The self-perpetuity of Greek private associations and the continuous performance of their collective activities presupposed the ability both to admit new members and to draw regular contributions (that is to say, material support) from the existing ones. The diffuse evidence on the rules that regulated these essential aspects of the associations’ internal functions has been thoroughly examined both in the pioneering works of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and in more recent studies.Footnote 1 The modest purpose of this chapter is to offer some, it is hoped, fresh remarks on certain aspects of these rules that bear relevance to issues related to the purpose of this volume. Associative laws and regulations cannot be viewed exclusively as administrative measures. They constituted, inter alia, instruments through which particular associations were constructing themselves as credible and respectable networks composed of equally credible and respectable members. In this respect, those rules that provided for the admission of members and the fulfilment of their regular financial obligations created real and imaginary moments within the associative time that enabled the most vivid demonstration, (re)confirmation and reproduction of the fundamental qualitative features that defined the associative identity, both at the individual and at the collective level. Within this framework, the present chapter will investigate the values endorsed by these rules, the image of the associations that they promoted and their relation to the broader social and civic environment. Here, I will mainly focus on evidence from mainland Greece, the Aegean islands and Asia Minor, but the rich material from Egypt will be also taken into proper account, mainly for the sake of comparison. The first section of this chapter deals with the rules regulating admission into the orgeones of Bendis. The second section focuses on the regular financial contributions imposed by associations in the Hellenistic period. The third section examines the evidence relating to the Imperial period. The final section gives a brief general assessment in the light of the network paradigm issues raised by the editors of this volume in Chapter 1.
The Orgeones of Bendis
The well-known decree of the orgeones of Bendis at Piraeus (CAPInv. 230), dated to 330–324 BC, may be considered as the first document that provides comprehensive information on the rules regulating admission to a private association.Footnote 2 Lines 20–5 establish a two-stage procedure that includes first the payment of a uniform entrance-fee for all aspiring members and the registering of the contributors’ names on a stele and then a process of scrutiny.Footnote 3
The point that I would like to underline is that the decree itself provides us with a highly interesting but so far barely noticed clue regarding the potential audience to which these admission rules were addressed: it envisages the possibility of individual private sacrifices being offered not only by existing members but also by outsiders (the term idiotes, ‘private individuals’, that is to say, non-members, here is indicative) who, in so doing, were obliged to pay dues ranging from 1½ to 3 obols and, in addition, to hand over the skin and the thigh of the sacrificial offering to the priests and priestesses. This rule testifies to the existence of a circle of devotees who, despite their affiliation to Bendis, stood outside the association. The fact that they alone were subject to this sacrificial fee, as opposed to the members of the association who were declared immune, functioned as a material and symbolic mark of their exclusion.Footnote 4 In my view, this was exactly the group of people at which the provisions recorded in lines 20–5 were mainly targeted. These idiotai were persons familiar with the sanctuary and the cult of Bendis, with the relevant rituals and certainly with the members of the association, the use of the same sanctuary providing space and opportunities for cultivating social bonds with them. Paulin Ismard has recently emphasised the existence of a cultic network centred on Bendis and Artemis all over Attica, and the persons in question here were probably somehow involved in this.Footnote 5 These outsiders – who were outsiders not to the cult of Bendis but to the group of its orgeones – were now encouraged to become full members of the association. Both the entrance-fee and the regular annual contribution of 2 drachmas paid by every member should be assessed against the background of the immunity enjoyed by the associates for their private sacrifices and the right to participate in the monthly common assemblies.Footnote 6 This indicates that the more these non-associate idiotai were devoted to Bendis and the more they were willing to show this devotion by offering private sacrifices, the more financially attractive their eventual full participation in the association became to them.
