Roman Empire




  Education and professional training

  Health care and cure



  Hospitality rules


  Brotherhood, associations and networks

  Religious orders



  Individual actors

Intercultural aspects / Concepts and Symbols of Philanthropy  

  Identity and constraints


  Life and death

From the beginning of the II century, an intensive program of grants to children began in Rome. It was an actual project with economic and social implications that went by the name of Istituto Alimentari, translated to Food Institute (or also simply Food). The program was started by Nerva, but in fact was brought to completion by Traiano and was then continued by his first successors. Alongside this program, which was of a public nature, were other foundations who joined on with the same purpose. It was funded by private individuals: the most famous of all was the establishment in Como by Plinio il Giovane (Plinio the young).
We know the mechanism of the institute from some references in literary sources, and from the epigraphic documentation from which we should recall a great bronze table . It was found at Veleia, in the Appennines of Piacenza, in which are recorded 149 estates in the area (accurately recorded with the owner’s name, and with the identification of the neighbors and of their value: a real cast) on which the emperor concluded a mortgage whose revenue valued around 5% a year –it was used by the state to provide support to the children of poor families. It was, therefore, a measure that had economic and social implications and that also reached the purpose of avoiding, at least for some time, the abandonement of the most depressed areas and elevated influx of poor people into the cities.
From the table of Veleia there is a clear distribution between childcare and puellae of the revenue resulting from this initiative: “the legittimate offspring, who number 245, each receive 16 sesterces a month, for a total of 47.040 sesterces; the legittimate children, in number of 34, each receive 12 sesterces a month, for a total of 4.896 sesterces; an illegittimate son receives 144 sesterces a year; an illegitimate daughter receives 120 sesterces a year. The total is 52.200 sesterces per year, which corresponds to an interest of 5% on capital employment” (1.044.000 sesterces is indicated by the emperor and by another pointin the document).
Some coins of Traiano, and also those of some of his successors, show the emperor as he gives a donation to a woman with her two children ; set distribution of food can also be found on other monuments, among which is the Arch of Benevento .

A philanthropist Emperor: Traiano
by Professor Angela Donati, University of Bologna