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A neologism 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 lately been studied in relation to the polis, of which benefaction by wealthy citizens (including women) becomes a defining characteristic from the 3rd cent. bc until late antiquity, as is attested by thousands of honorific inscriptions memorializing donors; it is also a feature of republican Rome, where the liberality of senators in kind at least (public building, spectacle) resembles 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 gave feasting the city as an example of ‘magnificence’. 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 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. Aristotle saw munificence in office as a cynical device of rich oligarchs. Civic euergetism was a mixture of social display, patriotism, and political self‐interest. It was not charity, since its main beneficiary was the citizen body.

Subjects: Classical Studies.

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