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 p310  Collegium

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on pp310‑311 of

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

COLLE′GIUM. The persons who formed a collegium, were called collegae or sodales. The word collegium properly expressed the notion of several persons being united in any office or for any common purpose (Liv. X. 13, 22; Tacit. Ann. III.31); it afterwards came to signify a body of persons, and the union which bound them together. The collegium was the ἑταιρία of the Greeks.

The notion of a collegium was as follows: — A collegium or corpus, as it was also called, must consist of three persons at least (Dig. 50 tit. 16 s85). Persons who legally formed such an association were said corpus habere, which is equivalent to our phrase of being incorporated; and in later times they were said to be corporati, and the body was called a corporatio. Those who farmed the public revenues, mines, or salt works (salinae) might have a corpus. The power of forming such a collegium or societas (for this term also was used), was limited by various leges, senatusconsulta, and imperial constitutions (Dig. 3 tit. 4). Associations of individuals, who were entitled to have a corpus, could hold property in common; they could hold it, as the Roman jurists remark, just as the state held property (res communes). These collegia had a common chest, and could sue and be sued by their syndicus or actor. That which was due to the collegium or universitas (for this was a still more general term), was not due to the individuals of it; and that which the collegium owed, was not the debt of the individuals. The property of the collegium was liable to be seized and sold for its debts. The collegium or universitas was governed by its own regulations,  p311 which might be any regulations that the members agreed upon, provided that they were not contrary to law: this provision, as Gaius conjectures (Dig. 47 tit. 22), was derived from a law of Solon, which he quotes. The collegium still subsisted, though all the original members were changed. Collegia of all kinds may be viewed under two aspects, — as having some object of administration either public or not public, which object is often the main purpose for which they exist, or as being capable of holding property and contracting and owing obligations. As having some object of administration, they are viewed as units (magistratus municipales cum unum magistratum administrent, etiam unius hominis vicem sustinent (Dig. 50 tit. 1 s25)). As having a capacity to hold property, they are purely fictitious or artificial personages, and, consequently, thus conceived, it is not all the members who are supposed to compose this artificial person, but the members are the living persons by whose agency this artificial person does the acts which are necessary for the acquisition and administration of its property. It is only with reference to the purposes of owner­ship and contracts, that an artificial person has an existence as a person. There are some further remarks under Universitas.

A lawfully constituted collegium was legitimum. Associations of individuals, which affected to act as collegia, but were forbidden by law, were called illicita.

It does not appear how collegia were formed, except that some were specially established by legal authority (Liv. V.50, 52; Suet. Caes. 42, Aug. 32; Dig. 3. tit. 4 s1). Other collegia were probably formed by voluntary associations of individuals under the provisions of some general legal authority. This supposition would account for the fact of a great number of collegia being formed in the course of time, and many of them being occasionally suppressed as not legitima.

Some of these corporate bodies resembled our companies or guilds; such were the fabrorum, pistorum, &c. collegia (Lampridius, Alex. Severus, 33). Others​a were of a religious character; such as the pontificum, augurum, fratrum arvalium collegia. Others were bodies concerned about government and administration; as tribunorum plebis (Liv. XLII.32), quaestorum, decurionum collegia. The titles of numerous other collegia may be collected from the Roman writers, and from inscriptions.

According to the definition of a collegium, the consuls being only two in number were not a collegium, though each was called collega with respect to the other, and their union in office was called collegium. The Romans never called the individual who, for the time, filled an office of perpetual continuance, a universitas or collegium, for that would have been a contradiction in terms, which it has been reserved for modern times to introduce, under the name of a corporation sole. But the notion of one person succeeding to all the rights of a predecessor was familiar to the Romans in the case of single heres, and the same notion must have existed with respect to individuals who held any office in perpetual succession.

According to Ulpian, a universitas, though reduced to a single member, was still considered a universitas; for the individual possessed all the rights of the universitas, and used the name by which it was distinguished (Dig. 3 tit. 4 s7).

When a new member was taken into a collegium, he was said co-optari, and the old members were said with respect to him, recipere in collegium. The mode of filling up vacancies would vary in different collegia.

Civitates and res publicae (civil communities) and municipia (in the later sense of the term) were viewed as fictitious persons.

According to Pliny (Ep. V.7; Ulp. Fr. tit. 22 s5) res publicae and municipia could not take as heres; and the reason given is, that they were a corpus incertum, and so could not cernere hereditatem; that is, do those acts which a heres himself must do in order to show that he consents to be a heres, for the heres could not in this matter act by a representative. A res publica, therefore, as being a fictitious person, could not do the necessary act. Municipia, like other fictitious persons, could, however, acquire property in other ways, and by means of other persons, whether bond or free (Dig. 41 tit. 2 s1 §22): and they could take fideicommissa under the senatusconsultum Apronianum which was passed in the time of Hadrian, and extended to licita collegia in the time of M. Aurelius (Dig. 34 tit. 5 s21). By another senatusconsultus, the liberti of municipia might make the municipes their heredes. The gods could not be made heredes, except such deities as possessed this capacity by special senatusconsulta or imperial constitutions, such as Jupiter Tarpeius, &c. (Ulp. Fr. tit. 22 s6). By a constitution of Leo (Cod. VI. tit. 24 s12) civitates obtained the capacity to take property as heredes. As early as the time of Nerva and Hadrian, civitates could take legacies.

Though civitates within the Roman empire could not originally give gifts by will, yet independent states could receive gifts in that way (Tacit. Ann. IV.43), a case which furnishes no objections to the statement above made by Pliny and Ulpian. In the same way the Roman state accepted the inheritance of Attalus, king of Pergamus, a gift which came to them from a foreigner. The Roman lawyers considered such a gift to be accepted by the jus gentium (Dig. 3 4; 47 22; Savigny, System, &c. vol. II p235 &c.) [Universitas]

Thayer's Note:

a Other collegia were of a religious character: This article fails to mention a very important type of association: the burial college (collegium funeraticium).

In his book Pagan and Christian Rome, the great 19c archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani gives a detailed example of how these burial clubs worked; elsewhere in the same book, he provides further details from the standpoint of the authorities. Many of us, living in countries where for several centuries we have had fair liberty of association, may not realize just how recent such freedom is but realize that a civilization in which states fear their own citizens is one that recognizes its own inhumanity. Thus it cannot surprise us that in Antiquity most noncommercial associations were forbidden: the authorities realized that any social club might be a center for opposition to the régime. In view of the universally recognized sacred character of death and burial, though, it was impossible not to allow collegia funeraticia.

Well, the Romans were right in judging social clubs to be dangerous. Because of them, the Roman way of life was fundamentally changed, and many people have followed Gibbon in attributing to them the fall of Roman civilization; and the one exception, the burial club, was the thin end of the wedge: Christian burial clubs were the cells of the primitive Christian Church.

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