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Acta Theologica

On-line version ISSN 2309-9089
Print version ISSN 1015-8758


LAMPE, P.. Social welfare in the Greco-Roman world as a background for Early Christian practice. Acta theol. [online]. 2016, vol.36, suppl.23, pp.1-28. ISSN 2309-9089.

The essay investigates if and how Greco-Roman theorists attempted to motivate altruistic behaviour and devise a social-welfare ethics. In comparison, it studies actual social-welfare practices on both the private and the state level. Various social-welfare tasks are touched upon - health care; care for the elderly, widows, orphans and invalids; the patron-client system as countermeasure to unemployment; distribution of land, grain, meals and money; alms, donations, foundations as well as education - with hardly any one of them being especially tailored to the poor. The enormous role of civil society - private persons, their households and associations - in holding up social-welfare functions is shown. By contrast, the state was comparatively less involved, the commonwealth of the Romans, especially in Republican times, even less than the Greek city-states. The Greek poleis often invested income such as wealthy citizens' donations in social welfare, thus brokering between wealthy private donors and less well-to-do persons. The church, living in private household structures during the first centuries, took over the social-welfare tasks of the Greco-Roman household and reviewed them in the light of Hebrew and Hellenistic-Jewish moral traditions.

Keywords : Alimenta; Alms; Altruism; Clients; Donations; Education; Elderly; Empathy; Foundations; Freed persons; Grain distributions; Health care; Invalids; Land distributions; Loans; Meal distributions; Money distributions; Orphans; Patron; Physicians; Poor; Selflessness; Slaves; Social welfare; Widows; Women.

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