Patron client relationship in roman culture

The Patron-Client Relationship in the Ancient World | Truth Or Tradition?

patron client relationship in roman culture

In the Philippines, some instrumental cultural values such as "palakasan" Is it sociologically acceptable to view the patron-client relationship as as a cultural or Is Duterte correct that the Philippine membership in the Rome Statute of ICC is . Within the Roman Empire, a polity famed for its efficient bureaucracy and systemic In Western Europe, Rome's political successor was a patron–client system rather their political affairs according to the principles of patron–client relations. I'm trying to get a more in-depth understanding of client/patron relationships in Roman Culture. How did these relationships form? What sorts of.

patron client relationship in roman culture

We can use the model of a stage play to teach us how to better interpret the Bible. When you are watching the play, there are three distinct aspects or concept areas to consider. This includes the preparation of the actors and the building of the set, but it also includes the culture, customs, vocabulary, experiences, thought processes, etc. The second aspect is what is happening on the stage, which includes everything we see and hear there.

The third aspect is what is happening to us, the audience, watching from the seats. This includes our emotions, ideas, etc. Many such things in the Bible can be clearly understood just as they are written because they are universal to mankind and to societies. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead. Those things are not covered in detail in the Bible because everyone reading the verse at the time Acts was written knew perfectly well who each group was and what they believed.

Thankfully, we can find these things easily in any good Bible dictionary. However, it is a serious mistake to interpret the Bible in terms of our own culture. In the ancient world people were not thought of as being equal, with each having rights.

Certain rights were granted to certain segments of society, yes, but even those were regularly ignored. Now, each loser could be told that the individual who won the position would not likely remain for long and that they, the loser, would certainly be the next choice so long as they retained the favor of the top political players. Another source of tribute revenue came through legal procedures.

People involved in court cases were often required to pay a fee. While some of this was to be given as restitution to the aggrieved party, a major portion went directly to the chief who was hearing and deciding the case. When people approached a chief to receive a legal ruling, they frequently came bearing gifts of tribute. People in the Western world consider gifts given in return for a political appointment or to obtain a favorable ruling in court as bribery.

For people operating according to the rules of a patron—client system, such gifts are indications of seriousness and support.

Someone able to mobilize substantial tribute is a person willing to make a real commitment to the cause. A person able to offer large amounts of money has the support and confidence of those who know him or her best.

In addition to their value as measures of personal resolve and peer solidarity, such gifts might be considered user fees that pay for the costs of operating a government.

Tribute Someone who obtained a political office by offering tribute could then use that position to generate even more wealth. For example, someone appointed as a lower level chief, judge, tax collector, or ferry—crossing operator could then gather fees and tributes on an ongoing basis.

Such an appointee would be expected to share a standard percentage with the patron who had made the appointment. Every office holder, except for the supreme chief, was both a patron and a client. Every person with the power to make a decision, offer access to a higher official, or provide important information had the right to collect tribute.

In that sense, political offices became a source of ongoing revenue. Permission was not granted or advancement permitted because of merit or a legitimate claim.

Rather, permission and advancement came when the proper amount of tribute had been paid and the proper degree of respect and deference had been offered. While people of lesser rank often gave tribute to people with more power and status, leaders at the top gave gifts as demonstrations of their power and generosity.

patron client relationship in roman culture

At times, such gift—giving was dramatic and lavish. In the nineteenth—century slave trading kingdom of Dahomey, which dominated the territory now known as Benin, the king gave gifts in a spectacular manner. Each year, when officials the king's clients gathered at the capital, a large replica of a sailing ship was pulled into the main square. From the ship, the king's servants threw out expensive trade goods to the assembled crowds.

Such displays were tangible demonstrations that the king was the supreme patron whose strength, courage, and wisdom enabled him to dispense largesse to the entire nation.

At these same ceremonies, the king executed slaves as a way to give gifts of tribute to the ancestors and gods who stood above even him. When African countries became independent, many of them aroundmost people involved in the transition assumed that the new leaders would establish liberal democratic regimes. Those that did not, it was thought, would pursue the path of communism and Marxism. In spite of these hopes and expectations, by the end of the twentieth century it had become clear that virtually every African country followed the rules of patron—clientism instead of either democracy or communism.

Parliaments, elections, budgets, regularized administrative procedures, and official legal codes were all routinely subverted in order to accommodate the values of the patron—client system. Large portions of most African budgets were managed in a way that conformed to the logic of patronage.

