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Echos du Monde Classique/Classical Views XXXVII, n.s. 12, 1993, 451-64 THE MEANING OF OIFf AND DEBT IN THE ROMAN ELITE SUZANNE DIXON Both debt and patronage have figured in scholarly treatments of the late Republic and early empire. Richard Saller's masterly 1982 study has greatly advanced our understanding of imperial elite networks of obligation, but much of the discussion of patronage and the exchange of favours has been geared to the political context, I while debt has been treated as an economic problem symptomatic of the decline of the republican system.2 I propose to offer some preliminary observations about the social meanings of gifts and loans in the wider social and economic setting of elite behaviour, both in Ole late Republic and the early empire (ca. 80 B.C.-AD. 120),3 and to suggest ways in which exchange theory from comparative material might usefully be applied to the ancient evidence. Anyone familiar with the letters of Cicero and Pliny, or the poetry of Horace and Martial, will have noted frequent references to the receipt and giving of gifts in Roman society of the late Republic and early Empire. The gifts themselves vary enonnously in value and type-from fanns sufficient to provide a modest pension to books of poems or baskets of vegetables. A thorough analysis of Roman gift circulation would have to include the exchange of favours (jobs, votes, commendaliones, manumissions, some types of loan), dowry, inheritance and public benefactions, that is, gifts to communitks. This study concentrates on the meaning of gifts and loans, particularly within the upper echelons of society ha"ed in the city of Rome, an exchange expressed by the participants in terms of friendship rather than the frankly unequal language of patronage characteristic of favours from the wealthy to the clearly subordinate.4 I argue that I e.g. Ste Croix 1954. I-Iellegouar'ch 1963, Dixon 1983. There arc exceptions, such as Skydsgaard 1976. which focuses on economic aspects of the patron/client relationship, and Wallace lIadrill's edited 19R9 collection has a greater range. Studies of literary patronage arc also found (e.g. White 1975, 1978). but often treat literary or artistic patronage (/friendship) as a special category - cf. Gold 19R2: xiv-xv. 2 As in Frederiksen's classic 1966 study. 3 Like Saller (1982: esp. 119 n. 2; 12R), I believe that the alleged dccline of senatorial patronage in thc carly Empire has heen exaggerated by ancicnt and modern authors. 4 Brunt 1965. Saller 19R2: II-IS. The explicit terms of patronage (pal ronus, cliens, henefirium etc.) are found in the corporate inscriptions of roLLegia and municipalities or provincial towns to their patrons. as well as in grateful inscriptions erected by individuals to benefactors. See Saller 1982: 24-5 on the application of "the language of reciprocity" among friends. 451 452 SUZANNE DIXON gifts and loans perfonned a similar role in fonning and expressing relationships of reciprocal and continuing obligation. In examining the moral and social implications of such beneficia, I wish also to address some apparent disparities between the overt and actual codes of behaviour. Such a disparity is immediately evident in the altruistic philosophic prescriptions of Cicero's De Officiis and Seneca's De Beneficiis, separated in time and in the degree and focus of philosophic commitment but united in their insistence on the principle that true friendship and the disposal of favours must not emanate from a desire for a material return or publicity for generosity. Such authors are disapprovingly aware of the existence of self-interested donors. Consider Cicero's rendering of Panaetius's views (Off. 1.42,44.): On the topic of benefaction and generosity (de beneficentia ac de liberalitate): nothing could be more suited to human nature, but there are three reservations. First, care must be taken to ensure that benevolence does not in fact do damage to the very people it is intended to advantage or to others; second, that generosity does not exceed one's resources; and third, that it be meted out in keeping with the status of each person..... It is evident that in most cases, the motive for giving is not so much spontaneous...


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