Did Patronage Still Serve A Useful Purpose

In First Century Rome (Latin) Essay, Research Paper

Did patronage still serve a useful purpose in first century Rome?

In the old days clients were guests. But now Roman citizens in togas wait in crowds and scramble on their patron s doorway for their tiny allowance.

Patronage in its original form benefited both patron and client. One important part of patronage was the salutatio where clients paid their respects to their patron in order to a dole (sportula). Patrons expected their clients to arrive at their doorway at dawn, and there is evidence from Martial that even the journey to his patron s doorstep was difficult.

I must ascend the steep path, up the hill from the Suburbia, and the filthy pavement of the slick steps…Then, at the end of these thousand labours, something even more annoying happens: Paulus, your doorman tells me, though I am thoroughly exhausted, that you are not at home. This is the outcome of my futile exertion and drenched little toga.

Martial s account shows how frustrating the ceremony could be for a client in the first century AD and how some patrons did not care about their clients. Clients who were higher up in the social hierarchy of Rome were normally first to be seen by their patron. Patrons were also very keen to make sure that their clients do not cheat them out of more money than they are entitled to:

He peers into each face first, scared stiff that some impostor may give a false name and cheat him: you must be identified before you get your ration.

The patron in this Satire is either a miser or he is used to being careful about clients trying to take more than their fair share of sportula. Clients then had to greet their patrons with a greeting of my lord this demonstrates the subordinate status of the client. Only after this greeting did the patron give their clients their sportula that was usually 6+ sesterces.

Patronage was very useful if the relationship between client and patron worked well and they were both careful not to try to profit out of the relationship. There is much evidence from Pliny that suggests that not all patrons were cruel and unkind but that some patrons provided their clients with great opportunities for success.

That you have a capital of a hundred thousand sesterces is clearly enough shown by the fact that you are a town councillor in our community. Therefore, so that we may have the pleasure of seeing you not just as a town councillor but as a Roman knight, I offer you, to make up the property qualification of a knight, three hundred thousand sesterces.

Pliny s client is clearly gaining a great deal from Pliny s generosity. As Pliny was a rich man and he would not miss the money nor expect to get it back. The gift will benefit Pliny by giving him social deference and some services that his client has to offer. He can use these favours that his client owes him when he needs the service.

Patronage was also a very effective way for a young barrister to progress up the legal hierarchy. Pliny often brought young barristers into the law courts to act as his junior.

I request then nay, I stipulate, that Cremutius Ruso may be joined with me as counsel. This is a practice which I have frequently observed with respect to several distinguished youths; as I take infinite pleasure in introducing young men to the bar, and assigning then over to fame.

Pliny is in a position where he can introduce young men into the bar and there are indications that he does so regularly. These young men may even help Pliny when they get more experienced by assisting him in the law courts or even taking care of some smaller cases that Pliny was less concerned about.

The end of the letter does show a slightly dimmer area of patronage where anyone had to have a patron if they wanted to be introduced into the bar, no matter how talented they are:

As indeed no man s talents, however shining, can raise him at once from obscurity unless they find scope, opportunity, and also a patron to recommend them.

The emperor was the greatest patron of them all. He fulfilled his role of patron of the masses by providing a free grain dole. Many people relied upon this free grain as either they did not have jobs or they were poorly paid. The free grain was seen as a means of social control as it prevented widespread famine that often caused riots.

The grain sometimes ran out and then serious unrest followed.

[In AD 32] a revolution almost occurred because of a serious problem with the grain supply. For several days, protests in the theatre, protests directed toward the emperor, were more frequent and more outspoken than useful.

This shows that even the emperor had to respect his clients. Such dependence on the grain dole was a very risky practice as problems are bound to occur and when they do, they could cause the downfall of the emperor. The emperor also had other more special clients that he had closer contact with. These clients would include certain members of the senate and most ex-consuls. He gave special favours to these clients. Pliny once asked the emperor to grant citizenship to a doctor that has served him well.

Having been attacked last year by a severe and dangerous illness, I employed a physician whose care and diligence, Sir, I cannot sufficiently reward, but by your gracious assistance. I intreat you therefore to make him a citizen of Rome; for he is the freedman of an alien.

It is clear from the letter that Pliny and the Emperor have a good patron-client relationship as he is careful to be polite and he takes care as to not ask for too much. Pliny has served the Emperor in number of important positions including consul and provincial governor, which would have involved Pliny and the Emperor seeing each other often. During this time, Pliny would have gained many favours from the Emperor and he is entitled to ask for something back.

Rich and powerful patrons were often patrons of whole towns. Pliny is the patron of his hometown of Comum. In some of his letters, he demonstrates how he fulfilled his role as patron of Comum.

I thought it wise to tell you about this matter in great detail and from the beginning so that you might better understand how grateful I would be if you would undertake the favour I am about to ask. I beg that you keep an eye open, in that crowd of students who cluster around you because they admire your skill and intelligence, for teachers that we can interview.

