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date: 02 December 2020

clubs, Romanfree

  • George Hope Stevenson
  •  and Andrew Lintott

The Latin words corresponding most closely to the English ‘club’ are collegium and sodalitas (see sodales). The former was the official title of the four great priestly colleges, pontifices, septemviri epulones, quindecimviri sacris faciundis, and augures, and the word had religious associations even when the object of the club was not primarily worship. Few, if any, collegia were completely secular. Some took their name from a deity or deities, e.g. Diana et Antinous (ILS 7212), Aesculapius et Hygia (see hygieia) (ibid. 7213), Hercules (ibid. 7315, etc. ), Silvanus (ibid. 7317), and their members were styled cultores. Even when their name was not associated with a god, collegia often held their meetings in temples and their clubhouse (schola) might bear the name of a divinity (ILS 7218: Schola deae Minervae Aug.). The collegia illustrate the rule that all ancient societies from the family upwards had a religious basis. Collegia are associated with trades and professions (merchants, scribes, workers in wood and metal) and also with districts (vici) of the city of Rome. The annual festival of the districts was the Compitalia, held at the turn of the calendar year, which celebrated the Lares of the Crossroads.

Plutarch (Num.17) attributes to Numa Pompilius the foundation of certain collegia but it is doubtful whether many existed before the Second Punic War. There were no legal restrictions on association down to the last century of the republic though the action taken by the senate against the Bacchanales (see bacchanalia) in 186 bce (Livy 39. 14 f.; ILS18 or ILLRP511) shows that the government might intervene against an objectionable association. Membership of many clubs came to be dominated by freedmen, and slaves were also admitted to plebeian clubs. In the Ciceronian age the collegia became involved in elections and other political action; many were suppressed in 64 bce and again by Caesar, after a temporary revival by P. Clodius Pulcher. Augustus created new associations in the city districts, associated with the cult of the emperors's numen or genius. On the other hand he also enacted by a Lex Iulia (probably ce 7, ILS 4966) that every club must be sanctioned by the senate or emperor. This permission is sometimes recorded on club inscriptions, and undoubtedly was freely given, though the policy of different emperors varied (Trajan forbade the formation of clubs in Bithynia; Plin.Ep. 10. 34) and suspicion of clubs as a seed-bed of subversion remained. An extant senatus consultum (ILS 7212) shows that general permission was given for burial clubs (collegia funeraticia), provided that the members met only once a month for the payment of contributions. In practice these clubs engaged in social activities and dined together on certain occasions, e.g. the birthdays of benefactors.

Although many collegia were composed of men practising the same craft or trade, there is no evidence that their object was to maintain or improve their economic conditions. In most cases they were probably in name burial clubs, while their real purpose was to foster friendliness and social life among their members. Many clubs of iuvenes existed mainly for sport, and associations were formed among ex-service men (Veterani). Several lists of members survive (e.g. ILS 6174–6; 7225–7). These are headed by the names of the patroni (ILS 7216 f.), wealthy men, sometimes of senatorial rank, who often had made gifts to the clubs. The members bore titles recalling those borne by municipal officials. The presidents were magistri or curatores or quinquennales (who kept the roll of members). Below these came the decuriones, and then the ordinary members (plebs). The funds were sometimes managed by quaestores. In these clubs the humbler population (tenues) found some compensation for their exclusion from municipal honours. The fact that at the distributions of money or food a larger share was given to the officials or even to the patroni implies that the object of the clubs was not primarily philanthropic, though they no doubt fostered goodwill and generosity among their members.


  • J.-P. Waltzing, Étude historique sur les corporations professionelles chez les Romains vols. 1–2 (1895–6; repr. 1970).
  • J.-P. Waltzing, Étude historique sur les corporations professionelles chez les Romains vols. 3–4 (1899–1900; repr. 1970).
  • F. M. De Robertis, Lavoro e lavoratori nel mondo Romano (1963).
  • Lintott, Violence in Republican Rome.