During a discussion on Roman naming conventions in the era of the late Republic, I mentioned that a professor of mine postulated that names such as Aemilianus and Octavianus are, in fact, modern constructions, and that they do not reflect actual use by Romans, in this case Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Aemilianus — adoptive grandson of the first Scipio Africanus — and Gaius Octavius/Gaius Julius Caesar, i.e. “Octavian” (later “Imperator Caesar divi filius,” “Augustus”), grandnephew and adoptive son of the more famous Gaius Julius Caesar. It was my professor’s position — at the time — that such adoptive names which preserved the original patrilineal lines would not have been used since adoptions by noble Romans were intended to preserve the adopters bloodline and legacy and not the adoptees. Thus the future emperor Tiberius became Tiberius Julius Caesar upon his adoption by Augustus in 4 CE, but not Tiberius Julius Caesar Claudianus.
In the course of this discussion, someone I knew personally and well — and considered a friend — responded to my comment with the following message via private message:
I have to give it to myself, I was a resilient little fuck back then — all of 21 years old and full of certainty about my future and fate. What did this passed-over Army officer know about the Roman army that I — the indomitable UNDERGRADUATE — did not? Indeed, who was this man to question the Berkeley Ph.D. of my professor?!
The discussion itself did not matter. It could have been anything, but what resounded most loudly was not the discussion — not the facts in question or the historical anomalies, nor even the historical record. To the debate of facts, there was no attention paid. What resounded sharply then — and to this day — was instead the abject dismissal of contributions outside accepted wisdom. It is, I suspect, the lashing out of an inferiority complex, or simply the reaction of conservative positions generally, but it was nevertheless angry and directed personally rather than towards the facts in question, addressed to me individually in private message beyond the scrutiny of our peers.
I can remember at the time wondering how a man who had advanced so far in the military could be so dense and rude to someone merely attempting to contribute. It occurs to me now that the very young can — like puppies to an adult dog — be an annoying presence often in need of correcting. Perhaps my “friend” was doing just that: correcting the excesses of my 21-year-old “puppy” behavior.
Or people are just mean.
Colonel Gibbons was right: