1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Patron and Client

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PATRON AND CLIENT (Lat. patronus, from pater, father; clientes or cluentes, from cluere, to obey), in Roman law. Clientage appears to have been an institution of most of the Graeco-Italian peoples in early stages of their history; but it is in Rome that we can most easily trace its origin, progress and decay. Until the reforms of Servius Tullius, the only citizens' proper were the members of the patrician and gentile houses; they alone could participate in the solemnities of the national religion, take part in the government and defence of the state, contract quiritarian marriage, hold property, and enjoy the protection of the laws. But alongside of them was a gradually increasing non-citizen population composed partly of slaves, partly of freemen, who were nevertheless not admitted to burgess rights. To the latter class belonged the clients, individuals who had attached themselves in a position of dependence to the heads of patrician houses as their patrons, in order thereby to secure attachment to a gens, which would involve a de facto freedom. Mommsen held that the plebs consisted originally of clients only; but the earliest records of Rome reveal the possibility of a man becoming a plebeian member of the Roman state without assuming the dependent position of clientship (see Patricians); and long before the time of Servius Tullius the clients must be regarded as a section only of the plebeian order, which also contained members unattached to any patronus. The relationship of patron and client was ordinarily created by what, from the client's point of view, was called adplicatio ad patronum, from that of the patron, susceptio clientis — the client being either a person who had come to Rome as an exile, who had passed through the asylum, or who had belonged to a state which Rome had overthrown. According to Dionysius and Plutarch, it was one of the early cares of Romulus to regulate the relationship, which, by their account of it, was esteemed a very intimate one, imposing upon the patron duties only less sacred than those he owed to his children and his ward, more urgent than any he could be called upon to perform towards his kinsmen, and whose neglect entailed the penalty of death (Tettumoni sacer esto). He was bound to provide his client with the necessaries of life; and it was a common practice to make him a grant during pleasure of a small plot of land to cultivate on his own account. Further, he had to advise him in all his affairs; to represent him in any transactions with third parties in which, as a non-citizen, he could not act with effect; and, above all things, to stand by him, or rather be his substitute, in any litigation in which he might become involved. The client in return had not only generally to render his patron the respect and obedience due by a dependant, but, when he was in a position to do so and the circumstances of the patron required it, to render him pecuniary assistance. As time advanced and clients amassed wealth, we find this duty insisted upon in a great variety of forms, as in contributions towards the dowries of a patron's daughters, towards the ransom of a patron or any of his family who had been taken captive, towards the payment of penalties or fines imposed upon a patron, even towards his maintenance when he had become reduced to poverty. Neither might give evidence against the other — a rule we find still in observance well on in the 1st century B.C., when C. Herennius declined to be a witness against C. Marius on the ground that the family of the latter had for generations been clients of the Herennii (Plut. Mar. 5). The client was regarded as a minor member (gentilicius) of his patron's gens; he was entitled to assist in its religious services, and bound to contribute to the cost of them; he had to follow his patron to battle on the order of the gens; he was subject to its jurisdiction and discipline, and was entitled to burial in its common sepulchre. And this was the condition, not only of the client who personally had attached himself to a patron, but that also of his descendants; the patronage and the clientage were alike hereditary. The same relationship was held to exist between a freedman and his former owner; for originally a slave did not on enfranchisement become a citizen; it was a de facto freedom merely that he enjoyed; his old owner was always called his patron, while he and his descendants were substantially in the position of clients, and often so designated.

