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p878 Patronus

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on pp878‑880 of

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

PATRONUS. The act of manumission created a new relation between the manumissor and the slave, which was analogous to that between father and son. The manumissor became with respect to the manumitted person his Patronus, the manumitted person became the Libertus of the manumissor. The word Patronus (from Pater) indicates the nature of the relation. If the manumissor was a woman, she became Patrona; and the use of this word instead of Matrona appears to be explained by the nature of the patronal rights. Viewed with reference to the early ages of Rome, this patronal relation must be considered a part of the ancient Clientela; but from the time of the Twelve Tables at least, which contained legislative provisions generally on the subject of patronal rights, we may consider the relation of Patronus and Libertus as the same both in the case of Patrician and Plebeian manumissores.

The Libertus adopted the gentile name of the Manumissor. Cicero's freedman Tiro was called M. Tullius Tiro.

The Libertus owed respect and gratitude to his patron, and in ancient times the patron might punish him in a summary way for neglecting those duties. This obligation extended to the children of the Libertus, and the duty was due to the children of the patron. In later times, the patron had the power of relegating an ungrateful freedman to a certain distance from Rome, under a law probably passed in the time of Augustus (Tacit. Ann. XIII.26; Dion Cass. LV.13). In the time of Nero it was proposed to pass a Senatusconsultum which should give a patron the power of reducing his freedman to slavery, if he misconducted himself towards his patron. The measure was not enacted, but this power was given to the patron under the later emperors. The Lex Aelia Sentia gave the patron a right of prosecuting his freedman for ingratitude (ut ingratum accusare) (Dig. 40 tit. 9 s30). An ingratus was also called Libertus Impius, as being deficient in Pietas.

If the Libertus brought an action against the Patronus (in jus vocavit), he was himself liable to a special action on the case (Gaius, IV.46); and he could not, as a general rule, institute a capital charge against his patron. The Libertus was bound to support the patron and his children in case of necessity, and to undertake the management of his property and the tutela of his children: if he refused, he was ingratus (Dig. 37 tit. 14 s19).

If a slave were the property of several masters and were manumitted by all of them, and became a Roman citizen, all of them were his Patroni.

The manumissor could secure to himself further rights over his libertus by a stipulatio or by taking an oath from him. The subjects of such agreements were gifts from the libertus to the patronus (dona et munera) and services (operae). The oath was not valid, unless the person was a libertus when he took it. If then he took the oath as a slave, he had to repeat it as a freeman, which seems to be the meaning of the passage of Cicero in which he speaks of his freedman Chrysogonus (ad Att. VII.2; compare Dig. 38 tit. 1 s7). These Operae were of two kinds, Officiales which consisted in respect and affection; and Fabriles which are explained by the term itself. The officiales determined by the death of the Patronus, unless there was an agreement to the contrary; but the fabriles being of the nature of money or money's worth passed to the heredes of the Patronus, like any other property. The Patronus, when he commanded the operae of his libertus, was said "ei operas indicere or imponere." (Gaius, IV.162; Dig. 38 tit. 2 s29).

The Patronus could not command any services which were disgraceful (turpes) or dangerous to life, such as prostitution or fighting in the amphitheatre; but if the libertus exercised any art or calling (artificium), even if he learned it after his manumission, the operae in respect of it were due to the patron.

The Lex Julia et Papia Poppaea released freedmen (except those who followed the ars ludicra or hired themselves to fight with beasts) from all obligation as to gifts or operae, who had begotten two children and had them in their power, or one child five years old (Dig. 38 tit. 1 De Operis Libertorum, s37).

If liberty was given directly by a testament, the testator was the manumissor, and his patronal rights would consequently belong to his children: if it was given indirectly, that is, per fideicommissum, the person who performed the act of manumission was the patronus. In those cases where a slave obtained his freedom under the Senatusconsultum Silanianum, the Praetor could assign him a Patronus; and if this was not done, that person was the Patron of whom the libertus had last been the slave (Dig. 38 tit. 16 s3).

The patronal rights were somewhat restricted, when the act of manumission was not altogether the free act of the manumissor. For instance, the Manumissor per fideicommissum had all the patronal rights, except the power to prosecute for ingratitude, the right to be supported by the libertus, and to stipulate for munera and operae: his rights against the property of the libertus were however the same as those of any other manumissor (Frag. Vat. § 225; Dig. 38 tit. 2 s29). If a slave had given money to another person in order that this other person might purchase and manumit him, the manumissor had no patronal rights, and he lost even the name of patron, if he refused to perform the act for which he had received the money and allowed the slave to compel him to perform his agreement, which the slave could do by a constitution of M. Aurelius and L. Verus (Dig. 40 tit. 1 s4, 5). If a master manumitted his slave in consideration of a sum of money, he retained all patronal rights, but he could not stipulate for operae. A person who purchased a slave, and on the occasion of the purchase agreed to manumit him, had all patronal rights, except the right of prosecuting p879for ingratitude, in case the slave compelled him to manumit pursuant to the constitution of M. Aurelius and L. Verus (Dig. 40 tit. 9 s30).

