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Clients and Patrons

The Father of the Household Adapts His Role to Politics

As Roman society developed into a more complex one of city dwellers and great rural estates or latifundia The role of the Roman father expanded to include a complex array of social relationships. Originally called by the Latin title of paterfamilias, the father evolved into the patron of Roman Republican and early Imperial society. The patron had many followers called clients who would follow him and perform political duties, including dirty tricks, assassinations, and lying in a court of law if it would help further his patron's political career. In return, the client often received money, a job, or an invitation to dinner at the patron's house. A dinner invitation may not seem like much to modern people, but in Roman times it could mean an ordinary man's place in society and his whole political life to appear at the right dinner parties. The client's prestige in society would be greatly enhanced if he were seen by the rich and famous at only one of these important social events hosted by a powerful patron.

This important patron - client relationship led to situations where candidates for the various government magistracies would travel about the city of Rome in the company of several hundred or even a few thousand of their clients. This was not much different from an out - and - out rule by gangs of thugs during the turbulent years of the late Republic. Such important leaders as the Gracchi, Marius, Sulla, and Pompey the Great owed much of their power to the system of Roman political patronage which grew out of the strong role played by the father in the Roman home.


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