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 p201  Beneficium

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on pp201‑202 of

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

BENEFICIUM, BENEFICIARIUS. The word beneficium is equivalent to feodum or fief, in the writers on the feudal law, and is an interest in land, or things inseparable from the land, or things immovable (Feud. lib. 2 tit. 1). The beneficiarius is he who has a beneficium. The word beneficium often occurs in French historical documents are the fifth to the ninth century, and denotes the same condition of landed property, which at the end of the ninth century is denoted by feodum. From the end of the ninth century the two words are often used indifferently (Guizot, Histoire de la Civilisation en France, vol. IIII p247). The term benefice is also applied to an ecclesiastical preferment (Ducange, Gloss.).

The term beneficium is of frequent occurrence in are Roman law, in the sense of some special privilege or favour granted to a person in respect of age, sex, or condition. But the word was also used in other senses, and the meaning of the term, as it appears in the feudal law, is clearly derivable from the signification of the term among the Romans of the later republican and earlier imperial times. In the time of Cicero it was usual for a general, or a governor of a province, to report to the treasury the names of those under his command who had done good service to the state: those who were included in such report were said in beneficiis ad aerarium deferri (Cic. Pro Arch. c5, Ad Fam. V.20, and the note of Manutius). It was required by a Lex Julia that the names should be given in within thirty days after the accounts of the general or governor. In beneficiis in these passages may mean that the persons so reported were considered as persons who had deserved well of the state, and so the word beneficium may have reference to the services of the individuals; but as the object for which their services were reported, was the benefit of the individuals, it seems that the term had reference also to the reward, immediate or remote, obtained for their services. The honours and offices of the Roman state, in the republican period, were called the beneficia of the Populus Romanus.

Beneficium also signified any promotion conferred on or grant made to soldiers, who were thence called beneficiarii; this practice was common, as we see from inscriptions in Gruter (LI.4, CXXX.5), in some of which the word beneficiarius is represented by the two letters B. F. In this sense we must understand the passage of Caesar (De Bell. Civ. II.18) when he speaks of the magna beneficia and the magnae clientelae of Pompeius in Citerior Spain. Beneficiarius is also used by Caesar (De Bell. Civ. I.75), to express the person  p202 who had received a beneficium. It does not, however, appear from these passages, what the beneficium actually was. It might be any kind of honour, or special exemption from service (De Bell. Civ. III.88; Sueton. Tib. 12; Vegetius, De Re Militari, II.7).

Beneficiarius is opposed by Festus (s.v.) to munifex, in the sense of one who is released from military service, as opposed to one who is bound to do military service.

Grants of land, and other things, made by the Roman emperors, were called beneficia, and were entered in a book called Liber Beneficiorum (Hyginus, De Limitibus Constit. p193, Goes.). The secretary or clerk who kept this book was called a commentariis beneficiorum, as appears from an inscription in Gruter (DLXXVIIII.1).

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Page updated: 8 Oct 19