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Club

This article is about clubs referring to a particular organization of people. For other article subjects named club see club (disambiguation).


A club (in Greek usually: Mupia, in Latin sodalitas) consists of an association of people not united together by any natural ties of kinship, real or supposed. For modern clubs see below. This article begins with an account of Greek and Roman clubs. Such clubs occur in all ancient states of which we have any detailed knowledge, and seem to have dated in one form or another from a very early period. One may reasonably suppose, in the absence of certain information, that the rigid system of groups of kin, i.e. family, gens, phratria, etc., affording no principle of association beyond the maintenance of society as it then existed, may itself have suggested the formation of groups of a more elastic and expansive nature; in other words, that clubs became an expedient for the deliverance of society from a too rigid and conservative principle of crystallization.

Table of contents
1 Greek clubs
2 Roman clubs
3 British Clubs (In particular London clubs)
4 Modern sense

Greek clubs

The most comprehensive statement we possess as to the various kinds of clubs which might exist in a single Greek state appears in a law of Solon quoted incidentally in the Digest of Justinian I (47.22), which guaranteed the administrative independence of these associations provided they kept within the bounds of the law. Those mentioned (apart from demes and phratries, which were not clubs as here understood) include associations for religious purposes, for burial, for trade, for privateering, and for the enjoyment of common meals. Of these the religious clubs had by far the most important. We have a great deal of information about them, chiefly from inscriptions; and we may take them as covering those for burial purposes and for common meals, for no doubt can exist that all such unions had originally a religious object of some kind. But we have to add to Solon's list the political ~ratpLcu[?] which we meet with in Athenian history, which do not seem to have always had a religious object, whatever their origin may have been. Let us clear the ground by considering these first.

In the period between the end of the Persian Wars in 448 BC and the start of the Peloponnesian War in 431 BC we hear of hetairies within the two political parties, oligarchic and democratic; Themistocles allegedly (Plut. Anistides, 2) belonged to one, Pericles' supporters seem to have been thus organized (Plut. Per. 7 and 13), and Cimon had a hundred hetairoi devoted to him (Plut. Cim. 17). These associations served, like the collegia sodalicia at Rome (see below), for securing certain results at elections and in the law-courts (Thuc. viii. 54), and were not regarded as harmful or illegal. But the bitterness of party struggles in Greece during the Peloponnesian War changed them in many states into political engines dangerous to local constitutions, and especially to democratic institutions; Aristotle mentions (Politics, p. 1310 a) a secret oath taken by the members of oligarchic clubs, containing the promise, "I will be an enemy to the people, and will devise all the harm I can against them." At Athens in 413 BC the conspiracy against the democracy was engineered by means of these clubs, which existed not only there but in the other cities of the Delian League. (Thuc. viii. 48 and 54), and had now become secret conspiracies (crvpwi.zoo-icu) of a wholly unconstitutional kind. On this subject see Grote, Hist. of Greece, v. 360; A. H. J. Greenidge, Handbook of Greek Constitutional History, 208 foll.

Passing over the clubs for trade or plunder mentioned in Solon's law, of which we have no detailed knowledge, we come to the religious associations. These had several names, especially thiasi, eranoi and orgeones, and it is not possible to distinguish these from each other in historical times, though they may have had different origins. They had the common object of sacrifice to a particular deity; the thiasi and orgeones seem connected more especially with foreign deities whose rites were of an orgiastic character. Paul Foucart has written an excellent treatise on the organization of these societies (Les Associations religieuses chez les Grecs, Paris, 1873), which provides many of the following particulars. For the greater part of them the evidence consists of inscriptions from various parts of Greece, many of which Foucart published for the first time at the end of his book.

