One form of social exchange or two? “Euergetism,” patronage, and testament studies

One form of social exchange or two? “Euergetism,” patronage, and testament studies – Roman and Greek ideas of patronage

Stephan J. Joubert


Researchers usually understand ancient Roman patronage and Greek “euegetism” as one and the same social exchange relationship, the difference being one of form rather of substance. In view of a brief investigation of primary historical data, ranging from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, to honorary inscriptions, to Seneca’s De beneficiis, the present scholarly status quo is challenged in this essay. A more nuanced view of ancient Mediterranean reciprocity in general, and “euergetism” and patronage in general, is presented. Finally, some implications of these findings are spelled out in terms of the interpretation of the Second Testament.


From different angles of incidence social scientists, historians and biblical scholars alike have during recent years focused on the various forms of dependency relationships that are established and/or maintained through the exchange of goods and services. In this regard research has made it clear that gift–exchanges in primitive societies, as well as economic and social transactions in modern societies, are marked by mutual obligations, together with differentiations of status and power between the interlocutors. Although the obligations imposed on participants in these reciprocal processes may vary in time and space along with their status, we can actually speak of a universal norm of reciprocity based on, at least, the minimal demand that people must help those who have helped them.

In this study “euergetism” and patronage, as specific forms of social exchange in the ancient Graeco-Roman world, will acquire our attention. The question that needs to be addressed is whether these two exchange relationships refer to the same form of exchange, or to two different forms. Finally, the implications of our findings in terms of a understanding of early Christian groups will also be out.


Reciprocity was basic to all forms of social interaction in ancient Mediterranean society. Cicero (De officiis 1.47), for example, tells us that if obligations are incurred between two parties, an adequate response is required, for no duty is more imperative than that of proving one’s gratitude. Seneca (De beneficiis I.4.2), in turn, does not hesitate to point out reciprocal interchange constitutes the chief bond that holds people together in society. Within the socially stratified Graeco-Roman world the exchange of services were never voluntary, but always reciprocal.

According to the late first-century magnate, Dio Chrysostom of Prusa (Oratio 75.6), at least the following three social relationships were marked by reciprocal obligations: children to parents, beneficiaries to private benefactors, and cities to their public benefactors. Perhaps the best “introduction” to the last two of these exchange relation. ships is presented in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. In his sketch of the so-called “magnificent” man (IV.2.5) and the “great-souled” man (IV.3. 1ff.), he presents us with the outlines of the two basic types of benefactors in the Hellenistic world: namely (a) the noble figure who engaged in collective undertakings for the common good of all his fellow citizens, and (b) the individual in the upper social strata of society who engaged in reciprocal interchanges of a more personal nature with status-equals, or near-equals. Following Paul Veyne (1990: 10), who refers to the phenomenon of benefit exchange by its transliterated Greek name, namely “euergetism,” both public and private benefaction in the ancient Graeco-Roman world will be included in our use of this concept. According to Veyne (1990: 103-04), “euergetism” was civic, in the sense that it benefited the city or the citizens as a whole. But it was also an act of the notables, who gave benefits because they saw themselves as superior to the mass of the people (the plebes). However, in his excellent analysis of benefactors in the Graeco-Roman world, Veyne deals only with collective forms of benefit-exchange, and not with the more personalized side thereof. Spicq (1994: 107-13) offers a broader description. He maintains that the term “euergetes” in the Hellenistic period retained its banal sense, “benefactor,” but also became a technical term for the “benefactor-protector” of a city or a people, and, in case of the gods, the whole world.

Public Benefaction

In his presentation of portraits of a series of individuals who have been turned into types of everyday speech, Aristotle focuses on the virtue “magnificence” (1V.2.1ff.), which is related to great expenditure by the nobles (IV.2.14). This magnificent man often engages in great ex. penditure in service of the gods, such as votive offerings, buildings, sacrifices, and holding of religious offices, as well as in public benefactions, such as giving banquets or building ships of war (IV.2.11). Private expenditure, such as weddings or the entertainment of foreign guests, is also undertaken, but then only in the interest of the general public.

