Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2003.04.28

Kathryn Lomas, Tim Cornell, "Bread and Circuses": Euergetism and Municipal Patronage in Roman Italy.   London:  Routledge, 2003.  Pp. 192.  ISBN 0-415-14689-5.  $80.00.  

Contributors: Kathleen M. Coleman, Jill Harries, Claire Holleran, E.D. Hunt, Kathryn Lomas, John R. Patterson, Rowland B.E. Smith, Thomas Wiedemann

Reviewed by James M. Quillin, Northwestern University (
Word count: 2531 words

This volume originated in a conference held at the Institute of Classical Studies at the University of London in 1994 and takes its place in a body of literature on urbanism and civic patronage in Roman Italy which has continued to grow and attract interest in the years since.1 In the introduction Kathryn Lomas and Tim Cornell state that the purpose of the volume is "to explore aspects of public patronage and euergetism in the communities of Roman Italy, and to examine the effects of the close relationship between Italy and Rome on these phenomena" (2). The collection borrows its title from Paul Veyne's Le pain et le cirque (1976), and aims to complete the model of imperial patronage presented in that work. While Veyne dealt in detail with euergetism in the imperial provinces, his light treatment of Italy "constitutes a major gap in the literature on ancient patronage and benefaction" (1). As did Veyne, the authors represented here seek to identify the motivations for euergetism, the various ways it manifested itself, and its impacts. In general the book succeeds admirably in this aim, although, as is perhaps inevitable in a collection originating in a conference, some chapters stray from "Roman Italy" and focus more narrowly on Rome itself.

The strength of the book lies in the chronological sweep of the essays: three focusing on late Republican to early Imperial times, two on the high Empire, and three on late Antiquity. The result is a sense of the continuities and changes in the practice of civic patronage throughout this period. The changes are perhaps the more familiar of the two: a shift from individuals as civic patrons to a monopoly on euergetism by the imperial house from the late Republic to the early Empire (Holleran, Coleman), a change in the position of Italy from privileged center of empire to one among many provinces in the second century (Patterson), the re-emergence of senatorial euergetism following the removal of the imperial seat to Constantinople (Smith), and the gradual decline of the traditional patron-client model in the late Empire (Smith). The identification of the various continuities in practice underlies the more provocative and innovative contributions of the essays. The persistence of relationships of personal patronage marginalized professional bankers and inhibited the development of a central banking system (Wiedemann). Patron-client relationships were always two-sided, with persuasion and coercion naturally being wielded by the benefactors, but also, if often tacitly, by the recipients, i.e., the lower classes (Harries, Smith). At the municipal level, the motivations behind the civic patronage of local elites continued to be provided by competition among individuals and by local rivalries, regardless of changing relationships with the Roman center (Lomas). The ideal of civic euergetism privileging the Roman plebs and the towns of Italy as it was remembered from the Republican and Augustan periods remained the normative model for later practice (Patterson, Hunt, Smith). Finally, the traditional model continued to be observed alike by pagan and Christian emperors (Hunt) and senators (Smith). The quality of scholarship displayed by the authors is generally excellent, and the fact that almost every author makes use of literary, epigraphic and archaeological evidence renders this an exceptionally rich work of social history.

The only serious weakness in the book is the poor proofreading apparent throughout (e.g., I noted approximately one error per page in the Lomas chapter), which does a disservice to all by making the arguments of these outstanding scholars more difficult at times to follow. A more thorough index and a single, comprehensive bibliography would also improve the volume's utility. In the remainder of this review I deal with each chapter individually.

In the first chapter, Thomas Wiedemann ambitiously attempts to explain why no centralized system of banking emerged in Rome. He finds an answer in the fact that the needs, which in comparative situations professional and large-scale banking operations were developed to fulfill, were in Rome fulfilled by personal relations of amicitia based on fides. The testimony of aristocratic sources suggests that professional bankers (argentarii) were used only when secrecy was desirable. Otherwise, those in need of a loan for, for instance, an electoral campaign preferred to tap personal connections. Similarly, those needing to deposit surplus cash depended on personal relations: Friends took responsibility for goods in the owner's absence, widows and orphans were placed under the protection of a tutor, and patrons could loan out cash as a way of spreading the risk among their clients. At the level of financing for public works, the need for a system of private loans to the state (where tax revenues proved insufficient) was obviated by the practice of euergetism, which was an extension of the logic of amicitia to the public sphere. Thus Weidman's essay provides an instructive companion to Andreau's important work on Roman banking, which tends to focus on the formal distinctions between different types of banker and the question of whether Roman economic behavior was profit-seeking or reciprocal.2 Instead, Wiedemann demonstrates how the particular social norms of the Roman elite rendered unnecessary the sort of independent financial organizations that might have led to large-scale investment and economic growth.