The examination of each newcomer by the orgeones’ assembly also favoured the aforementioned idiotai. The use of the verb dokimazein (δοκιμάζειν), ‘to scrutinise, examine’, indicates that this process was envisaged as being structured on the model of similar civic institutions.Footnote 7 Although the decree of the orgeones did not refer to fixed questions addressed to the candidates, the evidence regarding those civic dokimasiai, ‘examinations’, on which we have detailed information (the dokimasiai of the Athenian ephebes before entering the demes, of the councillors and the magistrates), the manifestly cultic character of the orgeones and the information on associative dokimasiai from the Imperial period (discussed below) suggest that the questions posed concerned not only the moral qualities of the candidates but also their religious devotion, particularly to Bendis.Footnote 8 In this respect, there can be no doubt that each candidate would have had to present his own credentials, and the individual sacrifices of the idiotai would surely have functioned as such.
Another point needs to be stressed. While the civic dokimasia was clearly an institution following popular election or appointment by lot (permitting the correction of what could be perceived as mistaken choices), the scrutiny of newcomers in the decree of the orgeones was technically not a confirmation of a prior choice made by the group – such a choice is not mentioned at all – but a deliberation on a candidate’s application and an examination of his suitability, both conducted at the same time. In this respect, it could be argued that it was the payment of the entrance-fee and the registering on the stele that functioned as the equivalent to the civic election or appointment by lot. This symbolic statement on the part of the aspiring member about his willingness to share the association’s cause was the preliminary stage of the admission procedure, to be followed and validated by the approval of the collective. Compared to the analogous civic process, this associative one was clearly more time-saving and convenient, both for the candidates and for the members of the controlling assembly.
But these differences concerned issues of procedure. In every other significant way the admission rules enacted by the orgeones of Bendis fit in perfectly with the overall tendency of private associations to be integrated into the public sphere.Footnote 9 In this respect, scrutiny did not only serve the purpose of ensuring the suitability of new members. It also turned admission into a prize, elevating in this way the prestige both of the group (presented as a respectable and privileged organised body) and of its individual members who, in order to achieve participation, were to be examined as thoroughly as the Athenian citizens and magistrates were. The very fact that the approval of the association was granted in the standard democratic and egalitarian way of an individual vote, exactly as the Athenian judges voted individually in the scrutiny of civic magistrates, underlines this point.Footnote 10
Besides the decree of the orgeones of Bendis, entrance-fees (Table 2.1) are also attested in a decree of the thiasotai of Artemis in Athens in 248/7 BC (CAPInv. 269). This group decided to erect a stele recording the names of their members, and newcomers were to be registered after the payment of the required argyrion, ‘money’.Footnote 11 As the reference to this rule is incidental, the amount is not specified: it was obviously regulated by the law of the group mentioned in the same phrase. Regular financial contributions are attested in the second-century BC Haliadan and Haliastan koinon at Rhodes (CAPInv. 10), which charged each member 3 obols, payable at every meeting, for the purchase of a crown to be given as a posthumous honour to their leader Dionysodoros from Alexandria.Footnote 12 Moreover, in 57/6 BC, an association of Athenian Heroistai (CAPInv. 357) decreed that even those members who were absent from Attica had to pay half the contribution of 6 drachmas imposed on every associate, while those present in Attica but not attending had to pay the whole sum, termed φορά.Footnote 13 To this evidence should be added various references to immunities granted by associations from Athens, Delos, Rhodes and Maroneia to those of their members who acted as benefactors.Footnote 14
