The sportula was a form of charity corresponding to the annona civica. Charity and poor relief run on parallel lines, and when the one is administered without discrimination, little discrimination will usually be exercised in the other.The sportula. It was the charity of the patron of the chiefs of the clan-families to their clients. Between them it was natural that a relation, partly hospitable, partly charitable, should grow up. The clients who attended the patron at his house were invited to dine at his table. The patron, as Juvenal describes him, dined luxuriously and in solitary grandeur, while the guests put up with what they could get; or, as was usual under the empire, instead of the dinner (coena recta) a present of food was given at the outer vestibule of the house to clients who brought with them baskets (sportula) to carry off their food, or even charcoal stoves to keep it warm. There was endless trickery. The patron (or almoner who acted for him) tried to identify the applicant, fearing lest he might get the dole under a false name; and at each mansion was kept a list of persons, male and female, entitled to receive the allowance. “The pilferer grabs the dole” (sportulam furunculus captat) was a proverb. The sportula was a charity sufficiently important for state regulation. Nero (A.D. 54) reduced it to a payment in money (100 quadrantes, about 1s.). Domitian (A.D. 81) restored the custom of giving food. Subsequently both practices—gifts in money and in food—appear to have been continued.
In these conditions the Roman family steadily decayed. Its “old discipline” was neglected; and Tacitus (A.D. 75), in his dialogue on Oratory, wrote (c. xxviii.) what might be called its epitaph. Of the general decline the laws of Caesar and Augustus to encourage marriage and to reward the parents of large families are sufficient evidence.
The destruction of the working-class family must have been finally achieved by the imperial control of the collegia.
In old Rome there were corporations of craftsmen for common worship, and for the maintenance of the traditions of the craft. These corporations were ruined by slave labour, and becoming secret societies, in the time of Augustus were suppressed.The collegia. Subsequently they were reorganized, and gave scope for much friendliness. They often existed in connexion with some great house, whose chief was their patron and whose household gods they worshipped. The gilds of the poor, or rather of the lower orders (collegia tenuiorum), consisted of artisans and others, and slaves also, who paid monthly contributions to a common fund to meet the expenses of worship, common meals, and funerals. They were not in Italy, it would seem (J. P. Waltzing, Études histor. sur les corporations professionnelles chez les Romains, i. 145, 300), though they may have been in Asia Minor and elsewhere, societies for mutual help generally. They were chiefly funeral benefit societies. Under Severus (A.D. 192) the collegia were extended and more closely organized as industrial bodies. They were protected and controlled, as in England in the 15th century the municipalities affected the cause of the craft gilds and ended by controlling them. Industrial disorder was thus prevented; the government were able to provide the supplies required in Rome and the large cities with less risk and uncertainty; and the workmen employed in trade, especially the carrying trade, became almost slaves. In the 2nd century, and until the invasions, there were three groups of collegia: (1) those engaged in various state manufactures; (2) those engaged in the provision trade; and (3) the free trades, which gradually lapsed into a kind of slavery. If the members of these gilds fled they were brought back by force. Parents had to keep to the trade to which they belonged; their children had to succeed them in it. A slave caste indeed had been formed of the once free workmen.
As a charitable protest against the destruction of children, in the midst of a broken family life, and increasing dependence and poverty, a special institution was founded (to usePueri alimentarii. the Scottish word) for the “alimentation” of the children of citizens, at first by voluntary charity and afterwards by imperial bounty.
