I'm looking for foreign influences on the Plebeians. Who are some Plebeian Gentes that were Greek, perhaps from Magna Graecia or Sicily? I vaguely recall reading about one from Campania, who came in the the 5th century.


A caveat for the motivating theory:

A. Momigliano has theorized that the plebeians were more affected and propelled by Greek influences than the patricians, and that such influences account for the remarkable efficiency and strength of the plebeian institutions. I find this unconvincing for two reasons. First, the particular effect of such influences on only one part of the community is simply postulated and not analyzed on the basis and with the support of more general (anthropological, theoretical) considerations. Second, we do not know of a single example in the Greek world of a well-organized and efficient opposition to aristocratic power and prerogatives such as that which the Roman plebeians created, particularly not one set up by lowerclass people such as those who composed the Roman plebs according to Momigliano.
Kurt A. Raaflaub: "The Conflict of the Orders in Archaic Rome: A Comprehensive and Comparative Approach", p19, in Raaflaub (Ed): "Social Struggles in Archaic Rome. New Perspectives on the Conflict of the Orders", Wiley-Blackwell: Malden, Oxford, 22005. (Quote cut short for SE reasons. Read that book.)

For the time "5th century" this gets even more problematic as our sources aren't very good for such early dates. Up until quite some time later archaeological evidence provides a probably more accurate picture of the societal stratification than ancient historical sources that often project their 'facts' into a past in almost irreconcilable details.

As late as the second century BCE individual Greeks coming as doctors were expelled from Rome and wouldn't be able to establish a gentes. Membership was determined by birth, usually, and new admittance of an entire gens was extremely rare.

Add to that the tendency of any gens to freely invent their distant ancestry, often of mythological origin and from a modern historians viewpoint quite unreliable from there down to the last few ancestors of anyone making a claim on his genealogy.

Moreover, it is plain that this process of self-invention at a family level was a deep structural element of Roman political discourse, reinforced within the context of the funeral, where the masks of ancestors were displayed and the previous glories of families rehearsed.

First, whether or not it was important for every gens to have a mythical princeps, the stories were not fixed, and elaboration or wholesale reinvention was permissible. Second, competitive genealogies were permitted; the Aemilii must have had a vested interest in making their princeps an equal of the princeps of the Julii (or vice versa; the Julii may have inserted themselves into an Aemilian story, and then been able, like the cuckoo in the nest, to expel the Aemilii). Third, many of the stories are connected with ritual activity (e.g. the Pinarii and Hercules, the Nautii and Minerva), but not all ritual activity is connected with one of these stories. Finally, whilst the function of the princeps gentis is often to give the nomen to the gens, it seems that much ingenuity has to be expended to make the link. The idea of common descent was central, the identity of the person from whom it was derived was the subject of speculation, and probably both by the descendants and by others. It is surely less plausible that the Fabii took their nomen from the dreadful etymology, than that the etymology arose as an explanation of how Hercules could be connected with the Fabii. So whilst the genealogy may have been an important aspect of the sort of thing aristocrats did with their family trees, it is not clear that one can use this as a defining feature of the gens.

CJ Smith: "The Roman Clan. The Gens from Ancient Ideology to Modern Anthropology (W.B. Stanford Memorial Lectures)", Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 2006.

The Wikipedia list of Roman gentes notes no Greek gentes at all:

Nomina ending in -aius, -eius, -eus, and -aeus are typical of Latin families. Faliscan gentes frequently had nomina ending in -ios, while Samnite and other Oscan-speaking peoples of southern Italy had nomina ending in -iis. Umbrian nomina typically end in -as, -anas, -enas, or -inas, while nomina ending in -arna, -erna, -ena, -enna, -ina, or -inna are characteristic of Etruscan families.

With these prolegomena of serious doubts established:

Quintus Publilius Philo was a Roman politician who lived during the 4th century BC. His birth date is not provided by extant sources, however, a reasonable estimate is ca. 365 BC since he first became consul in 339 BC at a time when consuls were regularly elected in their twenties (Bagnall et al. 1987, p. 2.). His Greek cognomen ‘Philo’ was unique to his family. Lucius Papirus, who shared his several positions with Quintus, is presumed to have been his brother.

His family was plebeian, and the gens was first ennobled by the election of Publilius Volero as tribune in 472 BC. Volero passed two important pieces of legislation which increased the power of a Tribune. Clearly, Philo came from a family accustomed to promoting the rights of the plebs.

The Publilian gens is said not to have had any prominent descendants. However, the noble woman Publilia, who lived circa 154 BC, may have been a relative of Philo. She was accused of murdering her husband, a former consul, despite Publilia’s plebeian status. Another potential later member of his gens include Titus Publilius who was one of the “five augurs of the plebs” circa 299 BC.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.