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CLIENS contains the same linguistic element as cluere (κλύειν), “to hear” or “obey:” cf. the affinity in German of Gehorsam, gehorchen, angehörig, Höriger, with hören, “to hear.”

For the origin of clientes and clientela we must go back to the period of Roman history anterior to the incorporation of the plebs in the state. The populus, which alone comprised that state, consisted of the patres familias united in a compact aggregate by the tie of gens, curia, and tribe; but, besides these, there were many other free persons dwelling on Roman territory (mostly refugees from neighbouring tribes, or foreigners who resorted thither for purposes of trade) who possessed no civil rights whatever. As these increased in number, it was found desirable to bring them in some way into connexion with the state organisation; and this was effected by allowing them to attach themselves as clientes to a civis, who was called their patronus. They became members of his gens ( but apparently without any right of voting in the comitia), thereby acquiring the gentile name, and incurring the obligation of military service. The rights of the patronus were modelled on those of the pater over his filius familias: if the cliens committed an offence against him, it was perduellio (Dionys. A. R. 2.10), and the only law which protected him against a too harsh exercise of the patron's authority was that of the gods ( “patronus si clienti fraudem fecerit sacer esto,” XII. Tables in Serv. ad Verg. A. 6.609; cf. Festus, s. v. Sacer). It is apparently of clientele in this original form that Dionysius is speaking (Antiq. Rom. 2.9); when he tells us that Romulus gave to the εὐπατρίδαι the care of religion, the honores (ἄρχειν) the administration of justice and all executive authority. The δημοτικοὶ (whom in the preceding chapter he explains [p. 1.457]to be the πλήβειοι) had none of these privileges, and were also poor: husbandry and the necessary arts of life were their occupation. Romulus thus entrusted the δημοτιλοὶ to the safe keeping of the πατρίκιοι (who are the εὐπατρίδαι), and permitted each of them to choose his patron. And these remarks may be read in the light of Becker's conjecture (Handbuch der römischen Alterthümer, ii. p. 125) that the clientela was an old Italian institution, which existed among the original stock from which the Roman populus sprung. When Tatius and his Sabines settled in Rome, their clients came there with them (Dionys. A. R. 2.46); and Attius Clausus brought to Rome a large body of clients (ib. 5.40; Liv. 2.16).

The tie of patron and client survived the incorporation of the plebs in the state, though doubtless it now implied a less absolute dependence (Liv. 5.32; 6.18); it was created by the old applicatio and by the manumission of slaves (clientem libertum, Liv. 43.16), to denote the latter of which relations the term patronus was in later times so much specialised, and the status of cliens was (at least in some cases) hereditary. The plebeians also apparently could now have clientes no less than members of the old populus or patricians. (Hugo, Lehrbuch, vol. i. p. 458.) When the Roman dominion extended itself to the provinces, the meaning of the word clientela became wider. Provincial towns and civitates, and even those which were friendly but independent, took to placing themselves under the hospitium or clientela of some distinguished citizen (Dionys. A. R. 2.11; Cic. in Pison. 41; pro Balbo, 8; Suet. Octav. 17; Serv. ad Aen. 3.20), who in this respect might be compared to colonial agents, or persons among us who are employed to look after the interests of the colony in the mother country, except that among the Romans such services were never remunerated directly. (Cic. Div. in Caecil. 20, 66; Liv. 40.44; Tac. Dial. 36.)

At the end of the republic and under the earlier empire a person might be cliens of a patronus in at least three senses: (1) much in the sense of our “client” in relation to a legal adviser, protector, or advocate (Ovid, Art. Am. 1.88; Hor. Sat. 1.1, 10; Ep. 1.5, 31; 2.1, 104); (2) through having attached himself (whether a Roman citizen or a foreigner sojourning at Rome) to a distinguished or powerful civis (for this relation, see Becker's Gallus, sc. 1, Excursus 4); (3) as libertus or freedman. In all cases the relation was expressed by the word clientela (Cic. Att. 14.1. 2), which also denoted the whole body of a man's clients (Tac. Ann. 14.61).

