Private Benefactions and Their Effect on the Municipal Life of the Romans
In the early days the authority of the Roman father over his wife, his sons, and his daughters was absolute. He did what seemed to him good for his children. His oversight and care extended to all the affairs of their lives. The state was modelled on the family and took over the autocratic power of the paterfamilias. It is natural to think of it, therefore, as a paternal government, and the readiness with which the Roman subordinated his own will and sacrificed his personal interests to those of the community seems to show his acceptance of this theory of his relation to the government. But this conception is correct in part only. A paternal government seeks to foster all the common interests of its people and to provide for their common needs. This the Roman state did not try to do, and if we think of it as a paternal government, in the ordinary meaning of that term, we lose sight of the partnership between state supervision and individual enterprise in ministering to the common needs and desires, which was one of the marked features of Roman life. In fact, the gratification of the individual citizen’s desire for those things which he could not secure for himself depended in the Roman Empire, as it depends in this country, not solely on state support, but in part on state aid, and in part on private generosity. We see the truth of this very clearly in studying the history of the Roman city. The phase of Roman life which we have just noted may not fit into the ideas of Roman society which we have hitherto held, but we can understand it as no other people can, because in the United States and in England we are accustomed to the co-operation of private initiative and state action in the establishment and maintenance of universities, libraries, museums, and all sorts of charitable institutions.