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Roman Names 3: Freedmen and Freedwomen
Roman society was heavily reliant on slaves. Often they were prisoners of war, or the children of slaves,
born in captivity. It was usual for a slave to have only one name, e.g. Felix or Melissa.
If a male slave was given his freedom, he became a libertus (freedman), while a female slave became a
liberta (freedwoman). Freed slaves were allowed to become Roman citizens, wear the toga (if they were
men), and take on new citizen-style names. But they did not have a free choice about these names. They
had to adopt part of the name of the master who had freed them. Their old master would then become
their patron and the freedman would become one of their clients, each supporting the other, although
never as equals.
A new freedman could now have a name A new freedwoman could now have a two-
with three parts, just like a Roman citizen part name, just like a Roman citizen woman.
man: a praenomen, a nomen and a For her first name, she took on a feminine
cognomen. As a mark of respect, he version of her master's nomen and she kept
adopted the praenomen and nomen of his her slave name as a second name. So:
master. He then added his old slave name
onto the end like a cognomen.
A slave called Melissa, freed by a master
A slave called Felix, freed by a master called called Marcus Aemilius Vitalis
Marcus Aemilius Vitalis became Marcus became Aemilia Melissa.
But there was a catch. The Romans thought But when writing her name down, she also
status was very important, and liked to had to include the the initial letter of her
know about people's backgrounds. To make master's praenomen and the letter L for
sure that the freedman Marcus Aemilius liberta.
Felix was not mistaken for a Roman citizen
from an old Roman family, he was expected
to include the initial letter of his master's Aemilia M.L. Melissa
praenomen and the letter L for libertus just (Aemilia Marci liberta Melissa)
before his old slave name: Aemilia Melissa, freedwoman of Marcus
M. Aemilius M.L. Felix
(Marcus Aemilius Marci libertus Felix)
Marcus Aemilius Felix, freedman of Marcus
Some of our best primary evidence for freedmen and
freedwomen are the funerary portraits that they chose for
themselves. They show the men wearing togas, and people side
by side as couples or family groups. These were important signs
of their freedom - slaves were not allowed to wear togas, get
married or call their children their own.
The Ashmolean Latin Inscriptions Project
A. A New Name for a New Life
How would these slaves write down their names once they've been freed?
Myrtis Gallio Anna Dionysios
freed by her master freed by his master freed by her master freed by his master
Marcus Claudius Paulinus Lucius Mussius Dexter Gnaeus Dellius Lentulus Publius Cornelius Taurus
____________________ _____________________ _____________________ _______________________
B. Reading Latin Inscriptions
You are going to see some pictures of real Latin inscriptions. Try copying down the names highlighted in
red, and say whether they belong to a freedperson or a free-born citizen by circling the correct word.
1. ______________________________________________ Freedperson / Freeborn
2. ______________________________________________ Freedperson / Freeborn
3. ______________________________________________ Freedperson / Freeborn
4. ______________________________________________ Freedperson / Freeborn
5. ______________________________________________ Freedperson / Freeborn
The Ashmolean Latin Inscriptions Project
What is the best Roman name? Some of the fantastic Roman names for girls are: Aelia – It is a Roman name meaning sun. It is the female version of Aelius. Alba – It originates from Albus, a Latin word, and means bright and white. Antonia – It is the female version of Antonius. Aquila – It means eagle.
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