There is much evidence of patronage in action in this letter. Firstly, Pliny is planning to provide a school in Comum. He does say that if he were to provide all the money needed people would be less careful with it. He says: For men who will perhaps be negligent about another s money will certainly be diligent and careful about their own . This shows that even patronage on a larger scale could be abused with clients intending on taking more than their fair share of Pliny s generosity. Tacitus is also demonstrating another form of patronage by providing employment to one of his students.

In another of Pliny s letters he is writing to Maximus, who is soon to become a patron (governor) of a province. He encloses in his letter some interesting advice about how he thinks a patron should behave.

Cherish sentiments of respect for their antiquity, their colossal achievements, and even for their legends. Let no man s dignity, liberty or vanity, suffer the least diminution at your hands. Remember it was from this land that we derived our legal code, that she gave us laws not by right of conquest.

Pliny is almost acting as a patron of Maximus by advising him on how to be a good patron. If Maximus does well in this position, the Emperor may notice him who may then give him a promotion. If he does a bad job he will surely be noticed by the Emperor and further promotion would then be unlikely.

There is also much evidence detailing how patrons sometimes cared less about their clients than Pliny did as their poorer clients could not offer much in return for their help. There is also evidence to show that some clients even abused their patrons. By the first century AD the patronage system was being abused by both clients and patrons who were both seeking to gain as much as they could from one another. Patrons were becoming increasingly lazy when it came to greeting clients at the salutatio, some patrons could not even be bothered to get up to see their clients.

How many patrons are there who drive away their clients by staying in bed when they call, or ignoring their presence, or being rude? How many are there who rush off on a pretence of urgent business after keeping the poor client waiting for a long time?

With evidence such as this detailing how many patrons no longer cared about their clients it is hard to see whether patronage did indeed still serve a useful purpose in first century Rome. Dinner was an opportunity for the patron to show how much he cared about his clients and how clients disrespected their patrons by stealing from them at dinner.

He conceals in his filthy napkin mouthfuls of cake. He also hides their grape preserves, a few apple cores, and the ugly outer skin of a hallowed womb and an oozing fig and a limp mushroom. But when his napkin is already bursting with his thousand petty thefts, he hides in the warm folds of his toga gnawed bones and the body of a turtle dove.

The man in this extract is clearly taking more than he should from his patron. Behaviour like this could break up the relationship between patron and client. Clients were not the only people who misbehaved at dinner parties; patrons often insulted their clients by serving a varying quality of food to different clients, depending upon their social status.

While you are drinking pints of deep purple wine, Cotta, and guzzling rich dark Opimian, you set before me Sabine wine which has just been made. Then you ask me, Do you want a gold wine goblet? Who wants a gold goblet for lead wines?

Pliny once went to a dinner party where the host graded the food and wine according to his guests social standing. Pliny has a set of moral principles regarding patronage that he tries to adhere to and he felt it was his duty to urge one of his young clients not to offend their guests by grading the food.

What is your method on such occasions? Mine, I returned, is, to give all my company the same fare; for when I make an invitation, it is to sup, not to be censored. Every man whom I have placed on equality with myself by admitting him to my table, I treat as an equal in all particulars.

It was not only patrons that insulted and were lazy towards their clients but sometimes clients were abusing their patrons.

Clients, you say? Not one of them waits upon you, but rather what he can get out of you. Once upon a time, clients sought a politically powerful friend; now they seek loot. If a lonely old man changes his will, his morning visitor goes to someone else s door.

Most of the extracts I have used so far have concentrated on evidence that shows patrons abusing their clients but this is an interesting insight into the other side of the coin where clients are abusive back to their patrons. Clients in the quotation are portrayed as being only interested in gaining as much as they can from their patron.

Pliny s letters are likely to be quite factual in their content; although they would have been revised for publication; such revision would only have removed personal information. It is less likely that Martial and Juvenal s satires contain as much accurate information as Pliny. Martial and Juvenal are satirists who would be more interested in making their satires funny rather than being accurate.

In my opinion, I think that patronage did still serve a useful purpose in first century Rome so long as both patron and client wanted the relationship to work. In some of the evidence, I have seen either client or patron trying to gain too much from patronage; in these cases, patronage is clearly not serving a useful purpose. I think that Pliny is more trustworthy than the satirists are and so his evidence is probably more accurate. In many of Pliny s letters there are situations where the relationship between patron and client is working well and in these cases patronage does serve a useful purpose: to assist people working their way up in the social hierarchy and to support less well off citizens.

Bibliography and endnotes on sources

Juvenal, Satires I

Martial, Epigrams 5.22

Juvenal, Satires I

Pliny Letters 1.19

Pliny Letters 6.23

Pliny Letters 6.23

Tacitus, Annals 6.13

Pliny Letters 10.5

Pliny the Younger, Letters 4.13.3-10

Pliny Letters 8.24

Seneca the Younger, An essay about the Brevity of life 14.4

Martial, Epigrams 7.20

Martial, Epigrams 10.49

Pliny Letters 2.5-6

Seneca the Younger, letters 19.4

David Taylor Roman Society

Jerome Carcopino Daily life in Ancient Rome

Paoli Roman Life and Customs

Epic Web Pages http://www.sjc.ox.ac.uk/users/gorney/patronage(excluding quotations)


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