Aristotle’s profile of the magnificent man, who bestows collective benefits upon his community or city out of his own pocket, presents us with a helpful description of “euergetism” in the Hellenistic world. The nobles, who, because of their birth and wealth controlled access to all essential services, were expected to provide various services to their cities in exchange for the public bestowal of honor from the inhabitants. In the Art of Rhetoric (1361a28-43), Aristotle states that true wealth consists in doing good; that is, in monetary handouts, giving of scarce and costly gifts, and helping others to maintain an existence. The return on these benefits is public honor. As a matter of fact, Aristotle tells us that the services exchanged between the interlocutors fulfil the needs of both benefactors, as lovers of honor, and beneficiaries, as lovers of money (Rhet 1361a43-1361b3).

Honorary decrees served as confirmations of the elevated status of benefactors as belonging to the category of the nobles (cf. Danker: 20-21; Quass: 26-27). According to Winter (27): “The Greek epigraphic benefactor genre conveyed the following information: Whereas A did X and Y for our city, it is therefore resolved to honor A as follows … in order that all may see that the people appropriately honor benefactors in a manner commensurate with their benefactions.” Benefactors were often commended for their outstanding moral character traits. Apart from being awarded eloquent titles such as “savior” and “benefactor,” other tangible honors followed: special seats at public games, golden crowns, public eulogies, honorary positions in temples–even for their families and offspring.

Although bestowal of benefits was voluntary, immense pressure was brought to bear on benefactors to part with their possessions. The placing of inscriptions in prominent public places, or even better: offering benefactors the choice where they wanted their statues to be erected (cf. Pliny, Ep. VIII.6.14), as well as the phraseology of the inscriptions, not only functioned as “payments for services rendered,” but also encouraged the agonistic attitude prevalent among benefactors (cf. Papathomas: 223-41). Rajak (308) is therefore correct when she observes that “the honors were a not-too-subtle statement to the donor that he had a reputation that could be kept up only by further benefaction.”

Private Benefaction

Aristotle in his Nichomachean Ethics also introduces us to the so-called “great-souled” man (IV.3.1ff.), a figure who, so he tells us, is intensely concerned with the issue of honor and shame (IV.3.17). He often engages in reciprocal giving with other individuals, but he does not like to receive gifts since that is a mark of inferiority. Therefore, in typical agonistic fashion, the great-souled man returns any services with interest so as to put the original benefactor into his debt once more. He also carefully keeps score of the benefits he has conferred, but has a poor memory when it comes to those he has received (IV.3.25). This figure is thus not too different from the people who, according to Menander, even hate those who do them a good turn (cf. Hands: 32). The great-souled man is reluctant to openly ask others for any help, probably because it entails the start of another reciprocal relationship.

Seneca, in his De beneficiis, presents us with the most detailed material available on benefit–exchange on the interpersonal level in the ancient Graeco-Roman world (cf. Inwood: 241-466). Seneca is of the opinion that a benefit forms a common bond that binds two people together (VI.41.2). From his basic point of departure that every obligation involving any two people makes an equal demand on both (II.1.18), he then addresses the question of how to give and receive benefits on the interpersonal level (I.1.1; V.I.1). The ever present problem inherent to social exchange, namely debtors’ reluctance to return benefits (= ingratitude), forms the framework against which Seneca’s instruction should be understood.

Aware of the serious threat that ingratitude holds for the practice of benefit exchange and for the general welfare of society (the concordiam humani generis, IV. 18.1), Seneca presents an idealistic reinterpretation of the basic tenets of this system in terms of Stoic ethical perspectives, by providing his reader(s) with a lex vitae, a law of conduct (I.4.2). But this is not done along the usual lines. Seneca’s aim is to replace the generally accepted perception in the ancient Graeco-Roman world, that one is to give with a view to a return, with an ethic of giving as an intrinsically rewarding experience in itself.