Commenting on the status of asymbolos, ‘exempt from contributions’, awarded to Telestas by the Rhodian Adoniastai (CAPInv. 1612), Durrbach and Radet observed, using the only available parallel at the time – the civic ateleia πασῶν τῶν συμβολῶν πορευομένοις εἰς τὰ Ἰτώνια, ‘exemption from all contributions for those travelling to the festival of Athena Itonia’, given to Kleophantos of Arkesine and his relatives – that the honorand was exempted not from monthly subscriptions but from payments for festivals, sacrifices and common meals.Footnote 15 This connection between regularly required payments and sacrifices has been noted by several scholars.Footnote 16 The point I would like to stress is that it was the official public discourse of the associations themselves, as expressed in their decrees, which perceived and recorded these ‘membership fees’ as being an integral part of and a prerequisite for the groups’ common activities. Civic parallels do exist. We now know that in Hellenistic Amorgos two more benefactors besides Kleophantos are attested to have financially supported the festival of Itonia, proclaiming that the participants were to be asymboloi or ateleis ton symbolon, ‘exempt from contributions’.Footnote 17 Moving to a purely associative context, we find the Dionysiac artists in Cyprus (CAPInv. 1033) establishing a perpetual asymbolos festival in honour of their benefactor Isidoros: the association defined this event as one directly financed by the common treasury and not by individual contributions, as was normally expected to be done.Footnote 18 The decree of the Tyrian merchants at Delos (CAPInv. 12) awarding to Patron the status of asymbolos and aleitourgetos, ‘exempt from compulsory services (to the association)’, recorded these privileges as being valid at every meeting of the association.Footnote 19 A second-century BC decree issued by the Maroneian therapeutai (CAPInv. 937) declared the former priest Sokles to be aleitourgetos kai aneisphoros pases eisphoras, ‘exempt from compulsory services and from all dues’, but at the same time emphasised the fact that the honorand was nonetheless entitled to take part in all the common affairs of the association.Footnote 20 Already in the late fourth century BC the chous (wine-contribution for banquets) from which Kalliades and Lysimachides – members of the orgeones of Amynos, Asclepius and Dexion (CAPInv. 229) – enjoyed ateleia was recorded as being applied to both of the association’s temples (en amphoin toin hieroin).Footnote 21 The decree of the orgeones of Bendis (CAPInv. 230) explicitly ordered that the members’ annual payments of 2 drachmas, described with the verbs δίδωμι, ‘to give’, and συμβάλλω, ‘to collect’, were to be given to the religious officials, the hieropoioi, that is to say, to finance a collective sacrifice, as opposed to the individual ones mentioned at the beginning of the decree.Footnote 22 Finally, the phora, ‘tribute’, of 6 drachmas to which the Athenian Heroistai (CAPInv. 357) were subject was also defined as a means to finance a communal event, as is indicated by the clause prescribing that the absent members should nonetheless pay, but without receiving their due share.Footnote 23
Admittedly, entrance-fees in particular and perhaps also the aforementioned symbolai, ‘contributions’, could produce a surplus that could potentially have been used to meet various irregular expenses.Footnote 24 However, this does not change the fact that, whenever the associative contributions and immunities are placed in a meaningful context by the associations themselves, they are advertised not as general subscriptions to be deposited in the common fund but rather as regularly levied payments in connection with and attached to the realisation of specific associative events.Footnote 25
The significance of this connection lies in the fact that these events had a well-defined spatial and temporal dimension, establishing a clear notion of a well-ordered associative space and time.Footnote 26 Symbolai may thus be seen as the result of rules that, by regulating access to this associative universe, articulated the reciprocal rights and duties both of the group vis-à-vis its members and of the members vis-à-vis the group. On the one hand, we find associative decisions that create, control, manage and offer material infrastructures, building space and opportunities, fixed in time, for the collective expression of religious piety. Within this framework the associations emerged as agents eager to publicly declare the transparent way in which they exploited the financial resources drawn from their members: contributions were always linked with pre-defined expenses of the collective.Footnote 27 On the other hand, we find that the members were entitled to make use of this associative space and time upon payments that were, at least implicitly, justified not only by reference to the contributors’ status as associates but also – and in a much more emphatic way – in terms of their actual or anticipated presence in the various collective activities. Individual participation in the collective was not limited only to deliberating in the decision-making processes regarding the establishment of common events but also extended to an active involvement in bearing the cost of the execution of these decisions and the realisation of these events. Viewed in this