What’s in a Name?


‘Secundus greets his Prima wherever she is: I beg you, lady, love me.’  CIL IV 8364

This graffito, scratched into the wall of the entrance to the House of the Smith (I.X.7), is one of many such texts sending greetings to, or beseeching, an object of affection.  The above example is one of six graffiti found in Pompeii wherein a Secundus writes to his Prima, (see CIL IV 2993b, 2993c, 8270, 8365 and 8366), in which all but one (8270), Second actually comes First.

Whether this order of names is meant as a play on words, or chosen specifically because Secundus is the writer, is not clear. It may be the case that, despite the fact that there is ample evidence for using numbers as names in the ancient world, and in Pompeii itself, in this instance, the named Secundus and Prima are fictional.

A quick search on the Epigraphik-Datenbank Clauss/Slaby reveals, at a minimum, twenty-five easily identifiable individuals in Pompeii using the cognomen of Secundus. These are just the examples where both a nomen gentile and cognomen are in use – there are far more texts where only the cognomen appears.  As a demonstration of the complexity of identifying any one of these men on the basis of the cognomen alone, simply look at the wax tablets of Lucius Caecilius Iucundus.  Here, two men, Marcus Stronnius Secundus and Marcus Venerius Secundus, both appear as witnesses on Tablet 139.

There are also eight individual women called Prima found in the epigraphic evidence. Again, there are many more attestations of women known only as Prima, without a second name to aid identification, so the likelihood of there being more is quite high.

An attempt has been made to identify the Secundus and Prima here. Della Corte suggests the subjects of the text are Lucius Ceius Secundus and Fabia Prima, whom he claims were a husband and wife, living across the street from the home where the graffito was found, in the House of the Ceii (I.VI.15).  How Della Corte has identified these people as the owners (occupiers) of this house is unclear, and his identification of Fabia Prima is even more dubious.

I have not found an individual by this name – and in fact the closest I came was an electoral dipinto, painted on the exterior wall of the House of the Ceii, in which a woman named Fabia asks the passers-by to vote for Gaius Iulius, who was running for duovir (CIL IV 7189). That Fabia the rogatrix is actually Fabia Prima, the wife of Lucius Ceius Secundus, is not information contained in the epigraphic record.

What does any of this have to do with social network analysis? In its most basic form, SNA consists of finding and exploring connections between people. This, of course, means that first, a group of people with some shared characteristic must be identified. And that means names – lots of them. And better still, multiple names in a single text. So whilst it might not be possible to identify who this Secundus and Prima are, what is important is that they knew each other (that is, assuming they were actual people).

In Pompeii, the evidence for names comes in a number of textual forms, primarily stone inscriptions, dipinti and graffiti. The monumental stone inscriptions provide the most information, often including a father’s name, offices held, or more. Those that ran for election successfully will likely appear in both official inscriptions and dipinti – and if we are really lucky, also served as a witness on one of Iucundus’ wax tablets – providing a wealth of information about that person’s family, career and further connections.

But the dipinti and the graffiti, written on the walls (as opposed to carved into stone by a professional), are often incomplete, making it virtually impossible to identify individuals. One name, in a society where the norm is three, leaves too much unknown.  That makes linking either Prima or Secundus as named in the text above (if they are, in fact, real people) to any other persons bearing those names attested in other inscriptions as Della Corte has done, is really quite impossible, and so tenuous as to be irresponsible from a scholarly perspective.

So how does one even start to sort through these names? The primary resource for Pompeian names continues to be Paavo Castrén’s 1975 book (with a second edition in 1983) Ordo Populusque Pompeianus: Polity and Society in Roman Pompeii. He uses the nomen, the one name shared by male and female alike, to identify family groups. He identifies 479 gens present in the epigraphic record of Pompeii. Listed alphabetically, he provides a brief history and origin of the gens, and then the identifiable members of each family group with reference to the text which names them. Where known, he gives familial relationships, offices, and priesthoods held. For some, this may only be one person, but for some the larger or more longstanding families, there may be as many thirty (the Iulii seem to have the most with thirty-three entries).

Whilst this is incredibly useful in many ways, there are some flaws with this work, and thus cannot be used as the sole basis for my research.  If an individual has an exceedingly large number of attestations, the number is given by Castrén rather than providing a full list of references. In some instances, inferences of family ties or references to attested texts are guesswork at best and wrong at worst. And of course, methodologies and knowledge in Pompeian studies have moved on considerably since 1975. Any epigraphic evidence discovered since 1975 is missing – one such considerable gap is the funerary inscriptions from the tombs in the eastern section of the Porta di Nocera necropolis excavated in the early 1980s. More recent studies on Pompeian names (such as Franklin, Mouritsen, Chiavia) have focused exclusively on the electoral programmata, so in their own way, miss out on a substantial body of evidence as well.

And this is where I come in… Before any analysis of social networks can commence, I need names. Beginning with the foundations laid by Castrén, filling in new and missing attestations from the epigraphic evidence, I will start my research by compiling a database of all of the names found in Pompeii – including every Secundus and Prima.