For example, African heads of state routinely announced that they were giving massive "personal" gifts to schools, churches, communities, individuals, and organizations. If the national football teams won an important international tournament, the president might choose to give each player a personal gift such as a car, house, or money.

Or, a communication from the president's office might tell people that a city's electricity has been restored because the president generously had donated oil to fuel the municipal generators. Similarly, jailed journalists released from detention were said to have gained their freedom because of the magnanimity of the head of state, not because the constitution or the law protected their right to freedom of the press.

Modern Africa The current—day preoccupation with honoring African heads of state is further evidence of the patron—client system in operation. As chief patron of the nation, the chief executive's picture hangs in every business, is imprinted on every piece of currency, and appears first on the evening television news.

When the president travels around the capital, he is transported in an extensive motorcade that includes elaborately costumed motorcycle riders, numerous armed vehicles, many black curtained limousines, several chase vehicles, and the automobiles of various ministers and government officials.

For important occasions, such as the return from a trip abroad, the President is greeted at the airport by the entire cabinet; prominent church, educational, and business leaders; cultural dancers; a sometimes reluctant foreign diplomatic corps; and the press. School children may be marshaled to stand along the road and "spontaneously" cheer the returned leader whose dealings or negotiations abroad are described in a laudatory fashion by the state—owned media.

The fact that so many officials and citizens of African countries accept these patterns as normal suggests that the practices should not be seen as immoral aberrations; rather, they should be seen as competing methods of conducting politics.

Although Western politicians, journalists, and bankers condemn the African patron—client system as illegal and wrong, the system's robust persistence shows that many Africans disagree. To some extent, modern Africans are torn between two worlds. On the one hand, most African states claim to be democratic, and most African legal codes condemn the practices of patronage.

On the other hand, both leaders and followers engage in patron—client politics. When Francis Fukuyama — wrote his essay The End of History and the Last Man, he argued that only one political system, democracy, had retained its legitimacy and attractiveness at the end of the twentieth century. He noted that fascism and nazism have long been discredited and that the fall of the Soviet Union effectively ended the prospects of communism persisting as a viable system.

Fukuyama did not even mention patron—client governments.


For Fukuyama, patron—clientism does not exist or is inconsequential. Fukuyama's views reflect the perspective of the political science community. Unlike other philosophies or systems such as democracy, socialism, communism, or even anarchism, the patron—client system has no supporters, advocates, or theorists.

Textbooks about comparative politics generally divide the world's political systems into democratic or authoritarian arrangements. Such books give scant attention to patron—client systems. Democracies are categorized as parliamentary or presidential, while authoritarian governments are described as totalitarian, communist, fascist, theocratic, or monarchical.

Books on comparative politics often assume that governments not fitting easily into one of those two groupings eventually will evolve to become either democratic or authoritarian. Or, it is thought, a few unstable systems, such as Nigeria's, may continue to vacillate between the two.

Implicitly, or even explicitly, such comparative politics books suggest that every nation eventually must choose between democracy and authoritarianism.

Other comparative politics books sidestep the matter by placing governments that are neither democratic nor authoritarian into a non—political category. A large number of countries in Africa, Latin Americaor Asia are not seen as responsive enough to be democratic or efficient enough to be authoritarian. These countries are then lumped into classifications that are more economic, social, chronological, or geographical than political.

These states are often referred to as poor countries, developing nations not modernthird—world countries, or southern—hemisphere countries. They are not labeled as patron—client regimes, which would place them in a formal political category. When modern political scientists discuss patron—client systems, they do so in a negative or dismissive manner.

Governments strongly influenced by the principles of patron—clientage are regarded as archaic, inefficient, corrupt, and even criminal. Often, patron—client systems are described as systems on the path to collapse. Nevertheless, their resilience, adaptability, extensive distribution, and weed—like ability to spring up almost instantly in a political void are all characteristics that make such systems worthy topics for description and study.

In spite of powerful efforts to eradicate patron—client systems, their ability to persist suggests remarkable durability and success. Criticism of the patron—client system did not begin just with modern political theory. In the Old Testament Book of I Samuel, the people began to complain about the system of judges or patrons.

Soon after B. Furthermore, critics expressed their displeasure by saying that their system was obsolete. Neighboring peoples were being ruled by kings. Monarchy was a more prestigious method of governance, and the Hebrew people did not want to be left behind.

