I asked this on the HistorySE site, without much luck, so thought I'd try here. If it's inappropriate for this forum, please let me know and I'll delete it.

I have just been reading this which is admittedly very old, and there is a statement which has me totally confused.

... the master might disregard the regular form and give the freedman any name he pleased. Thus, when Cicero manumitted his slaves Tiro and Dionysius, he called the former, in strict accord with custom, Mārcus Tullius Tīrō, but to the latter he gave his own praenōmen and the nōmen of his friend Titus Pomponius Atticus, the new name being Mārcus Pompōnius Dionysius.

I do not understand how Cicero could give his freedman the nomen of another. My understanding was that in formal contexts, Tiro, for example, would be M. Tullius Tiro l M - eg Marcus Tullius Tiro, freedman of Marcus - which would indicate a clear identity and affiliation. How would Mārcus Pompōnius Dionysius do this?


  • Guess: Perhaps he formally sold the slave to his friend and had the friend free the slave.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Nov 15, 2016 at 13:43
  • @JoonasIlmavirta Done. As for the sale you suggest, I doubt it. From one of Cicero's letters perseus.uchicago.edu/perseus-cgi/… to Atticus it appears that Dionysius belonged to the latter, and may have been given/loaned to Cicero by his richer friend, which might explain it?
    – TheHonRose
    Nov 15, 2016 at 15:22

1 Answer 1


As the article said, this wasn't the normal way of doing things. However, giving him the name Pomponius actually did reflect a certain affiliation that existed between Dionysius and Atticus, and it seems that the name was intended to honor Atticus as can be seen from the following letter from Cicero:

De Eutychide gratum qui vetere praenomine, novo nomine T. erit Caecilius, ut est ex me et ex te iunctus Dionysius M. Pomponius. (Att. 4.15)


Thank you concerning Eutychides, who, from [your] old proper name and [your new] name, shall be T. Caecilius, as Dionysius is, from you and me together, M. Pomponius.

Cicero was thanking Atticus for freeing Eutychides (54 BC), who was emancipated some time after Dionysius. Atticus and Cicero were lifelong friends, and one of Atticus' sources of income was raising and training slaves. When Cicero returned from exile in 56 BC, Atticus sent slaves to help rehabilitate his library, and among those was Dionysius. Dionysius remained with Cicero and served as a tutor for his son and his sectretary, Tiro. In recognition of his service, Cicero freed Dionysius, giving him his name and that of his friend.


Since your question is about names, it might be of interest also that Atticus was adopted by his uncle, at which time his name changed to Quintus Caecilius Pomponianus. So when he freed Eutychides, his name as a freedman became Titus Caecilius Eutychides.

  • Thank you, that's very helpful. I knew Cicero and Atticus were friends, I believe Atticus helped Cicero financially, and I read (in translation) Cicero's letter asking for library slaves. I didn't know Dionysius tutored Tiro. In fact, Tiro seems to have largely "disappeared" from the historical record, which is a shame, it would be interesting to read his own works, apparently lost.
    – TheHonRose
    Apr 21, 2020 at 20:35
  • 1
    @TheHonRose You're welcome. Apr 21, 2020 at 20:37

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