light, symbolai, ‘contributions’, and eisphorai, ‘dues’, were envisaged as multi-functional tools of internal governance: they not only enabled the association to present itself as an independent, self-financing entity following rules that obeyed the principle of transparency, but they also promoted within the group a specific concept of membership based on commitment to constant active participation in all the different temporal and spatial aspects of associative life, which ensured the reproduction of the group as a living organism. The specific way in which the associates’ contributions were formalised, conceptualised and publicised expressed both the durable character of the ties that brought them together and the intensity of the association’s internal functions as a well-structured network of members.Footnote 28
It may, in a certain sense, seem natural to draw a similarity with analogous civic institutions and practices. The various mechanisms relating to the accountability of civic officials also highlighted the significance of financial transparency as a key element for the normal functioning of the city.Footnote 29 Paying taxes, justified in terms of civic suzerainty and property-rights on the various goods and resources that the citizens used, was a central element of citizen status.Footnote 30 As noted above, in demanding regular contributions private associations also acted as owners of communal space and time, that is to say, as micro-cities, while the payment of symbolai and eisphorai was a crucial element of the fundamentally participatory associative identity as well. Moreover, taxes as means of financing specific purposes and activities were levied by the Greek cities as well.Footnote 31 However, there was a noteworthy difference that deserves some comment. Civic taxes were levied in proportion to property (as in the case of the Athenian eisphora) or to the extent to which each individual used the civic facilities and resources or proceeded to engage in commercial transactions (as in the case of the percentage or ad valorem taxes).Footnote 32 Not all the citizens were called upon to pay the same taxes and not all the citizens liable to the same tax paid the same amount of money. However, associative symbolai and eisphorai demanded a fixed uniform sum from all.Footnote 33 In this respect, they were much closer to the various payments and offerings demanded by all those who, as private individuals, consulted oracles, were initiated in mysteries and performed sacrifices.Footnote 34 It seems that these religious ‘taxes’ had a much greater influence on the way associations regulated their members’ financial obligations than the concepts defining civic taxation. This uniformity of regular associative symbolai may, as a practice, seem, proportionately, to have been a heavier burden on the poor than on the rich, but in reality it worked the other way around. A wealthy Athenian citizen could boast about properly paying his eisphora, turning compulsion into an act of euergetism and highlighting his superiority and excellence within the citizen-body.Footnote 35 Regular associative symbolai and eisphorai left no room for such claims. They reflected equality, not internal hierarchy. It was mainly the extraordinary collections of funds that could permit the display of individual superiority, in terms of higher voluntary contributions.Footnote 36
Although associative euergetism did not operate within the framework of regularly levied contributions, it exercised a considerable impact on associative ‘fiscal’ rules: the immunities awarded as honours in response to benefactions actually constituted deviations from universal associative norms and created internal hierarchies.Footnote 37 A comparison with the similar tactics adopted by the polis illustrates this point. While private associations known to have offered immunities honoured their own members in this way, their hosting cities normally did not treat immunities as honours for their own citizens. Admittedly, Demosthenes’ speech Against Leptines is a valuable testimony of the honorary immunities awarded to Athenian citizens, but the Athenian orator makes it absolutely clear that these fiscal exemptions concerned only specific non-military liturgies and not regularly levied eisphorai.Footnote 38 Athenian tribes are also known to have rarely honoured some of their members with exemptions, but again these concerned liturgies.Footnote 39 Hence, although this Athenian practice may be considered as a parallel to the aforementioned exemptions from associative leitourgiai, ‘compulsory services’, it can hardly be viewed as such to the exemptions from the regular associative symbolai/eisphorai or to the ateleia from the regular contribution to a collective banquet given by the orgeones of Amynos, Asclepius and Dexion (CAPInv. 229) to two of their own co-associates.
