Criteria Behind the Inventory

Since the Inventory of Ancient Associations is a critical and analytical database, the crucial task in its compilation was to point out the principal features defining private associations and so distinguishing them from other kinds of collectives. For instance, the aim of the Project is not to augment or update the list of ancient Greek associations in F. Poland, Geschichte des griechischen Vereinswesens, Leipzig 1909: in fact, the material in that work includes a variety of institutional groups, also attached to or incorporated into the state (e.g. ephebes, gerousia), which do not classify as private associations. For a useful preliminary discussion on the usage of the term 'private' for the non–state groups under investigation, see the Introduction by V. Gabrielsen and C. A. Thomsen to the volume Private Associations and the Public Sphere. Proceedings of a Symposium held at the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters, 9-11 September 2010, Copenhagen 2015.

For the process of compiling the Inventory of Ancient Associations, a set of reliable criteria on which to identify private associations is an indispensable tool. For the Inventory’s purposes a private (i.e. non-state) association is therefore defined as an organization, which (a) is not a civic subdivision, (b) is formed by a group of persons on their own initiative and (c) possesses one or more of the following characteristics:

1. Proper name. In addition to describing itself (or being described by others) through use of the words for 'association', the group is distinguished by its proper name. That name described a collectivity (since it is usually found in the plural) and can contain elements that derive from the name of a god or goddess, a hero, a cult, a person, a profession, an activity, a function, a place/region, an ethnic identity, or something else.

2. 'Descriptive terms'. Besides a proper name, an association is very often identified by the use of a descriptive term, which is shared by several other associations. The 'descriptive term' is often one of the all-encompassing terms for 'association', for instance koinon in Greek. This category can also include many terms, such as for instance the Greek thiasos (thiasotai), orgeones, eranos (eranistai), speira, etc. In those cases in which the descriptive term is identical to the name of a known civic subdivision (e.g. Greek phratria), other criteria are needed to reveal whether the association concerned is a private or a public one.

3. Membership. The members are collectively committed to the pursuance of a purpose or purposes that are of a durable or recurrent (as opposed to ad hoc) character; see also below no. 6. This can include regular meetings, feasting or sacrifices, or other organized events and goals. The rules for membership entrance and exit, where available, may be voluntary and are usually set up by the association itself.

4. Composition of members. Often the membership is of a mixed status and may include individuals that are normally not among the members of public subdivisions, such as slaves, foreigners, etc.

5. Organization. The group possesses at least some internal organization, which determines the distribution of functions among the membership and assists the association in the pursuance of its purposes. The degree of organization possessed by a given association may vary considerably, however, and of course not all associations exhibit the same degree of organization and activity.

6. Durability. The group possesses one or more characteristics that indicate intended durable existence (as opposed to ephemeral existence): periodic assemblies and sacrifices, lifetime membership, rules or bylaws, etc.

7. Foundation. The group may be founded by one or more individuals, who act in a private capacity. The group has the right to dissolve itself.

8. Officials/laws. Insofar the group is attested in possession of officials, these are not those of a known state or civic subdivision. If in possession of an assembly, other institutions and laws, these are not the political institutions or laws of the host state or of some state.

9. Property. The group may be attested in possession of property. However, a private association may not necessarily be circumscribed to its own property but may also be located as an agent in a public space, from which it remains independent.

The requirements of a scholarly investigation of this kind, which strives to employ clear–cut criteria and definitions in order to avoid arbitrary terms and 'grey areas', are likely to create a slight gap between what is recorded as associations in the Inventory and the entities which the ancients considered as associations. The former is the product of criteria constructed to serve the purposes of our investigation; the latter represents a varied and dynamic historical phenomenon, which often left only incomplete evidence. However, the procedure followed here is the only one recommendable in order to guarantee a certain level of precision in the selection of the material, which is a major requirement of the present work and of any database. In fact, we are rather poorly informed about the view of the ancients: no ancient definition of what an association is survives. Furthermore, often there is also some degree of polysemy: for instance, the most common Greek word for 'association', koinon (more seldom koinonia), covers a great range of disparate entities.