chapter  7
16 Pages

The Economics of solidarity

Mutual aid and reciprocal services between workers in Roman cities
WithNicolas Tran

At Rome and in the cities of the Roman Empire, multiple links of kinship, friendship, and patronage organized working classes. Through their interconnections, those interpersonal relationships gave birth to more or less formalized networks: professional collegia – that is, private and voluntary associations of workers – are to be counted amongst the most structured ones. The principle of solidarity, on which such relationships were based, implied reciprocal exchanges of diverse services. Some of them had a powerful impact on economic activity. This is particularly true of credit practices amongst traders and craftsmen, or between such professionals and their patrons. These loans resulted, not only from the meeting of credit supply and demand, but also from an ideology of mutual aid. According to a recent hypothesis, professional associations themselves would have lent money to their members. Yet, if such a practice did exist, it was funded by gifts from rich and generous benefactors, establishing private foundations. So the issue of credit tends to demonstrate that skilled workers’ access to certain goods was partly determined by social values and norms, independent from market economy – strictly speaking. From this example, this chapter also studies other goods (housing, food supply, leisure, access to work itself), which were provided to urban workers through such social mechanisms.