Strikingly, all these associations have the object of maintaining the worship of some foreign deity, i.e. of some deity apart from those admitted and guaranteed by the state, the divine inhabitants of the city, as one might call them. For all these the state made provision of priests, temples, sacrifices, etc.; but for all other deities these necessaries remained in the charge of private individuals associated for the purpose. The state, as we see from the law of Solon quoted above, made no difficulty about the introduction of foreign worships, provided they did not infringe the law and were not morally unwholesome, and regarded these associations as having all the rights of legal corporations. So we find the cult of deities such as Sabazius, Mater Magna (see Great mother of the gods) and Attis, Adonis, Isis, Serapis, Men Tyrannos, carried on in Greek states, and especially in seaports like the Peiraeus, Rhodes, Smyrna, without protest, but almost certainly without moral benefit to the worshippers. The famous passage in Demosthenes (de Corona, sect. 259 foll.) shows, however, that the initiation at an early age in the rites of Sabazius did not gain credit for Aeschines in the eyes of the "best men". Unsurprisingly, in accordance with the foreign character of the cults thus maintained, the members of the associations rarely hold citizenship by birth, but include women, freedmen, foreigners and even slaves. Thus in an inscription found by Sir Charles Thomas Newton at Cnidus, which contains a mutilated list of members of a thiasos, the list includes apparently only one Cnidian citizen out of twelve, four slaves, and probably seven foreigners. Hence we may conclude that these associations predominantly, whether for good or for evil, organized and encouraged the foreign population in the cities of Greece.

Notably, as we shall also find at Rome, these associations took on an organizational form in imitation of the constitution of the city itself. Each had its law, its assembly, its magistrates or officers (i.e. secretary, treasurer) as well as priests or priestesses, and its finance. The law regulated the conditions of admission, which involved an entrance fee and an examination (tloKLucwia) as to character; the contributions, payable by the month, and the steps to be taken to enforce payment, e.g. exclusion in case of persistent neglect of this duty; the use to be made of the revenues, such as the building or maintenance of temple or club-house, and the cost of crowns or other honours voted by the assembly to its officers. This assembly, in accordance with the law, elected its officers once a year, and these, like those of the state itself, took an oath on entering office, and gave an account of their stewardship at the end of the year. For further details on these points of internal government see Foucart's work (pp. 20 foll.), chiefly derived from inscriptions of the orgeones engaged in the cult of the Mother of the Gods at the Peiraeus. The important question whether these religious associations functioned in any sense as benefit clubs, or relieved the sick and needy, Foucart answers emphatically in the negative.

As one might expect, the religious clubs increased rather than diminished in number and importance in the later periods of Greek history, and a large proportion of the inscriptions relating to them belong to the Macedonian and Roman empires. One of the most interesting, found in 1868, belongs to the 2nd century A.D., viz, that which reveals the worship of Men Tyrannos at Laurium (Foucart, pp. 119 foll.). This Phrygian deity was introduced into Attica by a Lycian slave, employed by a Roman in working the mines at Laurium. He founded the cult and the eranos which was to maintain it, and seems also to have drawn up the law regulating its ritual and government. This may help us to understand the way in which similar associations of an earlier age organised themselves.

Roman clubs

At Rome the principle of private association was recognized very early by the state; sodalitates for religious purposes are mentioned in the XII Tables (Gaius in Digest, 47. 22. 4), and collegia opificum, or trade gilds,, were believed to have been instituted by Numa, which probably means that they were regulated by the jus divinum as being associated with particular worships. It is difficult to distinguish between the two words collegium and sodalitas; but collegium is the wider of the two in meaning, and may be used for associations of all kinds, public and private, while sodalitas is more especially a union for the purpose of maintaining a cult. Both words indicate the permanence of the object undertaken by the association, while a societas is a temporary combination without strictly permanent duties. With the societates publicanorum and other contracting bodies of which money-making was the main object, we are not here concerned.