Seneca in De beneficiis focuses on social exchange in a number of social relationships, such as that between family members and friends, as well as between patrons and clients. Although Seneca sees true friendship as something that exists only between wise men who share everything in common (VII.12.2-5), he admits that bonds of friendship are also formed through exchanges, by putting a recipient on an equal footing with the benefactor (II.15.1). In other words, friendship means that a bestowal of benefits leads to a so-called fides-relationship, which is affirmed when the recipient fulfils his/her responsibilities or officia. The resultant mutual exchanges and the knowledge that both parties can rely on each other to fulfil their respective duties will keep the friendship intact. But neither friendship nor patronage forms the interpretive framework against which benefit-exchange is understood by Seneca. He understands benefit-exchange in terms of an independent social relationship brought about by the exchange of services between individuals. Obviously, as Seneca tells us, these exchanges could also take place within the parameters of other exchange relationships, such as friendship or patronage. But his main concern is with interpersonal benefit-exchange. For a service to qualify as a benefit it must have been undertaken because of a specific individual, and not just bestowed on him as one of the crowd (VI.19.1-5).

Patronage: A System of Social Control

Das romische Patronatsrechts- und Sozialbeziehung bzw. das Klientelwesen

ist die grundliegende Rechts- und Sozialbeziehung zwischen sozial,

rechtlich, materiell oder in anderer Hinsicht Ungleichen im romischen

Kulturkreis [Bormann 1995: 187].

This quotation more or less summarizes the sentiments of recent research on patronage, one of the most important forms of social exchange in the ancient Roman world (cf. Saller: 1; Shelton: 13-14; Elliott: 147). Patronage can be described as a pervasive, voluntary form of interaction between socially disproportionate individuals, as well as between socially disproportionate individuals and groups involved in a reciprocal exchange of material goods and services. Patronage presents us with one of the most enduring socio-political systems in the Roman world–one that not only successfully weathered the storms of the Republic, but also provided the framework for the patronal ideologies and power structures in imperial Rome. The large number of inscriptions related to patronage is proof of the immense impact of this ideology on Roman society. Even Roman architecture could be interpreted from this perspective. According to Wallace-Hadrill (63-64) the physical structures of upper-class Roman houses serve as reflections of the centrality of patronage in Roman society.

According to Drummond (101-03), patronage during the middle to late Republic was mainly a dependant relationship between two parties in which the difference in power and status was acknowledged. Furthermore, it was essentially a personal, voluntary relationship that could be understood from the perspective of fides (that is, trust and loyalty). This implies that certain individuals were under the protection of more powerful superiors, which involved a variety of reciprocal officia (that is, obligations in terms of both parties involved). Patronage was not confined to specific forms of aid, but found expression in a number of mutual services that were not regulated by formal ceremonies or prescribed by legislation. But the fact that patron–client bonds were not legally enforceable, meant that potentially such bonds were particularly precarious in their attempt to link the provision of goods and services to a stable, long-term pattern of reciprocal exchange.

Many forms of social exchange in the Roman world could be understood in terms of patron-client bonds–the basic form being that between landlords and tenants/peasant farmers. Landlords were responsible for providing land and protection, and peasant farmers for delivering basic services and honoring their patrons in public. Another very common form of interaction between socially disproportionate individuals was that between Roman patricians and their freedmen. This patronus-libertus relationship was formed through manumissio (the “setting free of slaves”), which was usually granted to slaves who had accumulated wealth, or as a reward for faithful service to their masters. However, they remained in the permanent power (potestas) of their former masters. This also applied to their children, since this form of patronage was hereditary.

Social and political factors also gave rise to various social dependency relationships between Rome and its occupied territories. Instead of opting for a democratic model of government, Rome chose to attach new territories and communities to the central government by means of the channel of patronage. According to the treaties that determined the respective positions of these territories (in terms of direct Roman government over non-citizen subjects, or as free cities bound to Rome, or as self-governing coloniae and municipia) personal contact between Rome and these “client territories” was at all times necessary. One of the ways in which this was made possible was through contact with the Roman aristocrats and military commanders with whom many cities formed patronal relations (cf. Badian: 154-55; Quass: 138-90).