In Greece, people came to the similar conclusion that patron—client structures were antiquated and inadequate. Plato expressed this most pointedly when he rejected both Homer and Homer's heroes. For Plato, the practice of politics was to be above economic and personal considerations. Plato recommended that rulers live with only the barest of material possessions.

A good ruler, he said, is someone who owns little or nothing. Plato tried hard to prevent personal loyalty and regard for kinship from affecting political decisions. In order to avoid any conflict of interest between the personal and the public, Plato recommended that top political leaders live in a strict communist setting in which they own nothing and share everything. He even went so far as to suggest that leaders share a community of husbands and wives so that the bonds of marriage would not compromise a ruler's impartiality and his or her ability to make judgments that were in the best interest of the entire community.

Plato challenged the very heart of the patron—client system that celebrates personal loyalty and gives far more weight to relationships than to abstract and impersonal rules or procedures. Perhaps the best medieval defense of the patron—client system was made by Pope Adrian IV — who led the Catholic Church in the twelfth century. Adrian's views were recorded by his friend and critic, the political thinker John of Salisbury — In the twelfth century, both religious and secular institutions were organized according to the principles of patron—client systems.

People at the top collected revenue by taxation, by rendering favorable legal judgments, by assisting people seeking appointments to offices, and by confiscating land or money.

This wealth was used to support a lavish lifestyle and to gain the support of followers who were loyal so long as they continued to benefit from gifts, appointments, and opportunities to extract wealth from others. Anyone wanting to win a court case, gain a church or state office, or obtain shelter from being preyed upon by more powerful people sought the protection of a reliable patron. Of course, there was a price to pay for that protection. Adrian's analysis and defense of the patron—client system came in response to a series of pointed criticisms raised by John of Salisbury.

Questioning the very heart of the patron—client system, John asked how patrons could justify the enormous flow of resources into the hands of the political elite. Prudent and cautious, John said he was not speaking for himself but for the many people who regarded the practice of exchanging money for favors and offices as oppressive and immoral.

John then listed a host of problems within the Church of Rome. Because the Church in the twelfth century functioned like a secular state, John's critique would have been equally applicable to the patron—client governments that existed in the rest of Europe. In fact, with its army, extensive network of taxation, court system, and vast administrative structure, the Church had a patron—client type of government that surpassed that of many regions and territories ruled by medieval princes.

John of Salisbury's message John began by accusing the Vatican of having become an oppressive stepmother rather than a caring mother. The leaders in Rome, he charged, were vainglorious and proud lovers of money who lived in extravagant luxury. To maintain their opulent life in Rome, they extorted gifts and payments from subordinates throughout Europe. Furthermore, church judges did not decide cases on the basis of justice; rather, they bartered justice for a price.

John noted that the only way to get any action from the church bureaucracy was to pay a bribe. In addition, he pointed out that church leaders stirred up strife among people of lesser power and influence in order to keep them from uniting and forcing meaningful change at the highest levels. Even the top leaders could not keep harmony among themselves.

In their competition for power, position, and money, they preyed upon each other and their gains were short—lived. The Pope himself, John said sadly, was seen by many people as the worst offender of all.

patron client relationship in roman culture

His avarice and duplicity had become an intolerable burden upon the faithful. The Church had become, John of Salisbury asserted, a wanderer in a trackless wilderness.

The Church had strayed from the true way and had given itself over to duplicity and avarice. Where, John asked, was humility, self—restraint, and honesty? Looking beyond the accusatory tone of John of Salisbury's message, it is clear that he was describing an actively functioning patron—client system.

Maintaining the flow of tributes church taxes, bequests, offerings, bribes, and rents into the coffers, or treasury, of Rome, the great bishoprics, and the powerful monastic orders was the main preoccupation of the church hierarchy. This money was used to support a lavish lifestyle and to provide political and military security for the top leaders.

Although the ordinary people groaned under the weight of oppression, they were unable to unite against prominent leaders who used their money and influence to divide and weaken any potential opposition. In such a system, personal attachments and loyalties— not fair laws and courts, rational budgets, or predictable administrative procedures— determined how decisions were made and carried out.

Decisions about church jobs and court cases were made on the basis of payment, not competence or justice. Leaders were far more concerned about building up strong groups of clients than they were with holding to principles and laws.

The Pope's response In his response, Pope Adrian IV offered both an explanation and a defense of the patron—client system as it operated in the Middle Ages. Adrian IV Once upon a time all the members of the body conspired against the stomach, as against that which by its greediness devoured utterly the labors of all the rest.

