Gens Fabia

This article is about the Roman gens. For other persons and places with this name, see Fabius (disambiguation).

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 are said to have been invested with seven successive consulships, from BC 485 to 479. The house derived its greatest lustre from the patriotic courage and tragic fate of the 306 Fabii in the Battle of the Cremera, BC 477. 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.[1]


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 people. Throughout the history of the Republic, they were frequently allied with other prominent families against the Claudii, the proudest and most aristocratic of all Roman gentes, and the champions of the established order.[2][3]

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.[4][5]

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.[6][7][8][9][10][11]

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.[1][12][13][14]

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.[1]

Origin of the gens

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.[15][16][17][18]

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.[19][20][21][22]

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 fovae, ditches, which the ancestors of the Fabii were said to have used in order to capture wolves.[23]

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.[24][25]

Praenomina used by the gens

The earliest generations of the Fabii favored the praenomina Caeso, Quintus, and Marcus. Soon after the destruction of the Fabii at the Cremera, the name Numerius first appears in the family. The Fabii were the only patrician family to use this praenomen regularly, although it occasionally appears in other patrician gentes, such as the Furii and Valerii, both of which habitually used old or uncommon praenomina. According to legend, Numerius entered the gens when Quintus Fabius Vibulanus married a daughter of Numerius Octacilius Maleventanus, and bestowed his father-in-law's name on his son.[1][26]

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 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.[1][27]

Servius was used by the Fabii Pictores, but does not appear to have been used by any of the other families of the gens. It may have entered the family through a maternal line.[1]

Branches and cognomina of the gens

The cognomina of the Fabii under the Republic were Ambustus, Buteo, Dorso or Dorsuo, Labeo, Licinus, Maximus (with the agnomina Aemilianus, 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.[1][28]

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 2nd century, but persons bearing the name of Fabius continue to appear into the latest period of the Empire.[1]

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 by a descendant or close relative of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus.[1][29]

Buteo, signifying a kind 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.[1][30]

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.[1][31]

Members of the Gens

This list includes abbreviated praenomina. For an explanation of this practice, see filiation.

Fabii Vibulani

Fabii Ambusti

Fabii Dorsuones et Licini

  • Gaius Fabius Dorsuo, bravely left the Capitoline Hill to perform a sacrifice when Rome was occupied by the Gauls following the Battle of the Allia in 390 BC, eluding the Gallic sentries both on his departure and his return.[79][80]
  • Marcus Fabius (C. f.) Dorsuo, consul in 345 BC, carried on the war against the Volsci and captured Sora.[81][82]
  • Gaius Fabius M. f. M. n. Dorsuo Licinus, consul in 273 BC, died during his year of office.[83][84]
  • Marcus Fabius C. f. M. n. Licinus, consul in 246 BC.[66]

Fabii Maximi

Fabii Pictores

  • Gaius Fabius M. f. Pictor, painted the interior of the temple of Salus, dedicated in 302 BC.[108][109][110][111][112]
  • Gaius Fabius C. f. M. n. Pictor, consul in 269 BC.
  • Numerius Fabius C. f. M. n. Pictor, consul in 266 BC, triumphed over the Sassinates, and again over the Sallentini and Messapii.[66][113]
  • Quintus Fabius C. f. C. n. Pictor, the earliest of the Latin historians, he was an important source for later annalists, but most of his own work has been lost.
  • Quintus Fabius (Q. f. C. n.) Pictor, praetor in 189 BC, received Sardinia as his province, but was compelled by the pontifex maximus to remain at Rome, because he was Flamen Quirinalis; his abdication was rejected by the senate, which designated him praetor peregrinus.[114]
  • Servius Fabius (Q. f. Q. n.) Pictor, an annalist and antiquarian of the 2nd century BC.
  • Numerius Fabius Q. f. Pictor, father of the triumvir monetalis.
  • Numerius Fabius N. f. Q. n. Pictor, triumvir monetalis in 126 BC, was probably also Flamen Quirinalis.[1]

Fabii Buteones


See also


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