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Africana Studies | Christianity | History of Christianity


In the social world of the third century Roman Empire the most important determinant of political and social status and advancement was the giving and receiving of patronage. By means of a close study of two of Cyprian of Carthage’s well known treatises, De opere et eleemosynis (On Almsgiving) and De habitu virginum (On the Dress of Virgins) within the context of the larger social reality of the Roman patronage system, this study seeks to explore the level of status and authority that women benefactors (patronesses) may have enjoyed within parts of the early Christian Church and ultimately how such status and authority would have been circumscribed by the emerging clerical and hierarchical structure of certain Christian congregations. The goal of the paper is to demonstrate how an appreciation of Roman patron-client relationships helps us to interpret better the complex social dynamic of the emerging Christian community.


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