The eye is never sated with seeing, the ear with hearing, the hands go on laboring, the feet become callous from walking, and the tongue itself alternates advantageously between speech and silence. In fine, all the members provide watchfully for the common advantage of all; and in the midst of such care and toil on the part of all, only the stomach is idle, yet it alone devours and consumes all the fruits of their manifold labors…[In response, the other parts of the body] swore to abstain from work and starve the idle public enemy…[By the third day] almost all commenced to be faint…the eyes were found to be dim, the foot failed to sustain the weight of the body, the arms were numb, and the tongue…[could not speak].

Accordingly all took refuge in the counsel of the heart and after deliberation there, it became plain that these ills were all due to that which had before been denounced as the public enemy. Because the tribute which they paid it was cut off, like a public rationer it withdrew the sustenance of all.

And so the stomach was acquitted, which although it is voracious and greedy of that which does not belong to it, yet seeks not for itself but for the others who cannot be nourished if it is empty.

patron client relationship in roman culture

And so it is…in the body of the commonwealth, wherein, though the magistrates are most grasping, yet they accumulate not so much for themselves as for the others. Pope Adrian IV admitted that rulers could be "voracious and greedy," but he suggested such grasping was done for the common good. The rapaciousness of leaders was necessary to ensure that the state would have sufficient resources in order to operate and in order to ensure that resources were distributed generously to the people.

Adrian saw the greed of the patron as essential to the health of the larger political structure. Implicit in Adrian's argument is the notion that only a wealthy patron could be counted on as a reliable source of nourishment for the body politic.

A poor king, pope, or prince would be unable to be generous to the people. A humble and impoverished leader could not "attend…to the common utility of all. Adrian freely admitted that there is a high cost associated with government. He seems to say that the effective state must be greedy. For patronage to flow from the hands of the leader, tribute must flow into the leader's treasury.

In using this image, Adrian was drawing on an old tradition. Classical Greek and Roman political thinkers had often compared the political community to the body. But, while philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle had always equated political leadership with the head or the brain, the seat of decision—making and thought, Adrian said the leaders should be compared to the stomach instead.

Adrian told a fanciful story about how the other parts of the body once became critical of the stomach because it only consumed while they all did the work. They noted that while the eyes did the seeing, the ears the hearing, the feet the walking, and the tongue the talking, the stomach was idle. Yet, it consumed everything.

From the perspective of the other body parts, it seemed that the stomach's only action was to eat what came to the body through their efforts. As a result, those parts of the body decided to go on strike against the stomach. No longer, they agreed, would they put anything into the lazy stomach.

The result, said Adrian, was nearly fatal because all the parts became too weak to function. After giving the matter some thought, they realized their plight had come about because of what they had done to their supposed idle enemy. They finally realized that the stomach was the most essential organ of the body for it served as a supplier for all the other parts.

If the stomach went hungry, all went hungry. Newly enlightened, the other body parts then decided to "fill the stomach. The stomach, asserted Adrian, should not be regarded as evil. The stomach was not eating just for itself, but for the entire body. Pope Adrian's point was that the patronage in a political system should be respected and accepted, not condemned.

Instead of begrudging the lavish rewards obtained by high church or political leaders, people should recognize the essential nature of their leaders' work. Explicitly comparing the food entering the stomach to tribute demanded by temporal princes, Adrian reminded John of Salisbury that without very large inflows of wealth into the political system, nothing could flow back to government functionaries or to the people themselves.

Like a paymaster in the army, a king, pope, or prince could distribute goods and services in the commonwealth only so long as resources were coming in constantly.

The Middle Ages At the popular level, medieval ideas of government were even more supportive of patron—client concepts. The medieval lord or knight was portrayed as the beneficent embodiment of the big man, the central figure in a patron—client system. As can be seen in medieval mythology such as the stories of King Arthurthe big man was regarded as a defender of the peace who slew supernatural foes such as dragons and protected the people against temporal foes such as robbers and enemy warriors.

The big man was also a defender of truth and morality. While Arthur's knights searched for the Holy Graila symbolic way of saying that they sought the restoration of divine grace and perfection on earth, other medieval big men struggled to destroy Muslims and Turks, people thought to epitomize aggressive forms of chaos and evil.

Finally, the big man was regarded as an individual of great strength, courage, and piety. Social order and good government did not come because of structured and institutionalized bureaucracies or systems. Rather, they depended upon the personal qualities and character of a big man at the center.

