The word beneficium
is of frequent occurrence in the Roman law, in the
sense of some special privilege or favour granted by the praetor or the emperor to a class of
persons on some special ground of equity; but the word was also used in other senses. In the
time of Cicero it was usual for a general, or a governor of a province, to report to the
) the names of those under his command who had done
good service to the State; those whose names were entered in such report were said in beneficiis ad aerarium deferri
v. 20; and the note of Manutius). It was required by a Lex Iulia that the names
should be given in within thirty days after the accounts of the general or governor. In
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 to the gratuity in the form of money or presents given for such services. The
honours and offices of the Roman State in the republican period were called the beneficia
of the Roman people.
Beneficium also signified any promotion conferred on or grant made to soldiers, who were
thence called beneficiarii;
this term was a common one, 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.
Beneficiarius is also used by Caesar (De Bell. Civ.
i. 75) to express the person 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 (Suet. Tib. 12
Grants of land and other things made by the Roman emperors were called beneficia
, and were entered in a book called Liber Beneficiorum. The secretary or
clerk who kept this book was called a commentariis beneficiorum
appears from an inscription in Gruter (clxxviii. 1).
It was the practice of the kings and leaders of the tribes which took possession of the
western provinces of the Roman Empire to grant lands to their nobles to be held generally for
life on condition of special personal service. Lands so granted were called beneficia.
From about the end of the ninth century, when beneficia
became hereditary, they were also called feoda
feuds, the two words being used indifferently to denote the same condition of landed property
(Guizot, Histoire de la Civilisation en France
, iii. p. 247). The beneficiarius
is he who has a beneficium. Grants made for the purpose of endowing churches were called beneficia;
hence the word “benefice” came to be applied
to an ecclesiastical preferment.