The Ancient Patronage System

I read this passage today in Adrian Goldsworthy's Caesar: A Life Of Colossus and thought it was a great (albeit basic) description of the ancient patronage system, a system in full-force during the days of Jesus. Moreover, this system can be detected in many of the NT stories, as Malina, Pilch & others have repeatedly pointed out. As you read the following paragraph, do any specific biblical stories come to mind?

"Informal ties of favour and obligation bound Roman society together in a system known as patronage. The patron was the man with wealth, influence and power, to whom the less well off (or clients) came to ask for help, which might take the form of securing a position, winning a contract, assistance in business or legal disputes, or even at its most basic level gifts of food. In return the client had duties to assist his patron in various ways. Most would come to greet him formally each morning. The number of clients a man had added to his prestige, especially if they were distinguished or exotic. Senators might well include entire communities, including towns or cities in Italy and the provinces, amongst their clients. It was quite possible for a patron, even some less distinguished senators, to in turn be the client of an even more powerful man, although in this case the name itself would not have been used" (pg. 38).


  1. David de Silva's book comes to my mind...

  2. Mike,
    Yeah, that's an excellent book (Honor, Kinship, Patronage, etc.), I actually did a review of it here on Pisteuomen last December:


    Of course, his NT Intro book is great too!

  3. There are some shades here of the mafia culture of the 20th century and of today as well.

  4. Jason, Interesting take! Certainly, this kind of patronage system has found itself embedded in many cultures, ours included. I wonder if we could compare the ancient elites to the mafia elites? There might also be some links there to secrecy, deviation and group processes. Anyway, that's probably more than you were asking for :)