Aqueducts and Euergetism in the Roman Republic

The role of public benefaction, known in scholarly literature as euergetism (from the Greek for “good deeds”), has long been recognised as being of utmost importance in the relationship between the aristocratic and lower castes of Roman society. While the term originally referred to the practices of Hellenistic monarchs and aristocrats in the Greek world, the custom was quickly identified as being common to many complex societies, both ancient and modern.

Most scholarly investigations of euergetism in Roman history have dealt with the Imperial period because the amount of information regarding this period is much larger compared to earlier periods. However, euergetism also played an important role in the shaping of the Roman Republic, which was characterised by the concentration of power in the hands of a small group of individuals, culminating in the seizure of power by Julius Caesar in 49 BCE. Euergetism in the Late Republic had a wide range of forms, one of which was the construction of public buildings for the good of the community as a whole.

Modern scholarship on the topic of Republican euergetism tends to divide public works into two distinct categories: “monumental” and “practical” buildings. “Practical” buildings are those that catered to everyday life, such as granaries, aqueducts, roads, etc. “Monuments,” then, are defined as the opposite of practical buildings: buildings which did not play such practical roles. These were often religious buildings, structures meant to commemorate a specific person or family, or buildings designed for the beautification of the city – the common link being that neither religious nor beautification buildings fulfilled any corporeal need. Both forms of public works are acknowledged as important in the context of aristocratic competition, yet there is little acknowledgment of the relationship between the two types. Instead, the forms are viewed as dichotomous. They are distinct categories, and practical buildings are only very rarely interpreted as having monumental significance as well. What are interpreted today as purely functional, practical buildings, however, often serve monumental purposes as well.


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