Bread & Circuses: Euergetism and Municipal Patronage in Roman Italy

By Kathryn Lomas; Tim Cornell | Go to book overview

7

FAVOR POPULI

Pagans, Christians and public entertainment in late Antique Italy

Jill Harries

In AD375, soon after an earthquake had devastated part of Campania, the rich pagan senator, Q. Aurelius Symmachus, visited Beneventum. There he found the local optimates 'working night and day' to restore their city (Symm. Epist. 1.3). The noble visitor was greeted by public plaudits, 'civium cultus' and 'honor', all of which he reported with pride, because they enhanced his status. However, such public honours were not altruistic. Symmachus was uneasily aware that he was expected to do something in return for these attentions, commenting that flattery without a return was a nuisance: 'sedulitas enim, quae non compensatur, onerosa est'. Fearful (he wrote), of being an encumbrance at a difficult time, he withdrew tactfully to Baiae, thus, apparently, evading the obligation to provide assistance to the hard-pressed Beneventines.

The incident encapsulates much of what is widely accepted of late Roman aristocratic behaviour. The noble potential patron arrives, is given public honours, and is offered the chance (which he is expected to take) of expanding his clientela. Power, prestige, patronage, ceremony, status and hierarchy are the keywords of late Roman life. So too was eloquence: Symmachus himself remarked on the cultural sophistication of the Beneventum optimates, whom he described as 'amantissimi litterarum morumque mirabiles'. Thus we move easily into a world dominated by authority, 'power and persuasion' (Brown 1992) and a history of late antiquity dominated by aristocratic sources and therefore written largely de haut en bas.

The 'crowd' was a necessary part of the backdrop to displays of power by the elites. As the source of acclamations (see Roueché: 1984) on matters concerning them, including for governors, on which Constantine required to receive full reports (CTh 1.16.6 (of 331) = CJ 1.40.3; CTh. 8.5.32); as the ceremonial backdrop to public events, such as the adventus of an emperor; and, in Rome, as the demanding audience for public entertainments, which could riot if food or other privileges were denied them, the less fortunate have an established place in modern accounts of late Roman life. But crowds did not, apparently, have the means to take initiatives, nor, apart from acclamations, was the role of the 'people' (populus or demos) in decision-making given general constitutional recognition. The popular

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Bread & Circuses: Euergetism and Municipal Patronage in Roman Italy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Abbreviations xiii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Patron as Banker 12
  • 2 - Public Building, Urban Renewal and Euergetism in Early Imperial Italy 28
  • 3 - The Development of Public Entertainment Venues in Rome and Italy 46
  • 4 - Euergetism in Its Place 61
  • 5 - The Emperor and the Cities of Italy 89
  • 6 - Imperial Building at Rome 105
  • 7 - Favor Populi 125
  • 8 - 'Restored Utility, Eternal City' 142
  • Index 167
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