It was the duty of the patron to support his freedman in case of necessity, and if he did not, he lost his patronal rights: the consequence was the same if he brought a capital charge against him. The Lex Aelia Sentia, among its various provisions, contained several that related to the rights and duties of the patron.

capitis diminutio, either of the Patron or the Libertus, dissolved the relation between them (see Tacit. Hist. II.92, where "jura libertorum" means "jura patronorum," or "jura in libertos"). The relation was dissolved when the Libertus obtained Ingenuitas by the Natalium Restitutio, but not when he merely obtained the jus aureorum annulorum [Ingenuus].

The most important of the Patronal rights related to the property of Liberti who dies intestate or having made a testament.

The subject, so far as concerns the Ante-Justinian period, may be distributed under the two following heads:— 1. the ordinary rules of law, and 2. the extraordinary: the former comprehend the rules of the cold civil law, and the Edict on the Bonorum Possessio; and the latter, the Bonorum Possessio contra tabulas liberti and contra suos non naturales, the Bonorum Possessio contra tabulas libertae, and the right to a virilis pars which was given by the Lex Papia Poppaea.

By the law of the Twelve Tables, if a freedman died intestate, without sui heredes, the patronus was his heir. This right was viewed as a right of Agnation. The Legitima patronorum tutela was not expressly mentioned in the Twelve Tables, but it was a legal consequence of the rule as to inheritance (Ulp. Frag. XI.3). In the case of an intestate liberta, who could not have a suus heres, the patron was heres. The Senatusconsultum Orfitianum, which was passed after Gaius wrote (III.51), and in the last year but one of the reign of M. Aurelius, made an alteration in this respect. The passage of Ulpian (Frag. XXIX.2), which was written when this Senatusconsultum was in force, says, that if a liberta died intestate, the patron succeeded to her property, because a mother could not have sui heredes; yet Ulpian himself (lib. 12, ad Sabinum; Dig. 38 tit. 17 s1) says, that whether the mother was Ingenua or Libertina, the children could succeed to her inheritance by the Senatusconsultum Orfitianum. This apparent contradiction is removed by the supposition that the Senatusconsultum gave the children in such cases an equal right with the patron.

These patronal rights belonged both to a Patronus and a Patrona, and to the liberi of a Patronus (Ulp. Frag. XXVII). The male children of the patronus had the same rights as the patronus himself; but the females had only the rights which the Twelve Tables gave to the males, and they had not the Bonorum Possessio contra tabulas testamenti liberti aut ab intestato contra suos heredes non naturales, until these rights were given them by the Lex Papia Poppaea (Ulp. Frag. XXIX.4, 5). A difficulty which is raised by a passage in Justinian's legislation on the patronal rights is discussed by Unterholzner (Zeitschrift, V. p37). It seems that the children of a Patrona had not by the Twelve Tables the same rights as the children of a Patronus, but the Lex Papia Poppaea probably made some change in this respect (Zeitschrift, V. p43, &c.).

In order that these patronal rights should exist, it was necessary that the libertus must have been made free by a Roman citizen, and have become a Roman citizen by the act of manumission. Accordingly, if a person obtained the citizenship, it was necessary that he should have a special grant of the jus patronatus, in order that he might have patronal rights against his then freedmen, who must also at the same time become Roman citizens (Plin. Ep. X.6). A capitis diminutio, as already observed, either of the patron or the libertus, destroyed the patronal rights to the inheritance (Gaius, III.51).

If there were several patroni or patronae, they divided the inheritance equally, though their shares in the libertus when a slave might have been unequal. These patronal rights resembled a joint-tenancy in English Law, for the survivor or survivors of the patroni had all the patronal rights to the exclusion of any children of a deceased patronus. If the patroni were all dead, leaving several children, the hereditas was divided among all the children equally (in capita), pursuant to the law of succession in the case of Agnation (Gaius, III.16, 59, &c.).

Senatusconsultum, which was passed in the time of Claudius, allowed a patron to assign his patronal rights to the inheritance of a libertus, to any of his children whom he had in his power, to the exclusion of the rest (Dig. 38 tit. 4).

The Edict extended the Bonorum Possessio to Patroni. The Patronal rights of the Civil Law were founded on an assumed Agnatio; those of the Edict were founded on an assumed Cognatio. The Edict called to the Bonorum Possessio of Liberti, 1. their children; 2. their heredes legitimi; 3. their cognati, who must of course be descendants; 4. the familia of the Patronus; 5. the patronus and patrona, and their children and parents, by which provision was made in case the Patronus or Patrona had sustained a capitis diminutio, and so could not be called in the fourth order; 6. the husband or wife of the freedwoman or freedman; 7. the cognati of the manumissor.

