One of the more peculiar aspects of the Roman society was the relationship between a client (clientela) and his patron (patronus). This was a complex system of interdependency by which a wealthy patron gave to his less fortunate clients one or more of the following:

  • legal counsel, legal aid
  • their sportula (a regular monetary handout, "the dole")
  • free meals in their homes
  • other gifts and/or resources (land, livestock, right to grow crops on their land)
and the client reciprocated by providing to the patron:

  • respect
  • political support
  • an escort if their patrons wished to walk around the city or go on a journey.
  • financial support
  • other services
There were many kinds of client-patron relationships. Some were between:

    • former slaves and their previous owners.
The freedman's relationship with his patron would depend much on his continuing usefulness to the patron as well as his deference (obsequium).

  • landowners and their tenant farmers
  • members of the aristocracy
  • aristocracy and artists, aristocracy and writers

In general, a client--as long as he was in debt to his patron--was offered protective services by his patron.
Some clients had several patrons, which required them to visit each in turn, even if they lived in different parts of the city.
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Salutatio (The Calling Hour)
Each morning, at daybreak, the patron's house would be opened for salutatio, when the patron would hold court in the atrium of his house. During this time unofficial business would be conducted, favors requested, political support lined up for votes on important issues, and each client would receive his sportula(a regular monetary handout).
The patron typically situated himself in the rear of his atrium, just behind the impluvium.. As each client approached his patron, he would greet the patron with "Ave, patrone, ave!" ("hail, patron, hail!). The patron might reply "Ave, [the client's name]!" or just acknowledge him by name. If the patron was in an expansive mood he might also offer the client his hand, and if the client was especially favored he might even be permitted to kiss the patron's cheek. At the patron's side was his nomenclator who was charged with whispering the names of any clients whose names he might have forgotten and with giving the patron any information about his clients that might facilitate their interaction. Each client would pay his respects and chat awhile. Then another senior-ranking slave would check off the client's name on a list and give him his sportula.
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Other Facts

  • Once the client-patron relationship was established, it continued from one generation to the next.
  • A patron's clients, along with his slaves, marched in front of and behind the patron, helping to elbow aside the crowd as he made his rounds. If he didn't release them before noon, he usually felt obligated to provide some kind of lunch for them.
  • On holidays and at the new year, the sportula was larger than normal.
  • By the end of the Republic the client-patron relationship had lost most of its more tangible, practical features. It had devolved into a status arrangement whereby the ambitious politician acquired as many clients he could, who would, in turn, swarm around him as he traveled each morning from his house to the Forum, making him appear influential and popular.

patron client relationship: a mutually obligatory arrangement between an individual who has authority, social status, wealth, or some other personal resource (the patron) and another person who benefits from his or her support or influence (the client).

Patronage (clientela) was the distinctive relationship in ancient Roman society between the patronus (plural patroni, "patron") and his client (cliens, plural clientes). The relationship was hierarchical, but obligations were mutual. The patronus was the protector, sponsor, and benefactor of the client; the technical term for this protection was patrocinium.[1[[|]]] Although typically the client was of inferior social class,[2[[|]]] a patron and client might even hold the same social rank, but the former would possess greater wealth, power, or prestige that enabled him to help or do favors for the client. Almost every patronus was rich.
Benefits a patron might confer include legal representation in court, loans of money, influencing business deals or marriages, and supporting a client's candidacy for political office or a priesthood. In return, the client was expected to offer his services to his patron as needed. A freedman became the client of his former master. A patronage relationship might also exist between a general and his soldiers, a founder and colonists, and a conqueror and a dependent foreign community.[3[[|]]]
Of Patrons and Clients

Since the earliest days of the Republic, Roman society was a society of status. Institutionalized in what is called the patron-client system, Roman society was really a network of personal relationships that obligated people to one another in a legal fashion. The man of superior talent and status was a patron (patronus). It was he who could provide benefits to those people of lower status, who then paid him special attention. These were his clients who, in return for the benefits bestowed upon them, owed the patron specific duties. Of course, since we are talking about a network of relationships, a patron was often the client of a more superior patron.
There were various forms of benefits as well as duties. Political careers and loans on easy terms could all be had with the proper patron-client relationship. Clients had to serve their patrons at all times -- this was true whether the issues at stake were legal, financial or political. The clients of a patron would also accompany him to the forum every morning, and the more clients that accompanied the patron, the greater his status and prestige. The patron-client relationship was an important one and was built upon the Roman idea that social stability would result from maintaining the social hierarchy that managed to link all people to one anther.

