In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Roman Collegia

  • Introduction
  • General Studies
  • Important Anthologies
  • History of Scholarship
  • Collegia in Early Rome and the Republican Period
  • Collegia and Social Relations
  • Patronage of Collegia
  • The Archaeology of Collegia
  • Collegia and Economy
  • Collegia and Romanization
  • Collegia in Late Antiquity
  • Collegia, Jewish Communities, and Christ Groups
  • Comparative Perspectives

Classics Roman Collegia
Jinyu Liu
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0393


The term collegium (singular)/collegia (plural) here encompasses diverse linguistic labels such as corpus, synodos, thiasos, and so on that denoted unofficial, non-state, or private associations. Although also called collegia, the sacerdotal colleges at Rome and the other official organizations are not the focus of collegia scholarship. A collegium would have formal features including a name, collegial by-laws, a common treasury, and often meeting places as well as benefactors and/or patrons. While the sizes, membership compositions, recruitment strategies, leadership structures, and financial conditions of collegia varied greatly, religious, convivial, and funerary activities were common across collegia whether they organized themselves around after an occupation, a cult, a geographic region, or something else. Collegia were usually local organizations, although some had translocal features. The history of associations in the Latin West differed from that in the Greek East, where associations had developed long before the advent of the Romans but experienced changes under Roman rule. While the earlier scholarship focused on the legalistic and formalistic aspects of collegia and their roles in sociability, a visible increase of scholarship since the late twentieth century has continuously shed light on the fluid taxonomy of the Roman collegia, their complex relationship with the authorities, active roles in civic and religious life, importance in social integration, as well as their roles in the ancient economy. The ongoing critical reassessment of these aspects has not only elaborated on the multifaceted nature of Roman collegia but also firmly established collegia as an integral element in understanding the dynamics and complexities of Roman civic life, the urban fabric, the social hierarchy, the process of Romanization, and the world of craftsmen and businessmen as well as the experiences of the lower classes or rather people of the “middling sort” (plebs media). Very few scholars nowadays follow the earlier opinion that connected the phenomenon of associations with civic decline. Nor are collegia seen as replacements for other social relations or networks such as family, ethnic groups, friendship, and so on. In recent years, two new trends can be clearly identified in scholarship: first, much scholarly energy has been invested in examining how and to what extent collegia might have served as mechanisms of reducing transaction costs through information sharing and trust building; second, scholars of religious studies have shown great interest in how we can better understand Jewish communities and Christian groups from a comparative perspective provided by the data of Roman collegia.

Collections of Primary Sources

The study of Roman collegia has been well served with primary source collections and databases. As a widespread phenomenon in the Roman world, collegia incurred legal and administrative attention. Legal rulings, therefore, constitute a large part of our sources. At the same time, the Roman collegia were active participants in epigraphic culture and also left many traces of their activities in the papyrological materials from Roman Egypt. Archaeology has yielded traces of their meeting places, many of which are still only known from the epigraphic records. These different types of sources have been systematically collected and studied since the late nineteenth century. Sourcebooks are of very high quality, with the recent ones providing translations and meticulous indexes. Online databases of ancient associations have also been developing quickly in the past decade. All of these sourcebooks and databases also include extensive bibliographies. Apart from the sourcebooks and databases, several monographs and a number of articles contain catalogues of primary sources. See especially Broeckaert 2013 (cited under Navicularii (Maritime Shippers/Shipowners)), Bollmann 1998 (cited under the Archaeology of Collegia), Dittmann-Schöne 2010 (cited under Asia Minor), Liu 2009 (cited under Centonarii (Clothmen/Textile Workers) ), and Nigdelis 2010 (cited under Macedonia).

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