Within this framework of deviations from standard associative rules as a form of honour, even the regulations regarding entrance-fees could be sometimes overlooked. In a second-century BC honorific decree issued by a Delian synodos (CAPInv. 859), the honorands were awarded several rather common honours, including the status of aleitourgos, but were also admitted into the association without having to pay the regular eisodion, ‘entry fee’.Footnote 40 Although such exceptions do not seem to be as frequent as the immunities from symbolai/eisphorai, more impressive privileges at odds with normal admission procedures are also attested. A decree of a synodos of geouchoi, ‘landowners’, of Psenamosis (CAPInv. 38) in Ptolemaic Egypt admitted into the group the benefactor Paris, donor of a plot of land, declaring him asymbolos, aleitourgetos and aneisphoros but also awarding him the right to introduce three new members into the group without any charge.Footnote 41 Similarly, the Athenian Heroistai (CAPInv. 357) gave to those who contributed 30 drachmas the right to introduce new members to the group.Footnote 42
Clearly, the Athenian Heroistai went significantly further than the Egyptian geouchoi, giving to the same privilege a fixed, institutionalised form: the deviation from the traditional admission-rules was not a decision taken ad hoc in response to an individual’s services, but a general rule applicable to all those meeting well-defined criteria. This practice potentially deprived the association of the ability to determine collectively who was going to enter the body, allowing this fundamental function to be exercised by generous contributors taking individual decisions that had a significant effect on the composition of the association. The nature of the group in question may partly explain this: it was devoted to the cult of three distinguished Athenian citizens from a single family of Marathon and was probably presided over by the son of one of these heroised figures.Footnote 43 At least some of those willing to contribute 30 drachmas were surely relatives of the deceased heroes. These persons were both able and willing to open the group to their clients and personal connections and to promote even further a cult likely to enhance their own influence in the city.Footnote 44 Hence, the fundamental equality of the associates, materially expressed in their uniform contributions, was combined with a possibility of internal hierarchisation. There were of course methods that, if adopted, could effectively counterbalance this institutionalised superiority of certain individuals within the association. In AD 64, the Gerousia of Akmonia gave to a certain Demades the right to introduce an asymbolos member to the body, but his choice was subsequently sanctioned by vote.Footnote 45 Whether a similar approval was also envisaged in the decree of the Heroistai cannot be established, as the stele breaks off at that point and the whole context is not entirely clear.
A group of inscriptions dated to the second and third centuries AD allows us to follow the evolution of the associative rules under examination here and to trace various kinds of combinations. These inscriptions include:
a. A decree issued by the Herakliastai at Limnai from Paiania (CAPInv. 349), regulating various issues of the group’s function.Footnote 46
b. The well-known law of the Iobacchoi (CAPInv. 339).Footnote 47
c. A decree of the Sacred Gerousia of Asclepius at Hyettus in Boeotia (CAPInv. 984) engraved on a stele, which also recorded two donations of small estates and a list of members.Footnote 48
d. The foundation charter of a second-century AD association of eranistai from Paiania (CAPInv. 308).Footnote 49
The offerings of wheat flour ordained in l. 36 of the decree of the Herakliastai (διδότωσαν δὲ τὴν σιμίδαλιν πάντες τῇ δ̣ημοσίᾳ χοίνικι [.], ‘all shall give the wheat flour according to the measure of the public choenix …’), have to be combined with the feast days to which the preceding lines 30–3 refer.Footnote 50 The phorai, ‘dues’, mentioned in lines 42–3 are explicitly defined as means of financing the ekdoseis, ‘outgoings’, made by the treasurer of the body (τὰς δὲ φορὰς καταφέριν τῷ ταμίᾳ ἐπάναγκες ἰς τὰς ἐγδόσις, ‘it is compulsory to hand over the dues to the treasurer for the expenses’).Footnote 51 Likewise, the participation of the Iobacchoi in the various meetings of the group depended on the payment of a well-defined phora for the purchase of wine, non-compliance bringing exclusion.Footnote 52 In both these cases, the prescribed phorai have to be understood as payments in cash, though the exact amount is not given. As in the Hellenistic period, private associations continued to link associative ‘taxes’ with the notions of active participation and financial transparency,Footnote 53 the members’ contributions being explicitly attached to specific associative events and activities.Footnote 54