Kathryn Lomas' chapter aims to locate the impetus behind the transformation in the practice of civic patronage and urban construction in Italy from the late Republic through the early Imperial periods. Broad features of this shift include a change in emphasis from utilitarian structures to venues for public entertainment, an increase in private over public sources of funding, and a move away from building indigenous sanctuaries toward buildings associated with the imperial cult. As Lomas notes, the initiators were always mainly members of local elites. The impetus for the explosion of civic construction has been identified in the centrally-orchestrated project of colonization and Romanization or alternatively in the desire of local elites to infiltrate the senatorial class. But Lomas argues persuasively that the former theory fails to explain the predominance of local funding and the early development of Latium and Campania, while the latter theory is not supported by the epigraphic evidence outside of Appenine Italy. Interestingly, the most persuasive evidence for Lomas' own theory is literary rather than epigraphical or archaeological. Tacitus relates the outrage of the Placentians in 69AD when they suspect that their spectacular wooden amphitheater has been burned by their envious neighbors under the cover of the war (Tac. Hist. 2.21). Thus while Romanization and Augustan and imperial ideology may have determined the shape of construction and renovation in Roman Italy, Lomas presents an impressive argument that local competition and the need to maintain status within the regional hierarchy provided the motivation for the local patrons of urban construction in Italy.

Claire Holleran and Kathleen M. Coleman contribute chapters that aim to answer important questions about the history of civic euergetism, although they lose sight of Roman Italy and focus on Rome itself. Holleran seeks an explanation for the "stilted development" of public architecture in Rome, which lacked a permanent theater building until 55 BC, long after such buildings were common in other parts of Roman Italy. She persuasively faults explanations emphasizing the Roman rejection of Greek cultural influences or a distinction between self-serving euergetism in Rome and social philanthropism in the Italian cities. Instead, her basic thesis is that permanent entertainment venues were prohibited in Rome because of the fact that such buildings would remove a means for elite competition and would give the benefactor responsible access to a monopoly on public favor. Permanent entertainment venues were clearly economically more efficient, but were politically incompatible with Republican government. I find this entirely persuasive but have trouble with Holleran's argument in favor of the traditional view against Katherine Welch's influential thesis that the amphitheater was a Roman, not a Campanian, architectural form (48-49).3 I do not see why Welch's theory is important to Holleran's argument, and Holleran never resolves the central problem Welch raises for the traditional view, i.e., the fact that a permanent amphitheater only appears in Italy under the influence of Roman colonists in Pompeii.4

Coleman tackles head-on the related problem of why a full-size, permanent amphitheater only appeared in Rome more than 150 years after the first permanent amphitheater in Pompeii. The reason why Augustus never built a permanent amphitheater is one of those questions that is ultimately unanswerable but in attempting to answer which much of interest is unearthed. Considerations of prestige would lead one to expect Augustus to produce a monument to eclipse Pompey's theater, as Caesar planned to do. Ideology would have posed no obstacle to the project as religious associations could be readily manufactured when necessary. But Coleman shows that the construction of a permanent amphitheater large enough to satisfy the needs of Rome would have entailed an unprecedented expense. While in the context of Vespasian's victory in the Jewish War and of the reclamation of the site of Nero's Domus Aurea a benefaction of this magnitude could help to strengthen the Flavians' hold on power, by 13 BC the last major monument not named after a member of the imperial family had been dedicated and the citizenry was experiencing shortages and taxation. In this context, Coleman suggests, Augustus may have gained more credit by exercising restraint in this form of public generosity. This chapter is accompanied by an appendix giving a complete and fully annotated list of spectacles and their venues in the Augustan period, which, though not strictly necessary to her argument, provides a valuable reference.

John R. Patterson's chapter returns to Roman Italy. He observes that, while Veyne treated Italy and the provinces as analytically equivalent, Italy actually enjoyed special treatment in terms of imperial generosity in the first and second centuries. This situation begs for explanation, as Italy "was now of marginal importance in terms of the day-to-day politics of imperial rule" (89). While much imperial patronage in Italy seems to have been a response to material necessities such as disaster relief or ensuring the food supply, the emperors Claudius, Nerva, and Trajan especially seem to have concerned themselves with the aeternitas Italiae, to use the arresting phrase that appears in the S.C. Hosidianum of 45 AD (CIL 10.1401) and a Trajanic decree from Ferentinum (CIL 6.1492). Hadrian and Antoninus Pius kept up the high level of euergetism, but as the coin evidence reveals, they treated Italy as one of many provinces. Patterson suggests that military achievement, in combination with extraordinary generosity and the granting of special privileges to Italy, fit the stereotype of the good emperor "within what we might call the 'ideology of the traditionalist senators'" (99). The fact that Claudius, Nerva, and Trajan took special pains to conform to this model may be explained by the conditions of their accessions, the first two following assassinations and the latter being the first non-Italian emperor. The theory is not air-tight, as Patterson concedes (99), but it is attractive for the causal interdependency it suggests between literary representation and economic distribution, and one looks forward to further investigations of this topic.