It is doubtful whether the account of clientela given by Dionysius (Antiq. Rom. 2.10, and elsewhere) can be regarded as in all respects true, nor is it always clear to what period of Roman history it is intended to refer. As has been already remarked, there was in the earliest time a close analogy between the relation of patron and client, and that of pater and filius familias; the patron was the client's guardian and protector, as he was the guardian and protector of his own children: “patrem primum, deinde putronum proximum nomen habere . . . neque clientes sine summa infamia deseri possunt” (Gel. 5.13). Ihering (Geist des römischen Rechts, i. p. 237) conjectures that the principal end of the relation was to enable the patron to bring suits on the client's behalf(attorneys in the conduct of actions being at that time practically unknown: “cum olim in usu fuisset alterius nomine agere non posse,” Inst. 4.10, pr.); and that if the client committed a wrong, the patron had (as in the case of slaves and children in power) the option of paying damages or surrendering the wrongdoer in a noxal action to the person injured. The latter assumption further necessitates the view that, like the filius familias, the client had originally in law no independent proprietary capacity: in fact, Ihering supposes that the terms precarium and peculium (of both of which the later jurists say, “magis facti sunt quam juris” ) both originated in clientela; the one in the patron's habit of allowing the client the use and occupation of a plot of land which he could resume at will (compare the English villeinage and copyhold tenure), the other in the small acquisitions of cattle (pecus, peculium) and other means of husbandry which the client made for himself, and which in law belonged to the patron. If this ingenious conjecture is correct, much that Dionysius tells us can be true only of the clientes of a later period: for instance, that the cliens must contribute to the marriage portion of his patron's daughter, to his ransom, or that of his children, if taken captive; must pay the costs and damages of suits which the patron lost in his interest, and bear a part of the patron's expenses incurred in the discharge of public duties, or in filling honourable places in the state. Dionysius adds that neither party could accuse or bear testimony against the other. But it seems certain that the relation, as at first established, was hereditary: it was the glory of illustrious families to have many clients, and to add to the number transmitted to them by their ancestors.

The attainment by the plebs of a civil and political status seems, by sweeping away the old tradition that the populus alone could enjoy rights under the aegis of Roman law, to have raised the status of clientela. It would not be inconsistent with Dionysius's statements to believe that from that time onward the clients were often, if not always, cives non optimo jure [CIVITAS], though there is little or no evidence, except perhaps the passage of Livy referred to below, in support of such a theory, nor is there much proof that the clientela in which liberti stood was hereditary, like that of the old clientes proper, except Suet. Cl. 24.

It is stated by Niebuhr that, if a client died without heirs, his patron succeeded him, and that the analogous rule in respect of liberti cives was derived from the original right of the patronus to inherit the client's property under the primitive system. Mommsen (Abhandlung über das römische Gastrecht und die römische Clientel, römische Forschungen, vol. i. pp. 319 sq.) is of opinion that the general rules of intestate succession (the property going in the first instance to sui heredes, in the second to the agnates, and in the last resort to the gentiles) were applied to clientes from the outset: but this is irreconcilable with Ihering's hypothesis as to the proprietary relations of patron and client, and requires us to suppose that the client [p. 1.458]had conubium, which in the earlier period seems incredible. Ihering himself thinks that the devolution of the cliens' property, such as it was, was at first regulated by agreement made at the time when the tie between him and his patron was created. Livy tells us (2.56) that the clientes had votes in the comitia centuriata, which implies commercium, so that on ordinary principles of law they could dispose of their property by will. But we can hardly believe this to be true except of the clientes who existed after the incorporation of the plebs in the state: and then (as has been already remarked) it is possible that they were regarded as belonging to the first group of cives non optimo jure (see CIVITAS), i. e. manumitted slaves and their children, who had commercium and conubium, and could vote in the comitia centuriata.

The whole subject of the rights and duties of clientes at different periods of history is in fact one of great obscurity, which it is almost impossible to remove, owing to the difficulty of fixing the precise time of which our authorities (e. g. Dionysius, Gellius, and Livy) are speaking when they touch upon the topic. Fuller information may be obtained from Becker, Handbuch der römischen Alterthümer, vol. ii.; Walter, Geschichte des römischen Rechts, §§ 13, 114, 247, 358 ; Ihering, Geist des römischen Rechts, vol. i. pp. 236-245; and the essay of Mommsen already referred to.


hide References (12 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (12):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 14.1.2
    • Cicero, Divinatio against Q. Caecilius, 20
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 6.609
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 24
    • Tacitus, Annales, 14.61
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 43, 16
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 32
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 18
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 40, 44
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 16
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 5.13
    • Tacitus, Dialogus, 36
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