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p295 Cliens

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on pp295‑297 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

CLIENS is supposed to contain the same element as the verb cluere, to "hear" or "obey," and is accordingly compared by Niebuhr with the German word hoeriger, "a dependent."

In the time of Cicero, we find patronus in the sense of adviser, advocate, or defender, opposed to cliens in the sense of the person defended, or the consultor; and this use of the word must be referred, as we shall see, to the original character of the patronus (Ovid. Art. Am. I.88; Hor. Sat. I.1.10, Ep. I.5.31, II.1.104). The relation of a p296master to his liberated slave (libertus) was also expressed by the word patronus, and the libertus was the cliens of his patronus. Any Roman citizen who wanted a protector, might attach himself to a patronus, and would thenceforward be a cliens. Strangers who came into exilium at Rome might do the same (jus applicationis,º Cic. de Or. I.39). Distinguished Romans were also sometimes the patroni of states and cities, which were in a certain relation of subjection or friendship to Rome (Sueton. Octavian. Caesar, 17); and in this respect they may be compared to colonial agents, or persons among us, who are employed to look after the interests of the colony in the mother country; except that among the Romans such services were never remunerated directly, though there might be an indirect remuneration (Cic. Div. 20, Pro Sulla, c21; Tacit. Or. 36). This relationship between patronus and cliens was expressed by the word Clientela (Cic. ad Att. XIV.12), which also expressed the whole body of a man's clients (Tac. Ann. XIV.61). In the Greek writers on Roman history, patronus is represented by προστάτης; and client, by πελάτης (Plut. Tib. Gracch. 13, Marius, 5).

The clientela, but in a different form, existed as far as back as the records or traditions of Roman history extend; and the following is a brief notice of its origin and character, as stated by Dionysius (Antiq. Rom. II.9), in which the writer's terms are kept:—

Romulus gave to the εὐπατρίδαι the care of religion, the honore (ἄρχειν), the administration of justice, and the administration of the state. The δημοτικοί (whom in the preceding chapter he has explained to be the πληβείοι) had none of these privileges, and they were also poor; husbandry and the necessary arts of life were their occupation. Romulus thus entrusted the δημοτικοί to the safe keeping of the πατρίκιοι (who are the εὐπατρίδαι), and permitted each of them to choose his patron. This relationship between the patron and the client was called, says Dionysius, patronia. (Compare Cic. Rep. II.9.)

The relative rights and duties of the patrons and the clients were, according to Dionysius, as follow (Dionys. II.10, and other passages):—

The patron was the legal adviser of the cliens; he was the client's guardian and protector, as he was the guardian and protector of his own children; he maintained the client's suit when he was wronged, and defended him when another complained of being wronged by him: in a word, the patron was the guardian of the client's interest, both private and public. The client contributed to the marriage portion of the patron's daughter, if the patron was poor; and to his ransom, or that of his children, if they were taken prisoners; he paid the costs and damages of a suit which the patron lost, and of any penalty in which he was condemned; he bore a part of the patron's expenses incurred by his discharging public duties, or filling the honourable places in the state. Neither party could accuse the other, or bear testimony against the other, or give his vote against the other. The clients accompanied their patroni to war as vassals (Dionys. X.43). This relationship between patron and client subsisted for many generations, and resembled in all respects the relationship by blood. It was a connection that was hereditary; the cliens bore the gentile name of the patronus, and he and his descendants were thus connected with the gens of the patronus. It was the glory of the illustrious families to have many clients, and to add to the number transmitted to them by their ancestors. But the clients were not limited to the δημοτικοί: the colonies, and the states connected with Rome by alliance and friendship, and the conquered states, had their patrons at Rome; and the senate frequently referred the disputes between such states to their patrons, and abided by their decision.

