Hospitium and Political Friendship in the Late Republic
During the Republic, the relationship between Roman senators and peregrines, both individuals and communities, was regulated especially by hospitium. Generally speaking, hospitium involves a personal connection developing out of a guest-host experience. This notion of reception in the home of another and the establishment of mutual protection is a fundamental feature of Greek and Roman social history.1 In the Roman concept, as in other ancient cultures, hospitium belonged to mos; that is, it was not regulated by human law, but was sacred (hospitium…quod sanctissimum est, Cic. Verr. II 2.110), being guaranteed by the gods to serve the interests of mankind. For my purpose here, the primary interest of this material lies in the interaction between two Roman institutions, hospitium and patrocinium; between the hospes/patron, on one hand, and the members of the local and provincial eliteson the other. The exercise of hospitium was a central element not only in the day-to-day administrative practice, but provided also structure that allowed imperial and local interests to be reconciled. This paper examines two components of hospitium: first, we shall look at a number of specific cases in the late republic and then examine some of the epigraphical manifestations of the phenomenon. The most useful single document for such an analysis is Cicero’s “Verrine Orations”. No other single literary source provides as much information as does this work. Moreover, though the audience as “virtual”, Cicero had to remain true to its expectations about how hospitium worked. Though there is clearly some oratorical exaggeration, the description of both the positive and negative aspects of hospitium is constructed as a historically consistent context whole.