Associations in Ancient Rome - Trade Associations

Trade Associations

The collegia opificum ascribed to Numa include guilds of weavers, fullers, dyers, shoemakers, doctors, teachers, painters, and other occupations, as listed by Ovid in the Fasti. Ovid says they were in origin associated with the cult of Minerva, the goddess of handiwork. Plutarch mentions flute-players, who were connected with the cult of Jupiter on the Capitol, as well as guilds of smiths, goldsmiths, tanners.

Though these guilds may not have had a religious purpose, like all early institutions they were associated with some religious cult, and in most cases the cult of Minerva. Almost all these collegia had their religious centre and business headquarters at her temple on the Aventine Hill. When a guild of poets was instituted during the Second Punic War, this too had its meeting-place in the same temple.

The purpose of the guild in each case was no doubt to protect and advance the interests of the trade, but little information for them exists until the age of Cicero, when they reappear in the form of political clubs (collegia sodalicia or compitalicia) chiefly with the object of securing the election of candidates for magistracies. The political collegia were suppressed by a senatusconsultum in. 64 BC, revived by Clodius six years later, and finally abolished by Julius Caesar, as dangerous to public order.

The principle of the trade guild reasserts itself under the Empire, and is found at work in Rome and in every municipal town. Though the right of permitting such associations belonged to the government, these trade guilds were recognized by the state as being instituted "ut necessariam operam publicis utilitatibus exhiberent" ("so that they might perform the necessary work of public 'utilities'," or useful public works).

Every kind of trade and business throughout the Empire seems to have had its collegium, as is shown by the inscriptions collected in the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum from any Roman municipal town. These inscriptions provide important evidence for the life and work of the lower orders of the municipales. The primary object was no doubt still to protect the trade, but as time went on they tended to become associations for feasting and enjoyment, and more and more to depend on the munificence of patrons elected with the object of eliciting it. How far they formed a basis or example for the guilds of the early Middle Ages is a difficult question (see Guild). Eventually, the trade associations supported the individual, lost as he was in the vast desert of the empire, some little society and enjoyment in life, and the certainty of funeral rites and a permanent memorial after death.

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