Probably the most prominent form of patronage was that of the emperor. He had access to and control over a vast amount of material and other resources, such as land, money, status, positions, honor, etc. The princeps governed all senatorial provinces and functioned as commander-in-chief of the army. Possessing the highest dignitas and auctoritas (“dignity and authority”) in society, the emperor laid claim to honorary titles such as Imperator Caesar Augustus, and also controlled the imperial property (patrimonium Augusti), as well as his own private property (res privata). Amicitia principum, friendship with the emperor, was a sure way of gaining access to senatorial magistracies and other honorable positions. Numerous examples exist of personal clients/friends of the emperors who gained high offices, as well as money, immunities and other sought after privileges in the Roman Empire.

Although very powerful, the emperor did not usurp all patronal resources. Senators and heads of powerful families still remained important figures in Rome who were called upon by younger ambitious aristocrats and other hopeful clients during the customary morning salutations (cf. Garnsey & Saller: 150). At the same time, intermediary figures or “brokers” became increasingly important during the Principate to secure access to the benefactions of the emperor (cf. the discussion of brokerage in Malina). These brokers included members of the familia or the amici Caesaris (“the family and friends of the Emperor) such as the equites, senators and other people who stood in close relationships with the emperor.

A group of persons who frequently found their way to the doors of powerful individuals and families were the proteges, or “client-friends” (amicitiae inferiores). In this regard the language of friendship was often used to describe relations between socially disproportionate individuals involved in exchange relationships, since “the word amicus was sufficiently ambiguous to encompass both social equals and unequals” (Saller: 11; cf. Edlund: 132). Seneca (Ben. VI.33.3-34.5) in this regard refers to three groups of friends. The first group, the amicos primos, was to be received privately (in secretum); the second group, the ordinary or “second-class” friends (habuerunt secundos) were to be received collectively during the customary morning salutations. The last group, the clients proper (numquam veros, or the “never true friends”), were to be received in a group (universos). This group was made up of the poor plebs who thronged to the houses of the patrons before sunrise in the mornings where they waited anxiously upon some monetary handouts. According to Martial many rich patrons often had a hundred or more of these clients (cf. also Prell: 260).

The majority of people in the Roman Empire were not so fortunate as to have established “face-to-face” client-friendships with powerful patrons. They had to compete with large groups of other hopeful clients for the material support of the relatively small group of influential individuals to meet their basic needs. In the hope of receiving material rewards in return for their public loyalty and support, every morning clients flocked in large numbers to the houses of their patrons (Seneca, Ben. VI.34.2-4). Their “cliental responsibilities” entailed attending the morning salutations, accompanying their patrons in public, and applauding their speeches and recitals. In return for their services they could expect some monetary handouts, the sportulae or daily wages, which according to Martial (Epigrams I.59, 3.7) amounted to about one hundred quadrantes (roughly six cesterces), or gifts such as clothes, invitations to dinners, or land. But for most clients these sportulae, if they were fortunate enough to receive them, were not enough to secure a proper livelihood, because they were not intended as alimony for the less privileged. At the same time they were not always distributed on a regular basis (cf. Martial, Epigrams 5.22).

Numerous inscriptions also testify to the importance of the role of patrons in the collegia, the voluntary private associations for local urban plebeians of various vocations such as artisans, fruit and vegetable traders, fishermen, bakers, and firemen. Members of these associations met regularly in their “clubhouses” (schola) under the protection of deities such as Minerva (handworkers), Vesta (bakers), and Mercury (businesmen–cf. Klauck: 49-57). The collegia provided important services to its members, such as social support, banquets, and decent burials of the members after their death. In this regard it was the responsibility of the patrons to perform important services such as paying for the feasts of their collegia, providing buildings and decorations, donating money, and, importantly, using their political influence to the advantage of the associations. In response for their benefactions patrons were honored with statues, crowns, inscriptions (for which many of them also provided the funds!), and honorary titles.

The Relationship between Patronage and “Euergetism”: One and the Same Form of Social Exchange?

Do benefaction and patronage refer to the same form of social exchange between socially disproportionate individuals and/or groups, or to two distinct relationships? In other words, do we have similar exchange relationships in ancient Greek and Roman cultures that were expressed verbally in numerous modes and forms within different socio-historical contexts? In spite of divergent theoretical angles of incidence to these social phenomena, the majority of scholars would answer affirmatively to this question. Patronage and “euergetism” are used more or less interchangeably in research–that is, as references to the same sort of relationship between socially unequal individuals (or groups) in which an exchange of different resources takes place.

