176 BC (died in office), cousin of nos.8–10
- Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (augur), elder surviving son of no.8
- Lucius Cornelius Scipio, praetor 174 BC, younger surviving son of no.8
- Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum, consul 162 BC, 155 BC, son of no.10
- Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Numantinus (Scipio the Younger, or Scipio Aemilianus), adoptive son of no. 12, and adoptive grandson of no.8
- Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio, consul 138 BC, son of no.14 and grandson maternally of no.8 (Scipio Africanus)
- Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica (consul 111 BC), son of the previous
- Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica, praetor 94 BC, son of the previous
- Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus (consul 83 BC), descendant of no.9
- Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Cornelianus Scipio Nasica (Metellus Scipio), consul 52 BC, natural grandson of no.17, adopted by father's cousin
Famous female Scipiones include:
- Cornelia P. f. L. n., first daughter of Scipio Africanus and wife of Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum.
- Cornelia (Africana), second daughter of Scipio Africanus and mother of the Gracchi, known for her good character and mothering skills.
People of unknown relationship
The relationship of the following Scipios to all of the above is uncertain:
- Publius Cornelius Scipio, consul 16 BC.
- Ser. Cornelius Scipio L. Saluidienus Orfitus, consul 149
- Ser. Cornelius Scipio Saluidienus Orfitus, consul 178
- Late imperial and mediaeval etymologists, such as Macrobius and Isidore of Seville, repeated the story without source or evidence that an early Cornelius was given the name because he was a "staff" in helping his blind father walk in the senate-house. Other writers have attributed the name to various Scipios anachronistically, such as Africanus, who were a "staff" to the state. The poets compared the name to various Greek words for cudgel or lightning bolt with reference to Scipionic victories or to bristling trees bringing horror ("bristling") to the battlefield.
- Peck, Harry Thurston (1898). "Nomen". Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities. New York: Harper and Brothers.
- Dowdall, Launcelot Downing (July–December 1903). "A Chapter on Names". The Gentleman's Magazine. CCXCV (295): 555.
- Lewis, Charlton T; Charles Short (1879). "Scipio 2". A Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Lewis, Charlton T; Charles Short (1879). "Scipio". A Latin Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Pokorny, Julius. "skei-". Indogermanisches Etymologisches Woerterbuch. pp. 919–922.
- Sherk, Robert Kenneth (1984). Rome and the Greek East to the death of Augustus (Illustrated, reprint ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-521-27123-3.
Decreed by the Boule and the people. A[n]tilakos (son) of Simides made the motion: since Pub[lius] Cornelius, son of Publius, Scipio, Roman, being proxenos and benefactor of the temple and the Delians, bestows all care on the temple and the Delians, it is decreed by the Boule and the People to crown Publius Corn[e]lius, son of Publius, Scipio, Roman, at the Apollonia with the sacred crown of laurel.
- Livy. "Book V, Section 20". History of Rome.
- Livy (2002). The Early History of Rome: Books I-V of The History of Rome from Its Foundations. translated by Aubrey De Sélincourt (revised, illustrated ed.). Penguin Classics. p. 396. ISBN 978-0-14-044809-2.
And now...the doom of Veii was at hand. Marcus Furius Camillus, the man destined to destroy that city and save his country, was appointed Dictator and named Publius Cornelius Scipio as his Master of Horse.
- Thomas, Joseph (1915). "Scipio". Universal Pronouncing Dictionary of Biography and Mythology. 2. J.B. Lippincott Company. p. 2155.