Sportae, Sportellae, Sportulae

Sportae, Sportellae, Sportulae (Lat. sportula, a basket), are fees paid to the clergy for service rendered. The allusion is probably to bringing the first fruits in a basket (sporta) (De 26:1-12); or perhaps this mode of paying the clergy may be traced to a Roman practice. In the days of Roman freedom, clients were in the habit of paying respect to their patron by thronging his atrium at an early hour, and escorting him to places of public resort when he went abroad. As an acknowledgment of these courtesies, some of the number were usually invited to partake of the evening meal. After the extinction of liberty, the presence of such guests, who had now lost all political importance, was soon regarded as an irksome restraint; while, at the same time, many of the noble and wealthy were unwilling to sacrifice. the display of a numerous body of retainers. Hence the practice was introduced, under the empire, of bestowing on each client, when he presented himself for his morning visit, a portion of food, as a substitute and compensation for an invitation to supper; and this dole, being carried off in a basket provided for the occasion, received the name of sportula. For the sake of convenience, it soon became common to give an equivalent in money. In the time of the younger Pliny, the word was commonly employed to signify a gratuity, emolument, or gift of any kind. In Cyprian, the term fratres sportulantes occurs.

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