Such leaders had more in common with the ancient heroes like Deborah or Odysseus than with modern monarchs or tyrants.


The Middle Ages marked both the high point of patron—client political systems and the beginning of modern authoritarian monarchies that can be seen as institutionalized and centralized adaptations of patron—client arrangements. Therefore, the medieval period was marked by thinkers making an intellectual transition to monarchy.

The great medieval theologian and political thinker Thomas Aquinas — saw patron—clientage as consistent with the very nature of the universe God had created. First, like the ancient Greeks, Aquinas observed that human beings, and even many animals, were intended to live in groups. Second, Aquinas believed that just as the universe required a divine creator and guide, the human community needed a political guide or head.

Although Aquinas was speaking of monarchies, he noted that kings bore a certain resemblance to the father pater or patron of a household.

patron client relationship in roman culture

Thus, Aquinas continued to think of the monarchy in terms of patron—client concepts. Very suspicious of democracy, he insisted that the best political system would be organized around a father—like figure. But, rejecting tyranny, he insisted that political rule must aim at the common good of the multitude rather than the private good of the ruler. The ruler, said Aquinas, must function as a shepherd whose task is too feed the flocks.

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Unlike Adrian IV, Aquinas was not willing to justify the most crass elements of the patron—client system. While Adrian defended the greedy patron, Aquinas said "woe to the shepherds that feed themselves," and he condemned the tyrant who "seeks his own benefit.

He only insisted that the sheep as well as the shepherd should be fed. It is evident that for both Pope Adrian and Aquinas, the image of "eating" was central to the patron—client system. But, this concept was most fully developed in African political thought. In traditional Africa, political ideology was recorded not in books or letters, but in myths and legends passed down from one generation to another through oral recitation.

By telling stories, many of them entirely imaginary, African people expressed their opinions about what worked, what was moral, and what had always existed. Often their deepest political and social values were articulated by describing a man or woman who supposedly was the original human being, the first settler in the land, the founding chief, or the initial farmer or hunter. That person and his or her actions were regarded as normative for all times.

What they did was seen as ideal and a model for successive generations. The Legend of Kuaba Legendary stories of political origins in Africa describe a patron—client system. The Kanyok people who live in the Congo tell one story about an original settler—chief named Kuaba.

The term kuaba means "to distribute". According to the tale, Kuaba was a great hunter who came to a land where people did not know how to hunt. He killed a large animal and distributed the meat to the grateful locals. As a result, the local people made Kuaba the distributor their chief, and his descendants have continued to rule the area. Clearly, Kuaba is a big man in a patron—client system. Had he lived in modern America, his name would not have been "Kuaba" but instead would have been " Pork Barrel.

Other Kanyok stories affirm the central importance of patron— clientage to politics. Many stories talk of chiefs who fell from power because they became drunk and failed to hold a feast or distribute food. The accusation of drunkenness was another way of saying a chief was inept or weak. The failure to hold a feast was a symbol for not sustaining the practice of redistribution, which was essential to the entire patron—client system.

Kings and chiefs did not lose their office because they refused to follow the law, because they were dishonest, because they made unpopular appointments, or because they did not protect human rights.

Rather, they fell from power because they were unable to redistribute political spoils to their supporters. To accomplish this they wore distinctive clothing and jewelry to help signify their status. Equestrians wore specifically colored cloth stripes on their togas or tunics to signify their statuses. The senators and patricians also wore wider specifically colored cloth stripes to signify their rank.

The upper class patrons wanted to show they had power and made certain to remind their clients of this by their mannerisms and dress. The lower class Roman citizens were most always the clients of the upper class patrons. The plebs or plebeians was the lower class that existed since the beginning of Rome just like the patricians. The common people were freeborn and plebeians respectively, but the lower class also consisted of freed-people liberti.

Societal Patronage | Roman Patronage in Society, Politics, and Military

Freed-people were former slaves who had been freed by their masters. The freed-people were now clients of their former masters. In the lower class also were Latins Latini who were from Roman colonies outside of Rome. There were some plebs who were wealthy, had political connections and better overall social standing but for the most part, plebs were part of the lower class. Roman societal patronage was highly based around the Roman ideals of fides or loyalty. Clients were loyal supporters of high standing families and at the head of those families were the patronus, or their patron.

For this loyalty the patron rewarded their loyal clients with gifts of food and land.