The collegia opificum ascribed to Numa (Plut. Numa, 17) include guilds of weavers, fullers, dyers, shoemakers, doctors, teachers, painters, etc., as we learn from Ovid, Fasti, ~ 819 foll., where they are described as associated with the cult of Minerva, the deity of handiwork; Plutarch also mentions flute-players, who were connected with the cult of Jupiter on the Capitol, and smiths, goldsmiths, tanners, etc. It would seem that, though these guilds may not have had a religious origin as some have thought, they were from the beginning, like all early institutions, associated with some cult; and in most cases this was the cult of Minerva. In her temple on the Aventine Hill almost all these collegia had at once their religious centre and their business headquarters. When during the Second Punic War a gild of poets was instituted, this too had its meeting-place in the same temple. The object of the gild in each case was no doubt to protect and advance the interests of the trade, but on this point we have no sufficient evidence, and can only follow the analogy of similar institutions in other countries and ages. We lose sight of them almost entirely until the age of Cicero, when they reappear in the form of political clubs (collegia sodalicia or compitalicia) chiefly with the object of securing the election of candidates for magistracies by fair or foul means, usually the latter (see esp. Cic. pro Flancio, passim). These were suppressed by a senatusconsultum in. 64 B.C., revived by Clodius six years later, and finally abolished by Julius Caesar, as dangerous to public order. Probably the old trade gilds had been swamped in the vast and growing population of the city, and these, inferior and degraded both in personnel and objects, had taken their place. But the principle of the trade gild reasserts itself under the Empire, and is found at work in Rome and in every municipal town, attested abundantly by the evidence of inscriptions. Though the right of permitting such associations belonged to the government alone, these trade gilds were recognized by the state as being instituted "ut necessariam operam publicis utilitatibus exhiberent" (Digest, 50. 6. 6). Every kind of trade and business throughout the Empire seems to have had its collegium, as is shown by the inscriptions in the Corpus from any Roman municipal town; and the life and work of the lower orders of the municipales are shadowed forth in these interesting survivals. The primary object was no doubt still to protect the trade; but as time went on they tended to become associations for feasting and enjoyment, and more and more to depend on the munificence of patrons elected with the object of eliciting it. Fuller information about them will be found in G. Boissier, La Religion romaine d'Auguste aux Antonins, ii. 286 foll., and S. Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius, pp. 264 foll. How far they formed a basis or example for the gilds of the early middle ages is a difficult question which cannot be answered here (see Gilds); it is, however, probable that they gradually lost their original business character, and became more and more associations for procuring the individual, lost as he was in the vast desert of the empire, some little society and enjoyment in life, and the certainty of funeral rites and a permanent memorial after death.

We may now return to the associations formed for the maintenance of cults, which were usually called sodalitates, though the word collegium was also used for them, as in the case of the college of the Arval Brothers (q.v.). Of the ancient Sodales Titii nothing is known until they were revived by Augustus; but it seems probable that when a gens or family charged with the maintenance of a particular cult had died out, its place was supplied by a sodalitas (Marquardt, Staatsverwaltung, iii. 134). The introduction of new cults also led to the institution of new associations; thus in 495 BC when the worship of Minerva was introduced, a collegium mercatorum was founded to maintain it, which held its feast on the dies natalis (dedication day) of the temple (Liv. ii. 27. 5); and in 387 the ludi Capitolini were placed under the care of a similar association of dwellers on the Capitoline Hill. In 204 BC when the Mater Magna was introduced from Pessinus a sodalitas (or sodalitates) was instituted which, as Cicero tells us (de Senect. 3. 45) used to feast together during the ludi Megalenses. All such associations were duly licensed by the state, which at all times was vigilant in forbidding the maintenance of any which it deemed dangerous for religious or political reasons; thus in 186 BC the senate, by a decree of which part is preserved (C.LL. i. 43), made all combination for promoting the Bacchic religious rites strictly illegal. But legalized sodalitates are frequent later; the temple of Venus Genetrix, begun by Julius and finished by Augustus, had its collegium (Pliny, N.H. ii. 93), and sodalilates were instituted for the cult of the deified emperors Augustus, Claudius, etc.

We thus arrive by a second channel at the collegia of the empire. Both the history of the trade gilds and that of the religious collegia or sodalitates conduct us by a course of natural development to that extraordinary system of private association with which the empire was honeycombed.

As has been already said of the trade gilds, the main objects of association seem to have been to make life more enjoyable and to secure a permanent burial place; and of there the latter was probably the primary or original one. It was a natural instinct in the classical as in the pre-classical world to wish to rest securely after death, to escape neglect and oblivion. This is not the place to explain the difficulties which the poorer classes in the Roman empire had to face in satisfying this instinct; but since the publication of the Corpus Inscriptionum has made us familiar with the conditions of the life of these classes, there can be no doubt that this was always a leading motive in their passion for association. In the year A.D. 133 under Hadrian this instinct was recognized by law, i.e. by a senatusconsultum which has fortunately come down to us. It was engraved at the head of their own regulations by a collegium instituted for the worship of Diana and Antinous at Lanuvium, and runs thus:

"Qui stipem menstruam conferre volent in funera, in Id collegiwm coŽant, neque sub specie ejus collcgii nisi semel in mense coeant conferendi - causa unde defuncti sepeliantur" (C.I.L. xiv. 2112). From the Digest, 47. 22. I, the locus classicus on this subject, we learn that this was a general law allowing the founding of funerary associations, provided that the law against illicit collegia were complied with, and it was natural that from that time onwards such collegia should spring up in every direction. The inscription of Lanuvium, together with many others (for which see the works of Boissier and Dill already cited), has given us a clear idea of the constitution of these colleges. Their members were as a rule of the humblest classes of society, and often included slaves; from each was due an entrance fee and a monthly subscription, and a funeral grant was made to the heir of each member at his death in order to bury him in the burying-place of the college, or if they were too poor to construct one of their own, to secure burial in a public columbarium. The instinct of the Roman for organization is well illustrated in the government of these colleges. They were organized on exactly the same lines as the municipal towns of the empire; their officers were elected, usually for a year, or in the case of honorary distinctions, for life; as in a municipal town, they were called quinquennales, curatores, praefecti, etc., and quaestors superintended the finances of the association. Their place of meeting, if they were rich enough to have one, was called schola and answered the purpose of a club-house; the site or the building was often given them by some rich patron, who was pleased to see his name engraved over its doorway. Here we come upon one of those defects in the society of the empire which seem gradually to have sapped the virility of the population - the desire to get others to do for you what you are unwilling or unable to do for yourself. The patroni increased in number, and more and more the colleges acquired the habit of depending on their benefactions, while at the same time it would seem that the primary object of burial became subordinate to the claims of the common weal. It may also be asserted with confidence, as of the Greek clubs, that these coliegia rarely or never did the work of our benefit clubs, by assisting sick or infirm members; such objects at any rate do not appear in the inscriptions. The only exceptions seem to be the military collegia, which, though strictly forbidden as dangerous to discipline, continued to increase in number in spite of the law. The great legionary camps of the Roman province of Africa (Cagnat, L'Armée romaine, 457 foll.) have left us inscriptions which show not only the existence of these clubs, but the way in which their funds were spent; and it appears that they were applied to useful purposes in the life of a member as well as for his burial, e.g. to travelling expenses, or to his support after his discharge (see especially C.I.L. viii. 2552 foll.).

As the Roman empire became gradually impoverished and depopulated, and as the difficulty of defending its frontiers increased, these associations must have been slowly extinguished, and the living and the dead citizen alike ceased to be the object of care and contribution. The sudden invasion of Dacia by barbarians in A.D. 166 was followed by the extinction of one collegium which has left a record of the fact, and probably by many others. The master of the college of Jupiter Cernenius, with the two quaestors and seven witnesses, attest the fact that the college has ceased to exist. "The accounts have been wound up, and no balance is left in the chest. For a long time no member has attended on the days fixed for meetings, and no subscriptions have been paid" (Dill, op. cit. p. 285). The record of similar extinctions in the centuries that followed, were they extant, wculd show us how this interesting form of crystallization, in which the well-drilled people of the empire displayed an unusual spontaneity, gradually melted away and disappeared.

Besides the works already cited may be mentioned Mommsen, de Collegils et Sodaliciis (1843), which laid the foundation of all subsequent study of the subject; Marquardt, Staatsverwaltung, iii. 134 foIl.; de Marchi, Il culto privato di Roma antica, ii. 75 foll.; Kornemann, s. v. "Collegium" in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyclopadie.

British Clubs (In particular London clubs)

The word "club," in the sense of an association to promote good-fellowship and social intercourse, only became common in England at the time of The Tatler and The Spectator (1709 - 1712). It is doubtful whether its use originated in its meaning of a knot of people, or from the fact that the members "clubbed" together to pay the expenses of their meetings. The oldest English clubs were merely informal periodic gatherings of friends for the purpose of dining or drinking together. Thomas Occleve (temp. Henry IV.) mentions such a club called La Court de Bone Compaignie, of which he was a member. John Aubrey (writing in 1659) says:

"We now use the word clubbe for a sodality in a tavern." Of these early clubs the most famous was the Bread Street or Friday Street Club, originated by Sir Walter Raleigh, and meeting at the Mermaid Tavern. Shakespeare, Beaumont, Fletcher, Selden and Donne were among the members. Another such club was that which met at the Devil Tavern near Temple Bar; and of this Ben Jonson is supposed to have been the founder.