Although “patron-and-client language” is almost entirely absent in the ancient Greek texts at our disposal, Wallace-Hadrill (65-66; cf. Finley: 41), has dismissed this impediment with the following argument: “If there is an objective exchange of goods and services whereby political support is given in exchange for material benefits, one can properly speak of patronage even if the Greeks didn’t have a word for it.” Gruen (182-83) is also of the opinion that patronage is not a typically Roman institution. According to him Rome acknowledged the Hellenistic act of patronage only by reinterpreting it to fulfil its own specific needs. Veyne (86), in turn, who distinguishes between Hellenistic “euergetism” and the benefaction of the Roman nobles, understands “euergetism” as a union of patronage, symbolic largesses of the officials, and funerary liberalities in the Greek world after 350 BCE. In this regard he relates patronage to the personal costs incurred by individuals when they contributed to their cities’ cults. “Piety and games were thus the school of patronage.”

John Nicols, in his analysis of formal and informal patronage of communities (365-85), also deals with the relationship between formal patronatus and “euergetism.” Following the likes of Gelzer and Badian, he is of the opinion that both patronage and “euergetism” are fides-based relationships, and, in terms of typical Roman notions of gratitude, these relationships were accompanied by the tendency for the benefit conferred to establish a permanent obligation (cf. also Hendrix: 55). According to Nicols,

This obligation was expressed in the continuing performance of beneficia

(by the patron) and officia (by the client). Caesar was apparently first to

distinguish between benefactors in general and a subgroup of benefactors

who bore the formal title of patronatus, but both relationships continued

to be based upon fides (and not on ius) and benefactors and patroni

continued to perform the same services [380].

He concludes, therefore, that patronage (of communities) and “euergetism” in the ancient Roman world are actually one and the same social relationship, the difference being one of form rather than of substance.

Two Different Exchange Relationships?

When patronage and “euergetism” are approached on a lower level of abstraction within Roman and Hellenistic contexts, a number of differences between them become apparent, which, I believe, must be taken into consideration in research.

As the Romans increasingly became the dominant force in the East, the Greeks reacted to their new rulers in typical Hellenistic fashion by referring to them in honorary decrees as “the Romans, the common benefactors.” (Cf. Erskine: 70-87, who points out that this epithet appears in sixteen inscriptions in the first two centuries BCE in referring to the Romans in the Greek East, although they are not the main subject in these inscriptions. In most of these decrees the honorand[s] acted as intermediaries between Rome and their cities.) This phrase, which was often used to honor Hellenistic kings, started appearing in inscriptions related to Romans in the second and first century BCE from as far afield as Athens, Cyrene and Asia Minor. According to Erskine (71-73), the ideology of royal beneficence was pervasive in Hellenistic society. The Greek cities considered their king as their benefactor, while he himself felt a duty to fulfil this role. At the same time local ruler cults also used the term evergetes as an epithet. But to say that the Roman occupiers were merely fitted to the long tradition of Hellenistic “euergetism” would be an underestimation of the complexities of the Greek response to their new masters. The Romans were not just described as benefactors, “… they were a particular form of benefactor, common benefactors” (Erskine: 73) who conferred their own set of benefits upon their subordinates. The Roman conquerors were obviously very different from the Greek kings, and also quickly usurped their power. In the eyes of the Greeks the Romans became universal benefactors. On their part the Romans themselves “would not have shared in the evergetistic ideology of the Greek world in the same way that the kings and local elites did” (Erskine: 83). Thus a specific understanding of the “new reality” that the Romans brought with them found expression in this epithet.

It is not until after the Third Macedonian War that the term patron came to be used as a reference to Roman officials in Greek honorary inscriptions (Touloumakos: 304-24). Contact with Roman nobles and with the emperor was of utmost importance for Greek cities in terms of gaining monetary and military assistance, tax exemptions, and specific civic rights (such as the much sought after status of civitas libera). Official embassies from Greek cities therefore soon became a common sight in Rome, and the object of numerous honorary decrees back home. According to Quass:

Aufgrund der weltbeherrschenden Stellung der romischen Nobilitat mussten

allerdings `Freundschaften’ zu griechischen Stadtpolitikern notwendig den

Charakter von Klientelverhaltnissen annehmen. Solche Freundschaften

unterlagen damit m.M. den gleichen Normen und Bewertungen, wie sie

innerhalb der romischen Gesellschaft fur Freundschafts- und

Klientelverhaltnisse galten [189-90].

