This article studies the adoption of the nickname Malleolus (“little hammer”) by members of the gens Publicia in mid-republican Rome to illustrate the importance of grounding cultural history in the lives of seemingly minor political players and the mundane objects with which they came to be associated. After reviewing the occupational significance of hammers during the First Punic War (Part I), I scrutinize the ritual and cultic intersignifications of hammers in fourth- and third-century BCE central Italy (II) in order to set up a comprehensive reconstruction of the social and semiotic networks that structured and mediated the dedication of a temple to the goddess Flora by the brothers Publicii Malleoli at a time of internal political crisis and external conflict (III). Central to the political and intercultural contests of mid-republican Rome was the generative force of the polyvalent and object-centered cognomen in establishing and promoting individual and collective identities.

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