Nerva and Trajan adopted the plan. Pliny (Ep. vii. 18) refers to it. There was a desire to give more lasting and certain help than an allotment of food to parents. A list of children, whose names were on the relief tables at Rome, was accordingly drawn up, and a special service for their maintenance established. Two instances are recorded in inscriptions—one at Veleia, one at Beneventum. The emperor lent money for the purpose at a low percentage—2½ or 5% as against the usual 10 or 12. At Veleia his loan amounted to 1,044,000 sesterces—about £8156, and 51 of the local landed proprietors mortgaged land, valued at 13 or 14 million sesterces, as security for the debt. The interest on the emperor’s money at 5% was paid into the municipal treasury, and out of it the children were relieved. The figures seem small; at Veleia 300 children were assisted, of whom 36 were girls. The annual interest at 5% amounted to nearly £408, which divided among 300 gives about 27s. a head. The figures suggest that the money served as a charitable supplementation of the citizens’ relief in direct aid of the children. Apparently the scheme was widely adopted. Curators of high position were the patrons; procurators acted as inspectors over large areas; and quaestores alimentarii undertook the local management. Antoninus Pius (A.D. 138), and Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 160), and subsequently Severus (A.D. 192) established these bursaries for children in the names of their wives. In the 3rd century the system fell into disorder. There were large arrears of payments, and in the military anarchy that ensued it came to an end. It is of special interest, as indicating a new feeling of responsibility towards children akin to the humane Stoicism of the Antonines, and an attempt to found, apart from temples or collegia, what was in the nature of a public endowed charity.
Part IV.—Jewish and Christian Charity
With Christianity two elements came into fusion, the Jewish and the Greco-Roman. To trace this fusion and its results it is necessary to describe the Jewish system of charity, and to compare it with that of the early Christian church, to note the theory of love or friendship in Aristotle as representing Greek thought, and of charity in St Paul as representing Christian thought, and to mark the Roman influences which moulded the administration of Ambrose and Gregory and Western Christianity generally.
In the early history of the Hebrews we find the family, clan-family and tribe. With the Exodus (probably about 1390 B.C.) comes the law of Moses (cf. Kittel, Hist. of the Hebrews, Eng. trans. i. 244), the central and permanent elementHebrew charity. of Jewish thought. We may compare it to the “commandments” of Hesiod. There is the recognition of the family and its obligations: “Honour thy father and mother”; and honour included help and support. There is also the law essential to family unity: “Thou shalt not commit adultery”; and as to property there is imposed the regulation of desire: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house.” Maimonides (A.D. 1135), true to the old conception of the family (x. 16), calls the support of adult children, “after one is exempt from supporting them,” and the support of a father or mother by a child, “great acts of charity; since kindred are entitled to the first consideration.” To relief of the stranger the Decalogue makes no reference, but in the Hebraic laws it is constantly pressed; and the Levitical law (xix. 18) goes further. It first applies a new standard to social life: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” This thought is the outcome of a deep ethical fervour—the element which the Jews brought into the work of charity. In Judges and Joshua, the “Homeric” books of the Old Testament, the Hebrews appear as a passionately fierce and cruel people. Subsequently against their oppression of the poor the prophets protested with a vehemence as great as the evil was intense; and their denunciations remained part of the national literature, a standing argument that life without charity is nothing worth. Thus schooled and afterwards tutored into discipline by the tribulation of the exile (587 B.C.), they turned their fierceness into a zeal, which, as their literature shows, was as fervent in ethics as it was in religion and ceremonial. In the services at the synagogues, which supplemented and afterwards took the place of the Temple, the Commandments were constantly repeated and the Law and the Prophets read; and as the Jews of the Dispersion increased in number, and especially after the destruction of Jerusalem, the synagogues became centres of social and charitable co-operation. Thus rightly would a Jewish rabbi say, “On three things the world is stayed: on the Thorah (or the law), and on worship, and on the bestowal of kindness.” Also there was on the charitable side an indefinite power of expansion. Rigid in its ceremonial, there it was free. Within the nation, as the Prophets, and after the exile, as the Psalms show, there was the hope of a universal religion, and with it of a universally recognized charity. St Paul accentuated the prohibitive side of the law and protested against it; but, even while he was so doing, stimulated by the Jewish discipline, he was moving unfettered towards new conceptions of charity and life—charity