The Latin words corresponding most closely to the English ‘club’ are collēgium and sodālitas (see sodales). The former was the official title of the four great priestly colleges, pontifices, septemviri epulones, quindecimviri sacris faciundis, and augurs, and the word had religious associations even when the object of the club was not primarily worship. Few, if any, collegia were completely secular. All ancient societies from the family upwards had a religious basis. Collegia are associated with trades and professions (merchants, scribes, musicians, workers in wood and metal) and also with districts (see vicus) of the city of Rome.
Few collegia 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 Bacchānālēs (see bacchanalia) in 186 bc shows that the government might intervene against an objectionable association. Membership of many clubs came to be dominated by freedmen, and slaves also were admitted to plebeian clubs. In the Ciceronian age the collegia became involved in elections and other political action; many were suppressed in 64 and again by Caesar, after a temporary revival by Clodius Pulcher. Augustus created new associations in the city districts, associated with the cult of the emperor's numen or genius. On the other hand he also enacted 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) and suspicion of clubs as a seed‐bed of subversion remained. An extant senatus consultum shows that general permission was given for burial clubs, 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 veterans. Several lists of members survive. They are headed by the names of the patrōnī, rich men, sometimes of senatorial rank, who often had made gifts to the clubs. The members bore titles recalling those borne by municipal officials. In these clubs the humbler population 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.
Subjects: Classical Studies.