The major change has to do with the place occupied by the principle of heredity in the admission rules. However, it should be stressed that there was no uniformity. In certain cases, family lineage allowed for lower entrance-fees. Thus, any member of the Herakliastai wishing to introduce his son was obliged to contribute 16½ minas of pork, while other individuals wishing to enter the association were bound to contribute 33 minas of pork.Footnote 55 According to the law of the Iobacchoi, the members’ sons were obliged to pay an entrance-fee of 25 denarii, while the fee for the members’ brothers was fixed at 50 denarii, and those indicatively styled as me apo patros, ‘not (receiving membership) from the father’, had to pay 50 denarii and to offer a libation. Furthermore, sons of members were to pay half the regular monthly contribution of wine until they reached puberty.Footnote 56 However, in the case of the Gerousia of Hyettus, a filial relationship with a member brought a complete exception: if any member died, the Gerousia had to elect his replacement from among his sons, newcomers paying no entrance-fee at all. If the deceased member had no sons, one of his closest relatives was allowed to enter the body, subject to an admission-fee of 50 denarii. Finally, an outsider entering the body had to pay an entrance-fee amounting to 100 denarii.Footnote 57 It should also be noted that in an inscription regarding a Chalcidian synodos centred on the local gymnasium, certain new members were stated as having been enrolled ἀπὸ κληρονομιῶν, ‘by hereditary right’, other newcomers being admitted ἀπὸ ἡβητηρίας, ‘chosen from among the former ephebes’.Footnote 58
Diversity also characterises the institution of dokimasia, ‘examination, scrutiny’. It was a necessary condition even for the sons of the Iobacchoi, as no one could enter the group unless his worthiness and suitability were tested by a process that involved an individual vote by each member.Footnote 59 But in the Gerousia of Hyettus, only those completely unrelated to the existing members were tested by the collective. This is a point worth emphasising. The association in question consisted of a small number of members, perhaps belonging to a circle of inter-related nuclear families.Footnote 60 The choice of the group’s name was a deliberate strategic move aimed at placing this association on a par both with the respectable ‘public’ gerousiai, ‘councils of the elders’, widespread in Asia Minor but sporadically attested on the Greek mainland, and, rather more directly, with organised groups of elders in the Peloponnese, affiliated with important local deities and mythical figures.Footnote 61 Clearly, this small religious association envisaged itself as a highly esteemed family organ devoted to an important local cult.Footnote 62 Hence, it was only natural that descent was conceived as an indisputable proof of a newcomer’s moral qualities; that is why, while relatives of members were simply elected, scrutiny was restricted to those completely unrelated to the existing members.Footnote 63
Conversely, family lineage appears to play no formal role in the admission rules of the eranistai from Paiania, an association explicitly formed on the basis of the bonds of friendship that united the original members.Footnote 64 The recruitment of new ones was the result of a process that, as in the case of the Iobacchoi, equated selection with the testing (note again the use of the verb dokimazein) of the moral quality and piousness of the candidates.Footnote 65 Admittedly, this examination was not performed by an assembly of the collective but delegated to a group of officials.Footnote 66 However, most of them were appointed by lot. Moreover, the parallel cases of the Iobacchoi and the Herakliastai of Paiania indicate that the basis for allotment was broad enough to include all the associates.Footnote 67 Consequently, it is quite safe to conclude that the dokimasia of new eranistai retained its traditional democratic character.Footnote 68 One cannot escape noticing that Athenian private associations still valued and preserved democratic procedures associated with the Classical Athenian democracy, such as sortition from among all the members of the community, even at a time when the host polis had abandoned them.Footnote 69
The following clause in the foundation charter of the eranistai prescribed that the eranos should be increased by means of generosities (philotimiai). This has been viewed as a reference to outsiders promising to provide contributions and hence achieve membership of the association.Footnote 70 However, it is equally probable that the clause on the philotimiai referred not to an additional admission rule but to contributions given by the existing eranistai, which were consequently viewed as means to increase the funds available in the common treasury and to enhance the overall situation of the association.Footnote 71 In this respect, the aforementioned clause may have constituted an open call to all the eranistai to function as associative euergetai. The important point is that, whether referring to newcomers’ entrance-fees or to members’ contributions, the clause in question prescribed no standard amount of money. At the same time, however, voluntarism, an integral part of any philotimia, took the form of compliance with a formal rule integrated in the nomos, ‘law’, of the eranistai. This reflects the basic concept which characterises the eranos in question: philia, ‘friendship’. If we view associative payments not only instrumentally, as sources of income, but also sociologically, as proofs of devotion, we can see how commitment to a group based on a philia that was stressed as being voluntary was conceptualised as an obligation that could not be measured in terms of fixed sums of money.Footnote 72 Instead, it demanded – just like a civic epidosis, ‘collection of donations’– the best possible of what a philos, ‘friend’, could offer, irrespective of his family origin.Footnote 73 In fact, the provision in question prevented the potential exclusion of poorer philoi, ‘friends’, while it encouraged wealthier ones to contribute as much as they wished or could afford.Footnote 74
