Munera (ancient Rome)

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In ancient Rome, munera (Latin plural) were public works and entertainments provided for the benefit of the Roman people by individuals of high status and wealth. Munera (singular munus) means "duty, obligation" (cf. English "munificence"), expressing the individual's responsibility to provide a service or contribution to his community. The word was often a synonym for gladiatorial combat, which was originally sponsored as a funeral tribute at the tomb of a deceased Roman magnate by his heir. Munera depended on the private largesse of individuals, in contrast to ludi, which were games, athletic contests or spectacles sponsored by the state.[1]

Types and evolution[edit]

The most famous were the gladiatorial contests, which began as a service or gift rendered to the dead at funeral games; see Gladiator: Origins. During the Republic and from 27 B.C. the High Empire or Principate until the 240s A.D. many rich persons lavished funds on civic amenities, entertainments and banquets for citizens to gain favor with the populace and to enhance their dignity with displays of euergetism, good works for the people. The crises of Empire post-235 caused a rapid decrease in voluntary, private expenditures as evidenced by a dramatic drop in inscriptional attestations, for example of building works within cities claimed by the governor and his representatives rather than the municipal aristocracies. From the time of the Tetrarchy, 293-305, the munera of the curiales (city councilors) became subject to imperial regulation, apportionment and enforcement so that the obligations changed from being civic obligations to services rendered the Roman State.[2]

The compulsory public services in the Later Empire were of two types. Munera patrimonialia (compulsory services of property) or personalia (personal service) included the quartering of soldiers and imperial householders, the provision of various raw materials for imperial use, services and supplies for the public post, the production of horses and recruits, services connected with the supplies for the army and transport of troops. Munera corporalia or munera sordida required physical labor such as making charcoal, lime-burning and breadmaking. In addition the lower classes had to furnish labor (corvee) in the State factories, mines and quarries, and in the construction and repair of public buildings, highways, bridges and other public works (opera publica). During the Later Empire these compulsory service obligations, which were an integral part of the tax system, fell increasingly on the middle and lower classes.[3] Other personalia included the production of garments, buying flour and oil for the city, monitoring the sale of bread and other food stuffs, collection and distribution of the Annona, collection in money of the capitatio, collection of civic revenues, police duties, the erection of palaces, docks, post stations, and the heating of the baths.[4] Munera, liturgies in Greek, were but one of many in kind and monetary taxes, munera/liturgies and burdens (functiones) and other charges that comprised the new tax system: together they made up a municipality's total tax liability, capitatio, expressed as abstract units of assessment, iuga, based on individual tax returns, iugationes or professiones.[5] The term origo denotes and identifies the legal residence, region, village or estate of the registered taxpayer and/or liturgist.[6] The unified fiscal system devised by Diocletian gave the Roman Empire a budget in the modern sense for the first time.[7] The performance of compulsory services was resented. The government made the obligation hereditary. The richest city councilors, principales, and others subject to the performance of munera/liturgies shifted the burden to their less wealthy colleagues thereby weakening municipal government. Many tried to escape if they could, in particular, by rising to senatorial rank or by being granted exemptions. The government made the obligation hereditary.


  1. ^ Bispham, Edward, From Asculum to Actium: The Municipalization of Italy from the Social War to Augustus (Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 15 and 26.
  2. ^ Grey, Cam, Constructing Communities in the Late Roman Countryside, 2011 pp. 183, 195 ISBN 978-1-107-01162-5
  3. ^ Pharr, Clyde, The Theodosian Code, Twelfth Reprinting, 2010, pp. 577, 592 ISBN 978-1-58477-146-3
  4. ^ Jones, A.H.M.. The Later Roman Empire Vol. I, p. 749 ISBN 0-8018-3353-1
  5. ^ Grey, pp. 189-197, 203-204, 209
  6. ^ Grey, pp. 191-193
  7. ^ Jones, LRE Vol. I, 1964, p. 66