Dionysius gives a tolerably intelligible statement, whether true or false, of the relation of a patron and client. What persons actually composed the body of clients, or what was the real historical origin of the clientela is immaterial for the purpose of understanding what it was. It is clear that Dionysius understood the Roman state as originally consisting of patricii and plebeii, and he has said that the clients were the plebs. Now it appears, from his own work and from Livy, that there were clientes who were not the plebs, or, in other words, clientes and plebs were not convertible terms. This passage, then, has little historical value as explaining the origin of the clients. Still something may be extracted from the passage, though it is impossible to reconcile it altogether with all other evidence. The clients were not servi: they had property of their own, and freedom (libertas). Consistently with what Dionysius says, they might be Roman citizens in the wider sense of the term civis, enjoying only the commercium and connubium, but not the suffragium and honores, which belonged to their patroni. [Civitas.] It would also be consistent with the statement of Dionysius, that there were free men in the state who were not patricii, and not clientes; but if such persons existed in the earliest period of the Roman state, they must have laboured under great civil disabilities, and this also is not inconsistent with the testimony of history. Such a body, if it existed, must have been powerless; but such a body might in various ways increase in numbers and wealth, and grow up into an estate, such as the plebs afterwards was. The body of clientes might include freedmen, as it certainly did: but it seems an assumption of what requires proof, to infer (as Niebuhr does) that, because a patronus could put his freedman to death, he could do the same to a client; for this involves a tacit assumption that the clients were originally slaves; and this may be true, but it is not known. Besides, it cannot be true that a patron had the power of life and death over his freedman, who had obtained the civitas, any more than he had over an emancipated son. There is also no proof that the clientela in which liberti stood was hereditary like that of the proper clients. The body of clientes might, consistently with all that we know, contain peregrini, who had no privileges at all; and it might contain that class of persons who had the commercium only, if the commercium existed in the early ages of the state. [Civitas.] The latter class of persons would require a patronus to whom they might attach themselves for the protection of their property, and who might sue and defend them in all suits, on account of the (here assumed) inability of such persons to sue in their own name in the early ages of Rome.

The relation of the patronus to the cliens, as represented by Dionysius, has an analogy to the patria potestas, and the form of the word patronus is consistent with this.

p297 It is stated by Niebuhr, that "if a client died without heirs, his patron inherited; and this law extended to the case of freedmen; the power of the patron over whom must certainly have been founded originally on the general patronal right." This statement, if it be correct, would be consistent with the quasi patria potestas of the patronus.

But if a cliens died with heirs, could he make a will? and if he died without heirs, could he not dispose of his property by will? and if he could not make, or did not make a will, and had heirs, who must they be? must they be sui heredes? had he a familia, and consequently agnati? had he, in fact, that connubium, by virtue of which he could acquire the patria potestas? He might have all this consistently with the statement of Dionysius, and yet be a citizen non optimo jure; for he had not the honores and the other distinguishing privileges of the patricii; and consistently with the statement of Dionysius he could not vote in the comitia curiata. It is not possible to prove that a cliens had all this, and it seems equally impossible, from existing evidence, to show what his rights really were. So far as our extant ancient authorities show, the origin of the clientela, and its true character, were unknown to them. There was a body in the Roman state, at an early period of its existence, which was neither patrician nor client, and a body which once did not, but ultimately did, participate in the sovereign power: this was the plebs. The clientes also existed in the earliest period of the Roman state, but our knowledge of the true condition of this body must remain inexact, for the want of sufficient evidence in amount, and sufficiently trustworthy.

It is stated by Livy (II.56) that the clientes had votes in the comitia of the centuries: they were therefore registered in the censors' books, and could have quiritarian ownership. [Centumviri.] They had therefore the commercium, possibly the connubium, and certainly the suffragium. It may be doubted whether Dionysius understood them to have the suffragium at the comitia centuriata; but if such was the legal condition of the clientes, it is impossible that the exposition of their relation to the patricians, as given by some modern writers, can be altogether correct.

It would appear, from what has been stated, that patronus and patricius were originally convertible terms, at least until the plebs obtained the honores. From that time, many of the reasons for a person being a cliens of a patricius would cease; for the plebeians had acquired political importance, had become acquainted with the law and the legal forms, and were fully competent to advise their clients. This change must have contributed to the destruction of the strict old clientela, and was the transition to the clientela of the later ages of the republic (Hugo, Lehrbuch, &c. vol. I p458).

It has been conjectured (Becker, Handbuch der Römischen Alterthümer, vol. II p125) that the clientela was an old Italian institution, which existed among some of those people, out of which the Romanus Populus arose. When Tatius and his Sabines settled in Rome, their clients settled there with them (Dionys. II.46); and Attius Clausus brought to Rome a large body of clients (Liv. II.16; Dionys. V.40). It is further conjectured, and it is not improbable, that the clientes were Italians, who had been conquered and reduced to a state of subjection.

Admitting a distinction between the plebs and the old clientes to be fully established, there is still room for careful investigation as to the real condition of the clientes, and of the composition of the Roman state before the estate of the plebs was made equal to that of the patricians.


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