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Clients and Patrons

Contributed by David Verne

The Roman world was marked by what could be considered an odd arrangement; that of the wealthy patron and his clients. In cities, the first thing Roman men would do after waking up would be to walk to the house of his patron to receive the sportula, monetary handouts. The wealthy Romans would get out of bed later and open their houses to the waiting group of clients at the entrance. The clients would be received in order of precedence, with higher social classes cutting ahead of the lower classes. The patron and client would exchange some brief small talk, after which the client was given his sportula. Some clients tried to arrive as early as possible, so they could hit up a few more patrons before work. There were some people who didn't work and would live off of the handouts of several patrons, and then proceed to watch games and legal proceedings all day.

The patrons not only gave their clients daily gifts. They also provided legal counsel and often provided letters of recommendation. In return, clients would offer political support and would escort the patron through the city or on a journey. During the Empire, the relationship lost most of the tangible benefits for the patron, with political support no longer being an issue. It became a status symbol, where the more clients you had escorting you to the way to the Forum the more important and wealthy you were. The patronage relationship could last several generations after being established. [1] [2]

My Take by David Verne
According to Mike Duncan from The History of Rome Podcast, "If having a entourage of slaves with you was the fancy car of the day, then having an entourage of clients was the private jet." The men who acted as patrons were the super wealthy of the time. Senators had to be meet a wealth requirement of 1.2 million sesterces, and even some Senators were clients. There was a huge wealth gap in the Roman Empire, for example the Emperors' personal wealth could be half of the Empire's GDP. Social unrest was always a problem, but it was largely mitigated by the ability to move up the social class. If a person managed to meet the wealth requirements of a social class, very little stopped them from moving up in the world.

See Also


  1. Duncan, Mike (March 22, 2010). Day in the Life.
  2. Clients & Patrons (January 20, 2008).

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