Associations in the Ancient World
John S. Kloppenborg
Life in Greek and Roman cities and towns was organized around two centers, the family and the Polis (city). Each had its own structure, each had cultic aspects and religious observances, and each provided its members with senses of identity, honor, and self-determination. But there were restrictions: even during the period of Greek democracy, participation in the civic assembly was restricted to the adult male population. Women, noncitizens, slaves, and former slaves could not participate.
Between the family and Polis there existed a large number of more or less permanent associations or clubs, organized around an extended family, a specific cult, an ethnic group, or a common profession (Poland; Kloppenborg, Collegia). Most of these associations had religious dimensions, and most served broadly social goals. Some were extensions of the family, such as the “brotherhoods” (phra- triai) of many Greek cities, consisting of groups of related families, all worshiping a common ancestor and usually dwelling in the same district. Phratriai could own property, including cemeteries, and functioned as corporations, deriving rents from corporate property and disbursing monies to members. While membership in phratriai was restricted to the legitimate male descendants of members, in the Roman period we find other family-based (domestic) associations that included most or all of the dependants (slave and free, men and women) of a Roman family. An example of the latter type of Dionysiac association is the 402member association of Pompeia Agripinnilla, priestess of Dionysos and wife of a Roman senator and ex-consul, M. Gavius Squilla Gallicanus (see McLean).
A second type of association (partly overlapping family-based groups) was formed around a common cult. Religious clubs had been attested in Athens since the time of Solon (early sixth century BCE), who allowed their existence, provided that they did not act against the interests of the state (Gaius, Digest 47.22.4). Cultic associations were extremely popular throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods, with groups dedicated not only to Zeus, Dionysos, Apollo, and other deities of classical Greece but also to a large number of Anatolian, Syrian, and Egyptian gods. In fact, the latter type of associations provided one of the main vehicles by which cults from the East spread into Greece, Macedonia, and Italy.