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The name originally applied to such inhabitants of Rome as had lost or given up the citizenship of their own cities, and had settled in Roman territory. Here, having no legal rights, they were compelled, in order to secure their personal freedom, to seek the protection of some Roman citizen, a term which, in ancient times, could mean only a patrician. The relation thus set on foot was called clientela, and was inherited by the descendants of both parties. Accordingly the client entered into the family of his patron (patronus), took his gentile name, and was admitted to take part in the family sacrifices. The patron made over to him a piece of land as a means of support, protected him from violence, represented him at law, and buried him after his death. The client, on his part, accompanied his patron abroad and on military service, gave his advice in legal and domestic matters, and made a contribution from his property if his patron were endowing a daughter, or had to be ransomed in war or to pay a fine. The relation between patron and client is also illustrated by the fact that neither party could bring an action against the other in a court of law, or bear witness against him, or vote against him, or appear against him as advocate. A man's duty to his client was more binding than his duty to his blood relations, and any violation of it was regarded as a capital offence.

When Servius Tullius extended the rights of citizenship to the clients as well as to the plebeians, the bond between patron and client still continued in force, although it gradually relaxed with the course of time. At the end of the republican age the status of client, in the proper sense of the word, had ceased to exist. Under the Empire the clientela was a mere external relation between the rich and the poor, the great and the obscure. It involved no moral obligation on either side, but was based merely on the vanity of the one party and the necessity of the other. It was no unusual thing to find persons who had no settled means of subsistence trying, by flattery and servile behaviour, to win the favour of the great. Even philosophers and poets, like Statius and Martial, are found in this position. The client performed certain services, called on his patron in the morning, accompanied him on public occasions, and was in turn invited to his table, received presents from him, and (if he could get it) a settled provision. Instead of inviting their numerous clients, the rich would often present them with a small sum of money called sportula. The relation was entirely a free one, and could be dissolved at pleasure by either party.

In the republican age whole communities, and even provinces, when they had submitted to the Roman yoke, would sometimes become clients of a single patronus. In this case the patronus would usually be the conquering general. Marcellus, for instance, the conqueror of Syracuse, and his descendants, were patrons of Sicily. The practical advantages which were secured to a foreign community by this permanent representation at Rome are obvious. Accordingly we find that, under the Empire, even cities which stood to Rome in no relation of dependence, such as colonies and municipia, sometimes selected a patronus. The patronus was, in such cases, always chosen from among the senators or equites. See Mommsen, Abhandlung über das römische Gastrecht und die römische Clientel (in Römische Forschungen(Berlin, 1864-79); McLennan, The Patriarchal Theory (London, 1885); and Morey, Outlines of Roman Law (New York, 1889).

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