Apart from the Roman understanding of contacts with Greek cities in typical patron-client terms, early initiatives from the side of the Roman Senate to appoint patrons to certain cities, also contributed to the introduction of the system of patronage to the Greek East. On their part the Greek communities, who through their numerous contacts with the Romans came to know the workings of the system of patronage quite well, responded by also honoring their Roman benefactors as patrons. In an inscription from the people of Cyrene honoring C. Claudius (c. 92 BCE), he is referred to as benefactor and patron, an occurrence that became more prominent after the first century CE (Rawson: 230). Roman emperors and their functionaries are also a few times referred to as “patrons,” or as “patrons and benefactors.” But the impact of patronage in the Greek East should not be overestimated. Honorary inscriptions for the Romans were more often reflected in typical Greek phraseology. According to Touloumakos (318-19):

Die ubliche (allgemeine) Bezeichnung fur die Romer in den griechischen

Quellen ist, wie fur einzelne, `Wohltater’ bzw. `gemeinsame Wohltater,’

oder `Retter und Wohlater’; manchmal werdern sie auch als `Freunde und

Bundesgenossen’ oder, ebenso wie bestimmte romische Befelshaber und

massgebliche Politiker in Rom, die `Machtigen’ genannt.

Even Greek terminology denoting the system of patronage was not used that frequently:

Der romische Patron von Privatpersonen oder Stadtern wird in der Urkunden

(Weihinschriften) … nicht prostates genannt; sein Verhalt- nis zu diesen

wie jenen heisst “patroneia” … nicht “prostasia” [Touloumakos: 316].

Perhaps this is too strong. We do in fact possess some evidence in this regard where prostasia is used in the sense of patrocinium. For example, in an inscription for Marcus Antonius Promachus in Corinth (cf. Kent: no. 265), he is called ton filon kai prostaten (“friend and patron”), which is clearly equivalent to the Latin amicum et patronum. Although this does not imply that prostasia in all instances was understood as a reference to patronage, it was at times used by Greek authors in this way (cf. Edlund: 129-36). But Touloumakos (316-17) is correct when he says: “Bezeichnenderweise hat jedoch der Patronat, als Sache und Begriff, im griechischen Osten keine allzu grosse Verbreitung gefunden.”

From the above examples we may conclude that the Greeks in general did not understand the Roman rule over them as patrocinium (as the Romans did). Therefore Roman officials’ patronage over Greek cities was also not understood by the latter in a hereditary sense (cf. Nicols: 369, for a discussion of the hereditary nature of this form of Roman patronage). The Romans were rather seen, and duly honored, as powerful benefactors, less frequently as patrons. In other words, the Greeks used well-known honorary concepts from their traditional verbal repertoire and reinterpreted these to honor the Romans, and not so much the typical Roman forms, which were more frequently used in western parts of the Empire.

We also have some indications that the Romans themselves understood patronage as a specifically Roman relationship. Cicero (Verr. II.2.154), for example, informs us that C. Verres (73-71 BCE), expected his Greek subordinates to honor him in an inscription not only with the Roman title of patron, but also as savior, because he was not satisfied merely with the Roman title. Among the ranks of Greek authors, some negative reactions to Roman patron age are also found. Polybios (30.18), for example, although definitely not anti-Roman, reacted very negatively to the behavior of king Prysias II of Bythinia, who once received a Roman envoy in the clothes of a freedman, thus turning the relationship with his Roman hosts into a typical patronus-libertus relationship. On his part Lucian (Nigrinius 22f.) ridicules the typical patron-client relations that were to be found in Rome, the heart of the Empire. In narrating the views of Nigrinius after his return from a visit to Rome, the latter finds ridiculous the activities of those that throng to the houses of the rich patrons and wait upon their mercy. These people (the clients), must actually get up in the middle of the night, walk through the city on foot, and then gather at the doors of the rich together with big crowds of other hopefuls. Nigrinius, so Lucian tells us, finds these people and their shameful behavior even more vulgar than the rich Roman patrons who are blinded by these flatterers.

