Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Patrocinium Definition:

A contract under Roman law where a man agrees to be another's servant in exchange for food and shelter.

Related Terms: Feudal System, Precarium

In his 1936 article, Roscoe Dorsey wrote:

"Both the Roman Republic and the (Holy Roman) Empire knew patrocinium. It somewhat resembled comitatus without the vital military feature.

"Possibly one may view patrocinium more in the light of a social institution.

"Many patrons had hundreds of clients; often whole towns and cities. These clients commended themselves to the faith of their patron....

"The Roman client gave service and counsel to their patron who in turn did much for them. lie defended them in litigation and assumed responsibility towards the State for taxes due but in turn spread the burden of taxation more evenly for the client.

"Patrocinium was accompanied by no grant of land to the client."

Indeed, Theodosian's Code (438 AD) is rife with mentions of patrocinium.

In his 1980 book, David Walker writes of patrocinium as similar to precarium, and both being predecessors of what has become known as the feudal system:

"... the patrocinium or patron and client relationship, whereby a small landowner or landless freeman offered his services to a powerful lord in return for shelter and support, which developed into a transaction called commendation, in Germany commonly created by written contract with counterpart (obligations) of protection and support, and of service...."


  • Dorsey, Roscoe J.C., Roman Sources of Some English Principles of Equity and Common Law Rules, 8 Am. L. Sch. Rev. 1233 (1934-1938), at page 1239.
  • Walker, David, The Oxford Companion to Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), page 466

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