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date: 16 January 2018


Neologism of French scholarship (évergétisme, from εὐεργέτης‎, ‘benefactor’) to describe the socio-political phenomenon of voluntary gift-giving to the ancient community. Embracing the beneficence of Hellenistic kings and Roman emperors, whose subjects saw such philanthropy as a cardinal virtue of rulers (see kingship), it has been studied in recent years above all in relation to the polis, of which benefaction by wealthy citizens and citizenesses becomes a defining characteristic from the 3rd cent. bce until late antiquity, as is attested by thousands of honorific inscriptions memorializing donors; it is also a feature of republican Rome, where the liberalities of senators in kind at least (public building, spectacle) resemble that of their humbler Greek contemporaries, and of the (Mediterranean) Roman city in general. In Greece the origins of euergetism go back to the aristocratic ideal of liberality found in Homer and echoed by Aristotle, who included acts of ‘magnificence’ (megaloprepeia) such as feasting the city among the virtues of the well-born man (Eth. Nic. 1119b19–1122a17). In Classical Athens beneficence in this tradition, while lingering into the 5th cent., was essentially inimical to the ideal equality of Athenian democracy, which preferred instead to impose on rich citizens the compulsory duty of the liturgy. Although 4th-cent. Athens conferred the title ‘benefactor’ on foreigners, only in the 3rd cent. does the type of the ‘benefactor politician’ emerge clearly in the Greek city, as with one Boulagoras of Samos (c.245 bce), who combined office-holding with gifts from his own purse to his city, in return receiving a crown and inscription (Syll.3 366 = Austin no. 113). Aristotle saw munificence in office as a cynical device of rich oligarchs (Pol. 1321a31–42); Veyne (see bibliog. below) sees Hellenistic ‘benefactor politicians’ as symptomatic of a weakening of democracy (see democracy, non-athenian) in favour of increasing dependence on the rich few. Others (following Gauthier) postpone this ‘decline’ until the advent of Roman domination, when (largely unaccountable) regimes of gift-giving notables in effect became the system of government in the Greek city; it is to this phase (from c.150 bce) that the extreme forms of honours for local benefactors, including cult (see theophanes), belong (as well as the hailing of the Romans by some Greek cities as ‘common benefactors’, koinoi euergetai). Civic euergetism was a mixture of social display, patriotism, and political self-interest. It was not charity, since its main beneficiary was the citizen-group, although its increasing embrace under Roman rule of the whole city (i.e. slaves and foreigners) prepared the way for the emergence of bishops and wealthy lay Christians as local benefactors, whose protection and material assistance, however, now specifically included the humiliores (see honestiores). Probably at no time was the economic significance of euergetism as great as the vast number of honorific inscriptions might suggest.


P. Veyne, Le Pain et le cirque (1976), abr. Eng. trans., Bread and Circuses (1990).Find this resource:

P. Gauthier, Les Cités grecques et leurs bienfaiteurs, BCH Suppl. 12 (1985).Find this resource:

J.-L. Ferrary, Philhellénisme et impérialisme (1988), 124 ff.Find this resource:

J.-L. Ferrary, 10th International Congress of Greek and Latin Epigraphy: Rapports préliminaires (1992).Find this resource:

F. Quass, Die Honoratiorenschicht in den Städten des griechischen Ostens (1993).Find this resource:

Kings as benefactors:

K. Bringmann, in A. Bulloch and others (eds.), Images and Ideologies (1993), 7 ff.Find this resource:

Women benefactors:

R. van Bremen, The Limits of Participation (1996).Find this resource:

M. Sartre, Histoires grecques (2009, Fr. orig. 2006), 255–263.Find this resource:

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