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The purpose of the alimentary foundations in the Roman empire was to give an allowance for feeding children, and this was achieved by the investment of capital in mortgage on land, the mortage-interest being paid to, and administered by, cities or state-officials. The system originated in civic euergetism, the earliest known benefactor being the senator T. Helvius Basila at Atina in the late Julio-Claudian period (ILS997). A later benefactor, the younger Pliny, who gave a similar endowment to Comum, has recorded his reasons for doing so (Ep. 7. 18). Inscriptions record similar private benefactions both in Italy and in the provinces, the east included. Gifts from the imperial fiscus to Italian towns for this purpose were first made by Nerva and Trajan. The evidence for the imperial scheme in Italy (continuing at least until the early 3rd cent. ce) comes mainly from honorific inscriptions set up by the beneficiaries and two alimentary tables from Veleia and Ligures Baebiani (ILS 6675; 6509). These show that local landowners pledged property to the value of roughly 12 and a half times a lump-sum loan from the emperor, on which they had to pay annual interest of five per cent into an alimentary fund. The total received annually in interest at Veleia was 55,800 sesterces, which was distributed among 263 boys, 35 girls, and two illegitimate children. The boys received 16 sesterces a month, the girls 12, and the illegitimate children 12 and 10 respectively. The imperial largess was widely advertised by Trajan, on the arch at Beneventum (K. Fittschen, Arch. Anz. 87, 742 ff.) and on coins with the legend Alim(enta) Ital(iae) (Mattingly–Sydenham, RIC 2. 240). Pliny (Pan.26) linked the system to Rome's manpower needs. One late-antique author ([Aur. Vict.] Epit. 12. 4) explicitly states its purpose as poor-relief, although it is not clear how needy the recipients in fact were, and food-distribution generally had a long-standing place in the symbolics of private and imperial patronage. There is no reason to think that the landowners needed or even welcomed the loans (which placed a perpetual charge on their property). Hadrian extended the scheme to at least one provincial city (Antinoöpolis).


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