. 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: e. g.
beneficium abstinendi, beneficium divisionis ex epistola
Hadriani, beneficium competentiae, beneficium aetatis, beneficium
But the word was also used in other senses, and the
meaning of the term in feudal law, where it is equivalent to feodum or fief
(see below), 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 whose names were entered in such report were
said in beneficiis ad aerarium deferri
(Cic. pro Arch. ch. 5
5.20, 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
in these passages may mean that the persons so reported
were considered as persons who had deserved well of the state, and so the
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
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 (51.4,
130.5), 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.
2.18) when he speaks of the magna beneficia
the magnae clientelae
of Pompeius in Citerior
Spain. Beneficiarius is also used by Caesar (de Bell. Civ.
1.75) 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 (de
3.88; Sueton. Tib.
de Re Militari,
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
and were entered in a book
called Liber Beneficiorum
p. 193, Goes.). The secretary or clerk who
kept this book was called a commentariis
as appears from an inscription in Gruter (dlxxviii.
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 9th century, when beneficia
became hereditary and subject to
subinfeudation, they were also called feoda
lib. 2, tit. 1), the two words being used
indifferently to denote the same condition of landed property. (Guizot,
Histoire de la Civilisation en France,
vol. iii. p. 247.)
The beneficiarius is he who has a beneficium. Grants made for the purpose of
endowing churches were called beneficia:
the word benefice came to be applied to an ecclesiastical preferment.