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Patronage in ancient Rome: Clients in United Kingdom

Patronage (clientela)

Clients were citizens of the lower ranks in ancient Rome who chose a patron from the higher classes, whose duty it was to assist them in legal cases, and to take a paternal care of them. The clients, on the other hand, were obliged to portion the daughters of the patron if he had not sufficient fortune, to follow him to the wars, to ransom him if taken prisoner and to vote for him if he was candidate for an office. If a client died without issue and had made no will, his property fell to the patron. Clients and patrons were under mutual obligation not to accuse each other, not to bear witness against each other and in general not to do one another injury. This relation continued till the time of the emperors. It may be considered as the transition from a patriarchal state, in which family relations are predominant, to a well-developed political system, securing the rights and independence of the individual. In modern law, a client is one who retains or consults an attorney or counsellor at law for advice, or to manipulate any action at law or to represent him in legal matters. The strictest confidence is required of the attorney, the breach of which may be heavily punished.


Among the Romans, originally the appellation of a citizen who had dependents, called clients, attached to him. Before the time of the Laws of the Twelve Tables, the most frequent use of the term patronus was in opposition to libertus, these two words being used to signify persons who stood to one another in the relation of master and manumitted slave. The Roman was not deprived of all right in his slave when he freed him; a tie remained somewhat like that of parent and child, and the law recognized important obligations on the part of the libertus toward his patron, the neglect of which involved severe punishment. In some cases the patron could claim a right to the whole or part of the property of his freedman. The original idea of a patron apart from the manumitter of slaves continued to exist. A Roman citizen, desirous of a protector, might attach himself to a patron, whose client he thenceforward became; and distinguished Romans were sometimes patrons of dependent States or cities, particularly where they had been the means of bringing them into subjection. Thus the Marcelli were patrons of the Sicilians, because Claudius Marcellus had conquered Syracuse and Sicily.

The patron was the guardian of his client’s interests, public and private; as his legal adviser, he vindicated his rights before the courts of law. The client was bound, on various occasions, to assist the patron with money, as by paying the costs of his suits, contributing to the marriage portions of his daughters, and defraying in part the expenses incurred in the discharge of public functions. Patron and client were under an obligation never to accuse one another; violation of this law was tantamount to treason, and anyone might slay the offender with impunity. As the patron was in the habit of appearing in support of his clients in courts of justice, the word patronus acquired, in course of time, the signification of advocate or legal adviser and defender, the client being the party defended; hence the modern relation between counsel and client. Patron, in after times, became a common designation of every protector or powerful promoter of the interests of another; and the saints, who were believed to watch over the interests of particular persons, places, trades etc., acquired in the Middle Ages the designation of their patron saints. The saint in whose name a church is founded is considered its patron saint.

Further reading

  • Ernst Badian, Foreign Clientelae (Oxford University Press, 1959).
  • Erich S. Gruen, “Patrocinium and clientela,” in The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome (University of California Press, 1986), vol. 1, pp. 162–163.
  • John Rich, editor, Patronage in Ancient Society (Routledge, 1990).
  • R.P. Saller, Personal Patronage in the Roman Empire (Cambridge University Press, 1984).

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  • Article Name: Patronage in ancient Rome
  • Author: International
  • Description: Patronage in ancient Rome: Clients Patronage (clientela) Clients were citizens of the lower ranks in ancient Rome who [...]

This entry was last updated: April 14, 2013


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