To speak at a fairly high level of abstraction, the first-century Mediterranean world, with its pivotal values of honour and shame (Plevnik 1993:95-99), was demarcated in terms of power, gender and social status. Kinship and its set of interlocking rules formed the central social institution (von Lips 1979:126). Politics was the other major institution, with religion embedded in both of these. First-century people were thus socialized into a world where these values and institutions were part and parcel of their ‘taken-for-granted’ reality.
Clientela or patronage also dominated the Mediterranean world, from the Latin West to the Greek East (Wallace-Hadrill 1989; Malina and Rohrbaugh 1992:235; Meeks 1993:40). In this world with its strict social stratifications, patronal relationships entailed a reciprocal exchange of goods and services, a personal relation of some duration and an asymmetrical relationship where the parties of unequal status offered each other different goods and services in exchange (Sailer 1990:49). The role of brokers, the intermediaries between patron and client, was often crucial to maintaining the relationship (Wallace-Hadrill 1989:81-84). The broker ‘functions as a mediator who gives a client access to the resources of a more powerful patron’ (Moxnes 1991:248). According to Lacey (1987:140) patronage, both as an ideology and as a social relation, was founded on the ideas inherent in the Roman patria potestas (discussed below) and thus originated from the social sphere of the family. 1 An assumption underlying first-century institutions was that the Roman empire was one big family with the emperor as the paterfamilias of its inhabitants (Elliott 1993a: 85). The emperor had the same power (potestas) over the Roman world that a father had over his children. A so-called ‘patriarchal religion’ also took shape in the empire ever since Augustus (who officially acquired the title pater patriae in 2 BCE:) became pontifex maximus in 12 BCE and associated his family gods with those of the state. Imperial rule now became an image of the divine rule since Jupiter was also regarded as the paternal guardian of the empire. His rule as father of the gods and mankind thus provided the analogy for the ‘patriarchal’ reign of the emperors.