In another chapter which focuses exclusively on Rome, E.D. Hunt argues in favor of three main propositions concerning Constantine's patronage of the city of Rome. First, he demonstrates that Constantine continued to be an active benefactor of the city and its pagan heritage in spite of his creation of a new capital at Constantinople. Second, Hunt shows that Constantine's programme of Christian building continued to serve the same function of communicating the emperor's triumphs and civic patronage as his traditional pagan or secular works did. This important point is demonstrated most persuasively by the fact that the Lateran basilica was founded on land formerly occupied by the camp of Maxentius' praetorian cavalry. Third, Hunt argues that the extra-mural position of Constantine's Christian buildings should not be seen as a conscious downplaying of the emperor's Christianity in deference to Rome's pagan elite. Rather, Hunt makes the important point that, although it would have been unthinkable to displace the ancient shrines and temples of the city center with Christian monuments, nevertheless the periphery was the heart of the community of Christian worship, and the building of churches around the catacombs and cemeteries facilitated a "peripatetic circuit of ceremonies" (118). Furthermore, the impressive Christian monuments were now the first sights that greeted visitors to the city. As a whole the chapter nicely demonstrate the continuity of Constantine's patronage of Rome with that of his pagan predecessors.

Jill Harries' chapter provides a refreshing perspective on the practice of euergetism by focusing on the demand-side of the equation as it appears from a variety of late antique sources. Harries seeks to unearth and examine the role of the populus in the politics of Rome and Italy. First, she demonstrates convincingly from epigraphic evidence that in at least some Italian towns in the fourth century (Paestum and Nardo in Calabria) the populus had the constitutional power to award the title of patron. This institutionalized its key function of legitimizing the social status of furiously competing elites. She goes on to show that this is consistent with the role we see played, although in a non-institutionalized framework, by the crowd generally in venues where competitive euergetism occurred in late Roman Italy, although elite rhetoric deplored and tried to efface its influence. Using the seemingly divergent examples of the pagan senator Symmachus and the Christian ascetic Paulinus of Nola, Harries shows that they both were forced to cater to the tastes and demands of popular constituencies and, at the same time, both disavowed this necessity. The study instructively reveals how acclamations and riots, though isolated expressions of the popular will, were the results of a perceived consensus between mass and elite concerning issues of legitimacy and fairness. In this respect the essay contributes to the interdisciplinary literature on "moral economy."5

Finally, Rowland B.E. Smith's chapter addresses the question of the transition from the secular practice of euergetism to the Christian institution of charity. The letters of personal recommendation written by the senator Symmachus to the bishop Ambrose show that pagan and Christian aristocrats alike were implicated in the patronage system and help to put ideological divisions, such as the dispute about the removal of the Altar of Victory from the Curia in Rome, in a more realistic perspective: "... the elite senators of fourth-century Rome are best construed as fundamentally a governing class, only secondarily as pagans and Christians ..." (161). Additionally, Smith points out that the population of Rome, which was probably mostly Christianized by this time, continued to view the benefactions of the senatorial class as patronage rather than Christian charity, since they expected official largesse to benefit the plebs as a whole rather than the poor in particular. The patronage of the city remained throughout the fourth century for the elite benefactors and perhaps even for some of their clients a means not only of regulating and defining the relationship between rulers and ruled but also of self-definition through a conscious emulation of the traditions of Rome's past. In the end Smith suggests that the ideal of patronage was not forced out by Christian charity but went into decline in the fifth century as imperial subventions disappeared and the population of the city declined.


1.   To name just the edited volumes: 1994. L'Italie d'Auguste à Dioclétien: actes du colloque international organisé par l'Ecole française de Rome. Rome; Parkin, H, ed. 1997. Roman Urbanism: Beyond the Consumer City. London; Cébeillac-Gervasioni, M., ed. 2000. Les Élites municipales de l'Italie péninsulaire de la mort de César à la mort de Domitien: Classes socials diregeantes et pauvoir central. Rome.
2.   Andreau, J. 1987. La Vie financière dans le monde Romain. Rome.
3.   Welch, K. 1994. "The Roman Arena in Late-Republican Italy: A New Interpretation." JRA 7:59-80.
4.   I note in passing that the quotation on page 51 attributed to Cic. Fam. 8.3 belongs to Suet. Div. Iul. 10.
5.   See the literature review in Arnold, T. C. 2001. "Rethinking Moral Economy." American Political Science Review 95(1): 85-95.

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