Contrary to the consensus among many scholars that patronage and “euergetism” refer to the same social form of social exchange in the Graeco-Roman world, the available data in my opinion present us with a more nuanced picture–that is, with two different but related forms of social interchange. In other words, in both these relationships we have an exchange of goods and services that leads to mutual obligations, together with differentiations of status and power between the interlocutors. However, the contents of the goods exchanged and the nature of the ensuing social relationships (in terms of the status and reciprocal responsibilities of the individuals/groups) are different.

Specific forms of patronage were unique to the Roman world in terms of their structure and content, such as the relationship between patrons and freedmen, or that between the emperor and the people of Rome. Official patronage of communities, where the title “patron” was conferred upon individuals who possessed the necessary “qualifications” as determined by the leges Ursonensis and Malacitana, also took on a distinctively Roman shape in terms of both form and content. The same is true of the large clienteles who gathered at the doors of Roman nobles during customary morning salutations. Regarding its social nature, patronage also differed from “euergetism” in terms of the unbridgeable status differentials between patrons and clients that were further enhanced by social exchanges. Patrons remained in the superior social position, even if they failed to reciprocate their clients’ public bestowals of loyalty and honor. “Cliental gratitude” did not place patrons in a submissive position. The harsh realities of Roman life frequently led to exploitation of clients. Although clients could end a relationship in such instances, this was easier said than done. Competition among large groups of would-be clients for the benefactions of a relatively small group of Roman patrons was intense, making it difficult to find new patrons. Socio-economic realities therefore forced many clients to bear with public humiliations and failures to reciprocate on the part of patrons. At the same time patronal “rewards” for the services rendered by clients became more or less fixed around the middle of the first century CE. By the time of Trajan, six cesterces was the “standard” daily payment (Prell: 262).

Turning to “euergetism,” we also find a number of characteristics that justify distinguishing it from patronage. In terms of public benefaction the evidence makes it clear that benefits were always furnished on all citizens of a specific community, and not just on a few fortunate individuals, as was often the case in patronal relationships. The basic characteristic of civic benefaction was its collective nature. However, in the case of individual benefit exchange between persons and groups of equal or near-equal social status, it was just the opposite. Here the relationships were formed and kept intact by face-to-face exchanges of services and counter-services.

Other than in patronage, status differentials between public benefactors and beneficiaries were not “entrenched” by benefit-exchanges. The (collective) recipients of public benefits, for example, seldom took on a submissive role (which was often the case with clients of powerful Roman patrons). On the contrary, in honorary decrees they frequently state how they proudly fulfilled their obligations toward their benefactors, thus placing the latter in their debt once more. In order to maintain their public honor and status, benefactors therefore had to confer further benefits on their communities. In interpersonal benefit-exchanges it was somewhat different. In these face-to-face interactions the change in the roles and status of the interlocutors (that is, from benefactor to beneficiary, and vice-versa), was more accentuated.

There are a number of differences between patronage and “euergetism” in terms of their nature, structure and content which merit understanding them as two distinct forms of social exchange. This does not imply that there was no overlapping of functions between them, or that certain forms of social interchange could not have been interpreted in terms of both benefaction and patronage by various parties involved (such as the patronage of the emperor which was also interpreted in evergetistic terms by the Greeks). In general Roman patronage coexisted around the first century CE with other forms of exchange, such as “the family and friendship relations” (Garnsey & Sailer: 23), or “charity and euergetism” (Garnsey & Woolf: 154). It is only during the late Empire, with Roman ideologies firmly embedded that one can plausibly speak of patronage as a universal phenomenon usurping all the functions of civic benefactors (cf. Krause).