It has been widely held that in every period the associates’ descendants and relatives constituted an important source from which new members were admitted.Footnote 75 This is, after all, quite a natural aspect of all such groups, generated by the various mechanisms of socialisation that characterise them. But there was an important novelty in the Imperial period that should be highlighted: it was only now that the privileged treatment of the existing members’ relatives was formally integrated into sets of rules prescribing reduced entrance-fees. Are we to see these rules as means of materially facilitating the continuous presence of certain already tested families in the respective associations? A positive answer would presuppose that the reduced entrance-fees represented a significant financial benefit, but, although this may be at least partly true in the case of the sons of poorer associates, it is not necessarily so in the case of those of wealthier ones. Conversely, there can be no doubt that these lower entrance-fees carried an important symbolic significance: they formally linked the perpetuation of the collective’s function and respectability with the expectation that the descendants of its members would carry on what was envisaged as a family tradition and duty.Footnote 76 Admittedly, this was in accordance with the general social and political climate of the Imperial period, similar tendencies towards a regularisation of the continuing presence of certain families through lower entrance-fees being observed in certain illustrious semi-public bodies, like the hymnodoi, ‘choral singers’, of Augustus and the goddess Roma at Pergamum (CAPInv. 1653), and, more importantly, but in a rather different way, in the civic councils as well.Footnote 77 This emphasis on the conservative values of family tradition, which were widely recognised in contemporary civic discourse, may be seen as another reflection of the tendency on the part of associations to gain respectability by emulating models drawn from political institutions.Footnote 78 It also highlights another factor frequently mentioned by recent scholarship: the extent to which private associations functioned as loci of relationships, complementary but not alternative to the ones fostered within family and kinship units.Footnote 79 We may thus observe the integration of informal family networks within a wider formal network provided by the associative structures and activities. Also of particular interest is the precise form that the privileged treatment of the associates’ descendants took and its implications. As is well known, by receiving larger portions of food and higher sums of money in public banquets and distributions, councillors and gerousiasts were publicly viewed as persons of high civic status. In an inverse but similar way, the reduced entrance-fees paid by the associates’ descendants undoubtedly gave the existing members a sense of superior identity, highlighting what was perceived as their and the entire collective’s elevated status vis-à-vis the outside world.Footnote 80
Nevertheless, the rules favouring hereditary membership did not challenge the control exercised by the entire collective, at least at the final stage of the admission procedures. The dokimasia functioned as a weapon in the hands of the Iobacchoi, which they could potentially use to rule out any unsuitable future member. Even in the Gerousia at Hyettus, which was restricted in number and orientated towards specific families, it was the body that chose who among the deceased’s sons or relatives were to be admitted.Footnote 81 Poland found this curious.Footnote 82 In fact it was not: although family lineage obviously mattered, priority was given to the collective, self-defined and self-advertised to the outside world as a union of equal members sharing an honorific status achieved after a thorough examination.Footnote 83
Moreover, the increased significance of the hereditary principle in the Imperial period did not lead to the transformation of associations into exclusively family groups. On the contrary, every association on which we have adequate information envisaged the admittance of outsiders as well. The higher entrance-fees demanded from them show how this admittance was conceptualised: these persons might not have been the heirs of a long-standing commitment to the common cause, but they were willing (and required) to counterbalance this lack by offering more and by exhibiting their eunoia, ‘good-will’, and philotimia, ‘zeal, generosity’, so as to acquire full membership on an equal footing. In this way, not only could the accepting body’s decision be legitimised but a not insignificant sense of personal superiority and psychological satisfaction could also be offered to these newcomers, (self-) perceived as having achieved admission on their personal merit, as associative small-scale euergetai.