With the introduction of coffee-drinking in the middle of the 17th century, clubs entered on a more permanent phase. The coffee-houses of the later Stuart period are the real originals of the modern club-house. The clubs of the late 17th and early 18th century type resembled their Tudor forerunners in being oftenest associations solely for conviviality or literary coteries. But many were confessedly political, e.g. The Rota, or Coffee Club (1659), a debating society for the spread of republican ideas, broken up at the Restoration, the Calves Head Club (c. 1693) and the Green Ribbon Club (1675) (q.v.). The characteristics of all these clubs were: (1) no permanent financial bond between the members, each man's liability ending for the time being when he had paid his "score" after the meal; (2) no permanent club-house, though each clique tended to make some special coffee-house or tavern their headquarters. These coffee-house clubs soon became hotbeds of political scandal-mongering and intriguing, and in 1675 Charles II issued a proclamation which ran, "His Majesty hath thought fit and necessary that coffee houses be (for the future) put down and suppressed," owing to the fact that in such houses divers false, malitious and scandalous reports are devised and spread abroad to the Defamation of his Majesty's Government and to the Disturbance of Peace and Quiet of the Realm. So unpopular was this proclamation that it was almost instantly found necessary to withdraw it, and by Anne's reign the coffee-house club was a feature of England's social life.

From the 18th-century clubs two types evolved: social and political.

The social and dining clubs are permanent institutions with a fixed club-house. The London coffee-house clubs in increasing their members absorbed the whole accommodation of the coffeehouse or tavern where they held their meetings, and this became the club-house, often retaining the name of the original keeper, e.g. White's, Brooks's, Arthur's, Boodle's. The modern club, sometimes proprietary, i.e. owned by an individual or private syndicate, but more frequently owned by the members who delegate to a committee the management of its affairs, first reached its highest development in London, where the district of St James's has long been known as "Clubland"; but the institution has spread all over the English-speaking world. (2) Those clubs which have but occasional or periodic meetings and often possess no club-house, but exist primarily for some specific object. Such are the many purely athletic, sports and pastimes clubs, the Jockey Club, the Alpine, chess, yacht and motor clubs. Then there are literary clubs, musical and art clubs, publishing clubs; and the name of "club" has been annexed by a large group of associations which fall between the club proper and mere friendly societies, of a purely periodic and temporary nature, such as slate, goose and Christmas clubs, which are not required to be registered under the Friendly Societies Act.

Previous to 1902 clubs in England had not come within the purview of the licensing system. The Licensing Act of 1902, however, remedied that defect, and although it was passed principally to check the abuse of "clubs" being formed solely to sell intoxicating liquors free from the restrictions of the Licensing acts, it applied to all clubs in England and Wales, of whatever kind, from the humblest to the most exalted Pall Mall club. The act required the registration of every club which occupied any premises habitually used for the purposes of a club and in which intoxicating liquor was supplied to members or their guests. The secretary of every club was required to furnish to the clerk to the justices of the petty sessional division a return giving (a) the name and objects of the club; (b) the address of the club; (c) the name of the secretary; (d) the number of members; (e) the rules of the club relating to (i.) the election of members and the admission of temporary and honorary members and of guests; (ii.) the terms of subscription and entrance fee, if any; (iii.) the cessation of membership; (iv.) the hours of opening and closing; and (v.) the mode of altering the rules. The same particulars must be furnished by a secretary before the opening of a new club. The act imposed heavy penalties for supplying and keeping liquor in an unregistered club. The act gave power to a court of summary jurisdiction to strike a club off the register on complaint in writing by any person on any of various grounds, e.g. if its members numbered less than twenty-five; if there was frequent drunkenness on the premises; if persons were habitually admitted as members without forty-eight hours' interval between nomination and admission; if the supply of liquor was not under the control of the members or the committee, etc. The Licensing (Scotland) Act 1903 made Scottish clubs liable to registration in a similar manner.

The earliest clubs on the European continent were of a political nature. These in 1848 were repressed in Austria and Germany, and later clubs of Berlin and Vienna were mere replicas of their English prototypes. In France, where the term cercle is most usual, the first was Le Club Politique (1782), and during the French Revolution such associations proved important political forces (see Jacobins, Feuillants, Cordeliers). Of the purely social clubs in Paris the most notable were The Jockey Club (1833) and the Cercle de la Rue Royale.

In the United States clubs were first established after the War of Independence. One of the first in date was the Hoboken Turtle Club (1797), which still survived as of 1911.

Modern sense

In modern terms, the term club has broader implications. The Service club, for example, exists for voluntary or charitable activities; there are clubs devoted to all sorts of hobbies and games, clubs for social activities, political and religious clubs, and so forth.

See also: The Hellfire Club, Chaos Computer Club, The Slimelight Club


Initial text from a 1911 encyclopedia. Please update as needed.