Patronage: Emperor and Empire

‘The Emperor… who played the role of great patron well, had no need of guards because he was protected by his benefits.’
Seneca, On Clemency, 1.13.5

In Roman society, patronage was a relationship established between two parties of unequal status and resources. All forms of patronage were reciprocal and continuous in nature, and were governed by moral obligations rather than the law. Patronage relationships underpinned the social cohesion and stability of the Roman Empire. The Emperor was the most important patron in Rome and the Empire.

The Emperor was patron to individuals and groups. In return for the support of the masses, the Emperor offered public amenities and entertainment, and handouts of grain and money. The elite helped him to govern the Empire, to keep it secure and to promote his achievements. In return, he provided administrative and military positions, exemption from legal constraints, and support for literary figures. He might also help the elite to fulfil their own obligations as private patrons.


Curated by Dr Janette McWilliam and Mr James Donaldson with the 2017 Interns: Victoria Crossland, India Dixon, Georgina Jansen, and Kaeli Krakowski.