The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Patron

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Edition of 1920. See also Patronage on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

PATRON (from the Latin “Patronus” through the French “patron”). The word was directly connected with “pater,” father, and in its signification and use undoubtedly date back to patriarchal days. Among the Romans, a name denoting a patrician who had plebeians under his immediate protection, and whose interests he supported by his authority and influence. When Rome had conquered many nations, noble Romans were sometimes the patrons of whole cities and provinces, and such patronage even descended by inheritance in some families. The Marcelli were patrons of the Sicilians because Claudius Marcellus had succeeded in conquering Sicily. Patron was also the title of every advocate who represented the interest of another, his client. In later times the term patron was applied to every protector or influential promoter of the interests of others; hence the saints who were believed to watch over the interests of particular persons, places or trades were called patron saints. The patron became the guardian of a clients' interests and upheld these interests in the law courts. Patron and client were under a legal obligation never to accuse one another, down to before the Christan era. Even to-day throughout Latin countries the patron is a person of importance. In Spanish America the name is given to the head of a family or business by his employees; and the word is used in much the same sense as “boss” in English. One who provides food for a feast or entertainment is also designated the patron of the occasion. When a new business is opened with a dinner or reunion to celebrate the occasion the giver of the feast is known as the “patron”; when a child is baptized there is a patron for the occasion. The person who freed his slaves in Roman days generally retained toward them the relationship of patron or protector, that is the old patriarchal relation of a father to his family; and this relationship was recognized in early Roman law — as the patronus pleaded for them in court or on special occasions, the word in Latin came to have the special meaning of lawyer. In an ecclesiastical sense, a patron has long had the meaning of one who has the right to present a “living” or other preferment to a clergyman. In Spanish countries this idea it carried further, and a captain of a ship or the landlord of a rented property or the keeper of an inn or hotel is familiarly called the “patron.”