Sunday, 20 July 2008

'Friendship' Roman style: What the Romans would have thought of Facebook

Today we have various social and/or professional networking sites (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, etc.).  The Romans would have liked this but they would have wanted to ensure that 'friends' and 'connections' would be of use to each other.

On meeting a stranger a Roman would express intense interest in where he comes from and what they do.  (How this Roman would react on any potential second meeting would very much depend on how convinced he was after that first one, that the amicitia (friendship) of the new acquaintance would be worth having.)  Amicitia, which is often translated as 'friendship' was best described by the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca as "mutual serviceability".  Therefore, amicitia would mean trading gifts and favours with an amicus (meaning something between 'friend' and useful contact').  Roman society relied on interlocking networks of such 'friendships' and the favours Romans did for one another (beneficia) were the social currency of ancient Rome.  As Cicero put it:  "We do not hesitate to dutifully perform services for those whom we hope will assist us in the future" [Cicero, On Duties, 47]

Favours between friends could get quite complicated.  For instance, if a friend asked someone to do a favour for another of his friends, delicate negotiations would ensue to establish just how much this favour had obliged the friend asking for the favour and to what extent the friend of the friend.  Also, a friend who accepted beneficia (favours) without returning the favours would eventually be viewed as a client and not an amicus.  (Clients were not supposed to return their patron's benefits in kind, but they had different obligations, like perhaps to offer loans to the patron when required.)

Picture:  Bust of Marcus Tullius Cicero, (3 Jan 106 BC - 7 Dec 43 BC), Roman statesman, lawyer, political theorist and philosopher, one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.

1 comment:

Alaina Burnett said...

I just found this blog and I'm glad I did! You have such an interesting perspective! Keep up the great work! I can't wait to see your next post!