The Roman Concept of fides
"FIDES" is often (and wrongly) translated `faith', but it has nothing to
dowith the word as used by Christians writing in Latin about the Christian
virute (St. Paul Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13). For the Romans,
fides was an essential element in the character of a man of public affairs, and
a necessary constituent element of all social and political transactions
(perhaps = `good faith'). fides meant `reliablilty', a sense of trust between
two parties if a relationship between them was to exist. Fides was always
reciprocal and mutual, and implied both privileges and responsibilities on both
sides. In both public and private life the violation of fides was considered a
serious matter, with both legal and religious consequences. fides, in fact, was
one of the first of the `virtues' to be considered an actual divinity at Rome.
The Romans had a saying, "Punica fides" (the reliability of a Carthaginian)
which for them represented the highest degree of treachery: the word of a
Carthaginian (like Hannibal) was not to be trusted, nor could a Carthaginian
be relied on to maintain his political relationships.

Pairs of relationships which are cemented by fides:
AMICUS (`friend') has a reciprocal relation of loyalty with AMICUS (`friend')
PATER (`father') a reciprocal relation of loyalty with FAMILIA (`household')
PATER (`father') a reciprocal relation of loyalty with FILIUS (`son')
DOMINUS (`master') a reciprocal relation of loyalty with SERVUS (`slave')
PATRONUS (`patron') a reciprocal relation of loyalty with LIBERTUS (`freedman')
PATRONUS (`patron') a reciprocal relation of loyalty with CLIENS (`client')
RESPUBLICA (`the State') " areciprocal relation of loyalty with SOCIUS (`Rome's ally)


virtus, for the Roman, does not carry the same overtones as the Christian
`virtue'. But like the Greek andreia, virtus has a primary meaning of
`acting like a man' (vir) [cf. the Renaissance virtu ), and for the Romans
this meant first and foremost `acting like a brave man in military matters'.
virtus wasto be found in the context of `outstanding deeds' (egregia facinora),
and brave deeds were the accomplishments which brought gloria (`a reputation').
This gloria was attached to two ideas: fama (`what people think of you') and
dignitas (`one's standing in the community'). The struggle for virtus at
Rome was above all a struggle for public office (honos), since it was through
high office, to which one was elected by the People, that a man could best show
hi smanliness which led to military achievement--which would lead in turn to a
reputation and votes. It was the duty of every aristocrat (and would-be
aristocrat) to maintain the dignitas which his family had already achieved and
to extend it to the greatest possible degree (through higher political office and
military victories). This system resulted in a strong built-in impetus in Roman
society to engage in military expansion and conquest at all times.


Categories of `Virtues' of a Statesman

PLATO: wisdom, andreia, justice, piety
THUCYDIDES knowing what is appropriate, ability to convince, incorruptibility, patriotism
CICERO prudence, justice, bravery, self-restraint
CICERO fortitude, clementia, justitia, fides, benignitas
AUGUSTUS virtus, clementia, justitia, pietas



May 24, 2009 2:56 PM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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