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Gaius Plinius Secundus Minor, Epistulae 7.18: Alimenta

Aureus of Trajan: Donation to Girls and Boys

While instances of public beneficence occur during the Republic (triumphs, feasts, funerals), it is only under the Empire that they become regular policy, certainly in so far as children and women are concerned. This subsistence has been presumed to be an offshoot of imperial concern for strengthening the family. Scholars differ as to whether the imperial program supported impoverished children or were given to all freeborn children as a form of imperial propaganda in the Italian municipalities. Of particular note are the coins minted under Nero and Trajan of the congiaria (donative) and alimenta (subsistence) type, showing the emperor making gifts to children, sometimes with an adult present. Soon after his succession, Trajan established municipal funds in the small towns of Italy to provide public support for freeborn girls and boys. The imperial disbursement schedule (see ILS 6675) provided a monthly stipend of twelve sesterces for girls and sixteen for boys --a generous allotment if one compares a soldier's daily pay at this time of under 4 sesterces. Pliny, who was exemplary in his generosity toward his native town of Comum (he endowed a public library, a public bath complex, an annual public dinner, and paid one-third of the teacher's salary for a local school), also provided a fund for the town's children. In this letter to Caninius, he instructs his fellow townsman on how to establish the endowment so as to protect its principal.

(2)  Equidem nihil commodius invenio, quam quod ipse feci. Nam pro quingentis milibus nummum, quae in alimenta ingenuorum ingenuarumque promiseram, agrum ex meis longe pluris actori publico mancipavi; eundem vectigali imposito recepi, tricena milia annua daturus.
(4)  Nec ignoro me plus aliquanto quam donasse videor erogavisse, cum pulcherrimi agri pretium necessitas vectigalis infregerit.
(5)  Sed oportet privatis utilitatibus publicas, mortalibus aeternas anteferre, multoque diligentius muneri suo consulere quam facultatibus.  

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Ann R. Raia and Judith Lynn Sebesta
Return to The World of Childhood
April 2006