Nature of clientela

One of the major spheres of activity within patron-client relations was the law courts, but clientela was not itself a legal contract, though it was supported by law from earliest times.[4[[|]]] The pressures to uphold one's obligations were primarily moral, founded on the mos maiorum, "ancestral custom," and the qualities of fides ("trust, reliability") on the part of the patron and the pietas ("dutiful devotion") demonstrated by the client.[5[[|]]] The patronage relationship was not a discrete unit, but a network, as a patronus might himself be obligated to someone of higher status or greater power, and a cliens might have more than one patron, whose interests could come into conflict. While the Roman familia ("family," but more broadly the "household") was the building block of society, interlocking networks of patronage created highly complex social bonds.[6[[|]]]
The regulation of the patronage relationship was believed by the ancient Roman historians Dionysius and Plutarch to be one of the early cares of Romulus; hence the relationship dated to the very founding of Rome.[7[[|]]] Romulus is said to have introduced patronage in order to form a social link connecting the two separate and naturally antagonistic bodies of ancient Roman society, the patricians and the plebeians.[2[[|]]] In the earliest periods, patricians would have served as patrons; both patricius, "patrician," and patronus are related to the Latin word pater, "father," in this sense symbolically, indicating the patriarchal nature of Roman society. Although other societies have similar systems, the patronus-cliens relationship was "peculiarly congenial" to Roman politics and the sense of familia in the Roman Republic.[8[[|]]] An important man demonstrated his prestige or dignitas by the number of clients he had.[9[[|]]]
The client and patron were not allowed to sue or to bear witness against each other, and had to abstain from any injury to each other. The client accompanied the patron in war, being in this respect similar to the vassal of the Middle Ages.[2[[|]]] The client had to ransom the patron if the patron was taken prisoner, and to vote for the patron if the patron was a candidate for an office.[10[[|]]] The client was regarded as a minor member (gentilicius) of his patron's gens, entitled to assist in its religious services, and bound to contribute to the cost of them. He was subject to the jurisdiction and discipline of the gens, and was entitled to burial in its common sepulchre.[7[[|]]] According to Niebuhr, if the client died without an heir, the patron inherited his property.[2[[|]]]
These complex patronage relationships changed with the social pressures during the late Republic, when terms such as patronus, cliens and patrocinium are used in a more restricted sense than amicitia, "friendship" including political friendships and alliances, or hospitium, reciprocal "guest-host" bonds between families.[11[[|]]] It can be difficult to distinguish patrocinium or clientela, amicitia, and hospitium, since their benefits and obligations overlap.[12[[|]]] Traditional clientela began to lose its importance as a social institution during the 2nd century BC;[13[[|]]] Fergus Millar doubts that it was the dominant force in Roman elections that it has often been seen as.[14[[|]]]

Patronus and libertinus

When a slave was manumitted, the former owner became his or her patron. The freedman (libertinus) or freedwoman had social obligations to the patron, which might involve campaigning on his behalf if he ran for election, doing requested jobs or errands, or continuing a sexual relationship that began in servitude. In return, the patron was expected to ensure a certain degree of material security for his client. Allowing one's clients to become destitute or entangled in unjust legal proceedings would reflect poorly on the patron and diminish his prestige.

Organizations and communities

In the late Republic, patronage served as a model[15[[|]]] when conquerors or governors abroad established personal ties as patron to whole communities, ties which then might be perpetuated as a family obligation.[16[[|]]] Thus the Marcelli were patrons of the Sicilians, because Claudius Marcellus had conquered Syracuse and Sicily.[17[[|]]] Extending rights or citizenship to municipalities or provincial families was one way to add to the number of one's clients for political purposes, as Pompeius Strabo did among the Transpadanes.[18[[|]]] This form of patronage in turn contributed to the new role created by Augustus as sole ruler after the collapse of the Republic, when he cultivated an image as the patron of the Empire as a whole.
Various professional and other corporations, such as collegia and sodalitates, awarded statutory titles such as patronus or pater patratus to benefactors.

Definition: Romans could be either patrons or clients, a social stratification that proved mutually beneficial.The number of clients and sometimes the status of clients conferred prestige on the patron. The client owed his vote to the patron. The patron protected the client and his family, gave legal advice, and helped the clients financially or in other ways.
A patron could have a patron of his own; therefore, a client, could have his own clients, but when two high status Romans had a relationship of mutual benefit, they were likely to choose the label amicus ('friend') to describe the relationship since amicus did not imply stratification.
When slaves were manumitted, the liberti ('freedmen') automatically became clients of their former owners and were obligated to work for them in some capacity.
There was also patronage in the arts where a patron provided the wherewithal to allow the artist to create in comfort. The work of art or book would be dedicated to the patron.
Marius said that once a man reached the curule rank (dictator, consul, interrex, praetor, magister equitum, or curule aedile), he could no longer be a client. ("Review of Personal Patronage under the Early Empire, by Richard P. Saller," by A. N. Sherwin-White. The Classical Review, Vol. 33, No. 2. (1983), pp. 271-273.)
We know very little about Juvenal (whose 7th satire gives a look at the benefits a good imperial patron confers on a poet), but since he didn't dedicate his work, Juvenal probably didn't have a patron, and so may have been independently wealthy.
Poets and Patrons