In the two hundred years that elapsed before the Servian constitutional reforms, the numerical strength of the clients, whether in that condition by adplicatio, enfranchisement or descent, must have become considerable; and it was from time to time augmented by the retainers of distinguished immigrants admitted into the ranks of the patriciate. There seems also to have been during this period a gradual growth of virtual independence on the part of the clients, and it is probable that their precarious tenure of the soil had in many cases come to be practically regarded as ownership, when a patron had not asserted his right for generations. The exact nature of the privileges conferred on the clients by Servius Tullius is not known. Probably this king guaranteed to the whole plebeian order, including the clients, the legal right of private ownership of Roman land. At the same time he imposed upon the whole order the duty of serving in the army, which was now organized on a basis of wealth. The client had previously been liable to military service at the command of the gens. Now he was called upon to take his part in it as a member of the state. As a natural corollary to this, all the plebeians seem to have been enrolled in the tribes, and after the institution of the plebeian assembly (concilium plebis) the clients, who formed a large part of the order, secured a political influence which steadily increased. It is not certain how soon they acquired the right to litigate in person on their own behalf, but their possession of this right seems to be implied in the XII. Tables, and may have been granted them at an earlier date. At any rate after 449 B.C. there were no disabilities in private law involved in their status. The relation of patron and client, it is true, still remained; the patron could still exact from his client respect, obedience and service, and he and his gens had still an eventual right of succession to a deceased client's estate. But the fiduciary duties of the patron were greatly relaxed, and practically little more was expected of him than that he should continue to give his client his advice, and prevent him falling into a condition of indigence; sacer esto ceased to be the penalty of protection denied or withheld, its application being limited to fraus facta, which in the language of the Tables meant positive injury inflicted or damage done.

So matters remained during the 4th, 3rd and 2nd centuries. In the 2nd and 1st a variety of events contributed still further to modify the relationship. The rapacity of patrons was checked by the lex Cincia (passed by M. Cincius Alimentus, tribune in 204 B.C.), which prohibited their taking gifts of money from their clients; marriages between patron and client gradually ceased to be regarded as unlawful, or as ineffectual to secure to the issue the status of the patron father. At the same time the remaining political disabilities of the clients were removed by their enrolment in all the tribes instead of only the four city tribes, and their admission to the magistracy and the senate. Hereditary clientage ceased when a client attained to a curule dignity; and in the case of the descendants of freedmen enfranchised in solemn forms it came to be limited to the first generation. Gradually but steadily one feature after another of the old institution disappeared, till by the end of the 1st century it had resolved itself into the limited relationship between patron and freedman on the one hand, and the unlimited honorary relationship between the patron who gave gratuitous advice on questions of law and those who came to consult him on the other. To have a large following of clients of this class was a matter of ambition to every man of mark in the end of the republic; it increased his importance, and ensured him a band of zealous agents in his political schemes. But amid the rivalries of parties and with the venality of the lower orders, baser methods had to be resorted to in order to maintain a patron's influence; the favour and support of his clients had to be purchased with something more substantial than mere advice. And so arose that wretched and degrading clientage of the early empire, of which Martial, who was not ashamed to confess himself a first-rate specimen of the breed, has given us such graphic descriptions; gatherings of idlers, sycophants and spendthrifts, at the levees and public appearances of those whom, in their fawning servility, they addressed as lords and masters, but whom they abused behind their backs as close-fisted upstarts — and all for the sake of the sportula, the daily dole of a dinner, or of a few pence wherewith to procure one. With the middle empire this disappeared; and when a reference to patron and client occurs in later times it is in the sense of counsel and client, the words patron and advocate being used almost synonymously. It was not so in the days of the great forensic orators. The word advocate, it is said, occurs only once in the singular in the pages of Cicero. But at a later period, when the bar had become a profession, and the qualifications, admission, numbers and fees of counsel had become a matter of state regulation, advocati was the word usually employed to designate the pleaders as a class of professional men, each individual advocate, however, being still spoken of as patron in reference to the litigant with whose interest he was entrusted. It is in this limited connexion that patron and client come under our notice in the latest monuments of Roman law.

Literature. — On the clientage of early Rome see T.Mommsen, “Die römische Clientel,” Röm. Forschungen, i. 355 (Berlin, 1864); M. Voigt, “Ueber die Clientel und Libertinität,” in Ber. d. phil. histor. Classe d königl. sächs. Gesellsch. d. Wissenschaften (1878, pp. 147-219); J. Marquardt, Privatleben d. Römer, pp. 196-200 (Leipzig, 1879); M. Voigt, Die XII. Tafeln., ii. 667-679 (Leipzig, 1883). Earlier literature is noted in P. Willems, Le Droit Public romain, 4th ed., p. 26 (Louvain, 1880). On the clientage of the early empire see W. A. Becker, Gallus, vol. ii., Excursus 4 (London, 1849); L. Friedländer, Sittengeschichte Roms, i. 200-212 (Leipzig, 1901); Marquardt, op. cit. pp. 200-208. On the latest clientage see T. Grellet-Dumazeau, Le Barreau romain (Paris, 1858).

(J. M.*; A. M. Cl.)