Social Exchange and the Study of the Second Testament: Guidelines for Further Research

During recent years, the impact of ancient social exchange relationships such as patronage on early Christian groups has received particular attention in Second Testament circles. In this regard most biblical scholars share the view that patronage and “euergetism” are the same exchange relationship. However, a number of Second Testament scholars have taken cognizance of the differences between patron-client relations in predominantly Roman contexts, such as Rome or Corinth, and civic and private benefaction in specifically Hellenistic-Jewish contexts (cf. Chow; Bormann).

The level of abstraction at which the historical material related to social exchange relationships is approached should be taken into consideration and spelled out more clearly by scholars. Otherwise, if early Christianity is approached on a too high level of abstraction, patronage and “euergetism” easily merge into an artificial form of social exchange. Terminological confusion lurks just around the corner when concepts related to the field of patronage or “euergetism” are used indiscriminately to describe any one of these forms of social exchange in particular. Since it belongs to the very nature of scientific activity to refine existing knowledge, generalizations about these ancient social exchange relationships should be avoided as far as possible. Since sufficient research on “euergetism” and patronage has already been undertaken, the way is paved for Second Testament scholars to work on lower levels of abstraction with historical material in this regard.

Biblical scholars should also be sensitive to the reinterpretation of contemporary forms of social exchange by early Christian groups to give expression to their own understanding(s) of the Christ-event. For example, Paul’s image of the “ideal patron” is presented to us in Romans 16:1-2 where he commends Phoebe as a diakonos (“servant”) as well as prostatis of many (including himself). Although some commentators are hesitant to understand Paul’s reference to Phoebe as prostatis in its “legal, technical sense” as a patron-protector, others correctly translate it as “patron” (cf. Osiek & Balch: 98-99). To the Christians in Rome, who were well versed in the tenets of patronage, the term prostatis would undoubtedly have evoked a well-known image, since female patrons were not a strange sight in ancient Rome. They actually fulfilled the same functions as their male counterparts, such as donating money for the building of temples and baths (Van Bremen: 223-42). Therefore, the Roman Christians would have had no difficulties in understanding Paul’s reference to Phoebe as prostatis as an indication of her social status as an influential and wealthy leader of the Christian community in Cenchreae. But, at the same time, Paul’s strong emphasis on her ministry of hospitality redefined her esteemed social position in terms of her service-oriented ministry. Romans 16 thus presents us with a double reciprocity not only in terms of benefits, but also in attributing status:

(1) Phoebe is servant (diakonos) of the ekklesia (the community of believers); thus the believing community in Rome should support her.

(2) Paul (in the role of “patron”) recommends Phoebe, who at the same time has been his prostatis (=patron).


The person in ancient Graeco-Roman society was a reciprocal being, homo reciprocus. Any exchange of gifts gave rise to the establishment of long-term relations between the transactors, such as patronage and various forms of public and private benefaction. One of the challenges facing contemporary biblical scholarship is to come to closer terms with these different forms of social reciprocity. Important groundwork in this regard, mostly on a relatively high level of abstraction, now has to be followed up with more detailed analyses of the nature and functions of “euergetism” and patronage in early Christian circles. Such efforts hold promise for a better understanding of these early Christian groups, as well as the opening of new vistas for research.

Works Cited

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Edlund, I. E. M. 1977. Invisible Bonds: Clients and Patrons through the Eyes of Polybios. KLIO 59: 129-36.

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Garnsey Peter, & Richard Saller. 1987. THE ROMAN EMPIRE. ECONOMY, SOCIETY AND CULTURE. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

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Malina, Bruce J. 1988. Patron and Clienet: The Analogy behind Synoptic Theology. FORUM 4: 2-32.

Nicols, John. 1980. Pliny and the Patronage of Communities. HERMES 108: 365-85.

Osiek Carolyn, & David L. Belch. 1997. FAMILIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT WORLD. HOUSEHOLDS AND HOUSE CHURCHES. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox.

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Rawson, E. 1973. The Eastern Clientelae of Clodius and the Claudii. HISTORIA 22: 219-39.

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Stephan J. Joubert, D.D. (University of Pretoria, South Africa), is Professor of New Testament Studies, University of Pretoria, Pretoria 0002, South Africa (e-mail: His study PAUL AS BENEFACTOR was published last year by Mohr/Siebeck, Tubingen, Germany.

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