Originally, if the freedman made a will, he could pass over (praeterire) the patron. But by the Edict, unless he left him as much as one half of his property, the patron or his male children could obtain the bonorum possessio contra tabulas of one half of the property. If the libertus died intestate, leaving no suus heres, except an adopted child, or a wife in manu, or a nurus in the manus of his son, the patron had a bonorum possessio of one half against these sui heredes. But if the libertus had children of his own blood (naturales) either in his power at the time of his death or emancipated or given in adoption, and if these children were made heredes by his testament or being praeteriti claimed the Bonorum possessio contra tabulas, the patron had no claim on the freedman's property. The patron was not excluded, if the children of the freedman were exheredated (Gaius, III.40; Dion Cass. LI.15, and the note of Reimarus).

By the Lex Papia Poppaea, if the freedman had a property amounting to a hundred thousand sestertii and fewer than three children, the patronus had an p880equal share (virilis pars) with the children, whether the freedman died testate or intestate; and a patrona ingenua, who had three children, enjoyed the same privilege. Before the Lex Papia, Patronae had only the rights which the Twelve Tables gave them; but this Lex put Ingenuae patronae who had two children, and Libertinae patronae who had three children, on the same footing with respect to an adopted son, a wife in manu, or a nurus in manu filii, as the Edict had placed Patroni. The Lex did the same for daughters of the Patronus who had three children. The Lex also gave to a Patrona Ingenua, but not to a Libertina, who had three children, the same rights that it gave to a Patronus.

According to the old law, as the liberta was in the legitima tutela of her patron, she could make no disposition of her property without his consent (patrono auctore). The Lex Papia freed a liberta from this tutela, if she had four children, and she could consequently then make a will without the consent of her patronus, but the law provided that the patronus should have an equal share with her surviving children.

In the case of a liberta dying intestate, the Lex Papia gave no further rights to a Patrona, who had children (liberis honoratae) than she had before; and therefore if there had been no capitis diminutio of the Patrona or the Liberta, the Patrona inherited the property, even if she had no children, to the exclusion of the children of the liberta. If the liberta made a will, the Lex Papia gave to the Patrona, who had the number of children required by that law, the same rights which the Edict gave to the Patronus contra tabulas liberti. The same Lex gave to the daughter of a patrona, who had a single child, the same rights that the patronus had contra tabulas liberti (Gaius, III.53; a passage which Unterholzner proposes to correct, but on very insufficient grounds, Zeitschrift, V. p45).

The rules of law as to the succession of the Patronus to the property of Latini Liberti differed in various respects from those that have been explained. Being viewed as a peculium, it had the incidents of such property. It came to the extranei heredes or manumissor, but not to his exheredated children, in both which respects it differed from the property of a Libertus who was a Civis Romanus. If there were several patrons, it came to them in proportion to their interests in the former slave, and it was consistent with this doctrine that the share of a deceased patronus should go to his heres. The Senatusconsultum Largianum, which was passed in the time of Claudius, enacted that the property of Latini should go first to those who had manumitted them, then to their liberi who were not expressly exheredated, according to proximity, and then according to the old law, to the heredes of the manumissor. The only effect of this Senatusconsultum was to prefer liberi, who were not expressly exheredated, to extranei heredes. According, an emancipated son of the patronus, who was praeteritus, and who could not claim the Bonorum possessio of his father's property contra tabulas testamenti, had a claim to the property of a Latinus prior to the extranei heredes.

As to the Dediticii under the Lex Aelia Sentia, there were two rules. The property of those who on their manumission would have become Roman citizens, but for the impediments thereto, came to their patroni as if they had been Roman citizens: they had not however the testamenti factio. The property of those, who on their manumission would have become Latini, but for the impediments thereto, came to their patroni as if they had been Latini; on this Gaius remarks that in this matter the legislator had not very clearly expressed his intentions. He had already made a similar remark as to a provision of the Lex Papia (III.47).

As to the other meanings of the word Patronus, see Cliens and Orator.

The subject of the Patronatus is one of considerable importance towards a right understanding of many parts of the Roman polity. This imperfect outline may be filled up by referring to the following authorities. (Gaius, III.39‑76; Ulp. Frag. tit.XXVII, XXIX; Dig. 37 14, 15; 38 1, 2, 3, &c.; the Index to Paulus, Sent. Recept.; and for Justinian's legislation, Inst. 3 8, &c.; Unterholzner, Ueber das patronatische Erbrecht, Zeitschrift, V., and the article Gens, with the references in Rein, Das Röm. Privatrecht, p285, and in Walter, Geschichte des Röm. Rechts, pp507‑516, and 684‑689.)


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