Today marks the anniversary of the start of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE which destroyed the Roman town of Pompeii.
It was, coincidentally, the day after the Vulcanalia — the Roman festival dedicated to the fire and smith God Vulcan.
The 24th itself was a festival in honor of both Luna — Goddess of the Moon — and Mania, Goddess of Death.
We know the names of many of the people who lived in Pompeii — and nearby Herculaneum, which was also devastated.
In memory of all those who died, below are some of the names of Roman men and women whose names were preserved in the ruins of Pompeii.
Their fates are unknown.
- Acilius Cedrus — Cedrus is the Latin for ‘cedar’; it is actually a feminine noun, but was clearly used here as a surname.
- Aemilius Crescens — Aemilius is the source of the French Emile and English Emilia and Emily — among others. Crescens ‘growing’ and ‘thriving’ was a common surname, and there are other examples known from Pompeii. The standard feminine is Crescentina.
- Arrius Stephanus — Stephanus is the Greek for ‘garland’ and ‘crown’. The source of English Stephen, it was a common Greek name. Arrius Stephanus was probably a Greek slave freed by a member of the Arrius family.
- Betutius Placidus, Lucius — Placidus — Latin for ‘gentle’, ‘calm’ and ‘mild’.
- Caecilius Capella, Lucius — Capella means ‘little goat’, and is another feminine noun used as a male surname! Best known today as the name of a star in Auriga.
- Caecilius Iucundus, Lucius — famous to anyone who ever learned Latin with the Cambridge Latin Course (or has seen The Fires of Pompeii — an episode of Doctor Who). Caecilius is the origin of Cecil, Cecilia, Cecily and Cicely.
- Caetronius Eutychus, Gnaeus — Eutychus is another Greek name, and this fellow was probably another freed slave. From the Greek eutukhês ‘fortunate’ and ‘prosperous’. A character of the name turns up in the New Testament.
- Calavia Optata — Optata means ‘wished for’, ‘longed for’ and ‘welcome’, and more than one example is known from Pompeii
- Caprasius Felix — Felix ‘fortunate’ was a very common Roman surname.
- Casellius Marcellus, Marcus — Marcellus means simply ‘little Marcus’. It was another common surname, most famously borne by the very aristocratic Marcus Claudius Marcellus, the first husband of Augustus’ daughter Julia.
- Chlorus — a surname from the Greek khlôros ‘greenish-yellow’.
- Cornelius Amandus, Lucius
- Cosmus — another surname, this time from Greek kosmos ‘order’; source of the name Cosmo.
- Junius Proculus, Decius — Decius is probably a ‘modern’ mistake for Decimus (as Shakespeare made in Julius Caesar), but the original source is lost. Proculus was another well-used surname, a diminutive form of procus ‘wooer’ and ‘suitor’.
- Demetrius — a Greek name meaning ‘belonging to (the Goddess) Demeter. Source of Dmitri and (ultimately) Demi.
- Dentatius Panthera, Titus — Panthera is the Latin for ‘panther’.
- Epaphra — short form of Greek Epaphrodita from epaphroditos ‘lovely’ and ‘charming’.
- Epidius Fortunatus — Fortunatus means ‘prosperous’, ‘happy’, ‘lucky’. Another popular surname.
- Erastus — Greek ‘beloved’ and ‘lovely’.
- Euplia — possibly from the Greek euploia ‘fair voyage’
- Fabia — the Fabii were a very important family, though most bearers descended from former slaves and other dependents.
- Fabius Celer, Marcus — Celer was another popular Roman surname meaning ‘swift’.
- Fabius Memor, Marcus — Memor means ‘mindful’ and ‘remembering’
- Faventinus — from favens ‘favoring’ and ‘befriending’.
- Fufidius Successus, Numerius — Numerius is one of the rarer Roman first names.
- Gavius Rufus — Rufus ‘red’ and ‘ruddy’ was one of the commonest Roman surnames.
- Grata Metallica — yes, Metallica (I wonder if the Swedish family who fought to call their daughter Metallica knew it was used as a given name in Roman times?). From metallicus ‘of metal’ and ‘metallic’; ‘mine-worker’.
- Helpis Afra — Greek elpis ‘hope’; Afer ‘African’.
- Hirtia Psacas — Greek psakas ‘drop of rain’, grain’ and ‘morsel’.
- Julius Nicephorus, Gaius — Nicephorus is Greek, meaning ‘bearing victory’
- Livius Firmus, Lucius — Firmus was another common surname, meaning ‘strong’, ‘steadfast’ and ‘powerful’
- Loreius Tiburtinus
- Lucretius Fronto, Marcus
- Mestrius Maximus, Quintus — Maximus needs little intro — Latin ‘greatest’. Not uncommon.
- Numicia Primigenia — Primigenia means ‘primal’; it was an epithet of the Goddess Fortuna.
- Numisius Rarus, Lucius — Rarus ‘thin’ and ‘rare’.
- Nymphius — a family name of Greek origin, from numphê ‘nymph’ and ‘bride’.
- Octavius Romulus — Romulus was one of the legendary founders of Rome.
- Oppius Gratus — Gratus, another surname, meaning ‘beloved’, ‘dear’ and ‘agreeable’.
- Paccius Clarus, Publius — Clarus ‘clear’, ‘bright’ and ‘shining’. Source of Clara and Clare.
- Pinarius Cerealis — Cerealis ‘belonging to (the Goddess) Ceres’.
- Popidius Metallicus
- Poppaeus Sabinus — Sabinus ‘Sabine’, source of Sabin and Sabina. The emperor Nero’s second wife was called Poppaea Sabina, and had property near Pompeii
- Primilla — feminine diminutive of primus ‘first’.
- Pupius, Marcus
- Salvius — another family name familiar to anyone who has done the Cambridge Latin Course. From salvus ‘safe’ and ‘sound’.
- Sextilius Verus — Verus, another popular Roman surname — ‘true’, ‘real’, ‘genuine’.
- Sibilla Pompeiana
- Spurius Saturninus, Marcus — Saturninus, Roman surname meaning ‘belonging to (the God) Saturn’
- Suettius Elainus — Elainus is a surname of Greek origin, from elainos ‘of olive-wood’
- Sutoria Primigenia
- Terentius Neo, Titus — Neo — from the Greek neos ‘new’… so Neo is not so ‘new’ as a name as some folk may think!
- Tettius Faustus, Gaius — Faustus, another common surname meaning ‘of favorable omen’, ‘auspicious’. The origin, obviously, of Faust.
- Trebius Valens, Aulus — Valens, yet another of the most common surnames, valens means ‘strong’, ‘healthy’ and ‘powerful’ and is the source of Valentine and Valentina.
- Vedius Vestalis — Vestalis, a surname meaning ‘belonging to (the Goddess) Vesta’.
All names included here have been ordered their family (gens) name (where known). Not all first names (praenomina) or surnames (cognomina) are known.
In the Roman system of naming, male citizens usually had three names: a first name (praenomen) — of which there were only a few in common use — the name of their gens ‘family’ or ‘clan’ (nomen), and their surname (cognomen).
Women were mostly known by the feminine form of their family/clan name, or the feminine form of a surname. But sometimes they bore both, or two family names, or two surnames.