Due to restraints of space, I have consciously avoided so far discussing a crucial topic – namely, whether the level of the fees set by associations could actually deter candidates from applying for membership. However, certain methodological remarks are necessary. The evidence presented above raises the question of how expensive participation in private associations was and how rich associates had to be. In this respect, several factors should be taken into account. Αs noted above, the various financial obligations imposed by associations could have worked as an additional informal selection mechanism, potentially discouraging or even excluding poor outsiders from attempting to become members. Moreover, the rules prescribing the regular payment of membership fees could have driven existing members facing economic difficulties out of an association. Finally, not all associations were equally burdensome. Obviously, the very existence of entrance- and membership-fees suggests that the members of the associations mentioned in this chapter were persons with adequate means, willing to invest a portion of their income in achieving and maintaining their associative status.Footnote 84 Conversely, rather subjective factors such as a strong desire to be part of an association could potentially lead persons of rather modest means to acquire and sustain membership. One cannot escape noticing that any attempt to quantify all this is extremely difficult. It demands a lengthy analysis, taking into consideration factors such as wages, net output and subsistence levels, which are by definition highly uncertain and probably quite variable in space and time. The value of such an enterprise is indisputable but lies beyond the scope of the present investigation.
In terms of content, procedures and symbolic messages, the rules of private associations on admission and regular financial contributions displayed a tendency not only to respond to vital internal needs but also to construct in various ways a respectable collective identity, perceived as such both by the members and the outside world. A creative and flexible use of civic models highlighted the notions of transparency in the exploitation of financial resources and of responsible active involvement in common affairs; the principles of participation and equality were combined with – but not undermined by – a sense of hierarchy, created by ‘legitimate’ deviations from standard rules that took the form of individual immunities, rights to introduce new members and, in the Imperial period, reduced entrance-fees for the members’ relatives. Two points should be stressed. First, the egalitarian principle of a newcomer’s examination by the collective remained formally and officially valid even in the Imperial period, in accordance with various democratic survivals in the civic sphere, which coexisted with – but were not eliminated by – widespread tendencies towards oligarchisation.Footnote 85 Second, while the reduced entrance-fees levied on the existing members’ relatives functioned as marks of a superior status enjoyed by the associates and their families as well, the higher entrance-fees for other newcomers may be equally seen as mechanisms through which the admission of an individual with no family tradition was experienced by all the parties involved as an honourable distinction.
The orgeones of Bendis recruited new members from a wider network of people who had already integrated the cult of Bendis into their individual set of religious beliefs and practices. Other cult associations, as well as the eranistai from Paiania, also viewed individuals integrated into networks based on kinship, personal contacts and friendship as potential new members and took steps to formally encourage their admission. In this respect, private associations may be viewed as formally organised networks of members that depended on wider informal networks of related people and volunteers in order to ensure their perpetuity in time.
At a different level, the concepts of transparency, respectability, participation, egalitarianism and hierarchy, being widely accepted social and civic values, formed ‘ties’ that brought each individual association into contact with other similar structures and with the polis itself. Admittedly, these conceptual ‘ties’ were abstract and imaginary, in the sense that they involved a movement of ideas and practices, not official contacts and interpersonal relations.Footnote 86 But they may be seen as complementing the more formal bonds between private associations and public institutions and the people who controlled them, demonstrated by the place occupied by the former in the award of honours and in various public ceremonies.Footnote 87 This aspect of the associative admission and ‘fiscal’ rules enables us – and presumably the inhabitants of the Greek cities as well – to regard private associations as well-structured koinoniai, ‘communities’, forming part of a wider, diverse and plural politike koinonia, ‘political community’.Footnote 88