|Tyndale Bulletin 44.2 (1993) 323-337.
IN SEARCH OF THE SOCIAL ELITE
IN THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH
David W.J. Gill
As the Corinthian correspondence is read against the cultural background of a
Roman colony, it is possible to identify members of the social élite within the
church. After a consideration of the nature of the city and its élite, various case
studies are presented. These include issues such as law courts, head-dresses,
divisions at the Lord's Supper, households and dining. Through the issue of
benefactions further light is thrown on Corinth's place in the province of Achaia
and an estimate is made for the city's population.
It was the Younger Pliny writing to the emperor Trajan in c. 110
who noted that among the Christians of Pontus there were
people of 'every rank, age and sex'.1 However can such a state-
ment by an influential figure such as Pliny be applied to the
early years of the church? Certainly by the third century it is
common to hear of Christians holding high civic status.2 This
paper will try to address the status of Christians in the first cen-
tury A.D., and it will draw on material from the Roman colony
of Corinth which was almost certainly the seat of the governor
of the Roman province of Achaia.3 Such a line of enquiry is part
of one pursued by a wider Cambridge-based group of scholars.
These include Andrew Clarke4 and Bruce Winter.5
1 Pliny Ep. 10.96.
2 See, for example, R. Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (Harmondsworth,
Penguin 1988) 294.
3 Some of the issues will be discussed in greater detail in D.W.J. Gill &
B.W. Winter, A Cultural Commentary on the Corinthian Correspondence
(London, Yale University Press, in preparation). See also D.W.J. Gill,
'Achaia', in D.W.J. Gill & C. Gempf (eds.), The Book of Acts in its Graeco-
Roman Setting (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, in preparation).
4 A.D. Clarke, 'Another Corinthian Erastus inscription', TynB 42 (1991)
146-51; idem., Secular and Christian Leadership in Corinth: a socio-historical and
exegetical study of 1 Corinthians 1-6 (Leiden, E.J. Brill 1993).
5 B.W. Winter, 'The public honouring of Christian benefactors. Romans
13:3-4 and 1 Peter 2:14-15', JSNT 34 (1988) 87-103; 'Secular and Christian
324 TYNDALE BULLETIN 44.2 (1993)
II. Ancient Historians and their view of the status of
Although there has been a tendency in recent years for students
of the New Testament to acknowledge the presence of
members of the social elite in the early church,6 this does not
appear to be the case for those approaching from the historian's
position.7 First let us turn to Robin Lane Fox's discussion on the
status of Christian converts in his chapter on 'The spread of
Christianity' in his Pagans and Christians.8 Attention is drawn to
the low status of the converts. When Paul urges people 'not to
steal',9 Fox interprets this as being addressed to slaves and
people who would normally steal. He emphasises the 'deep,
abysmal poverty' of the Christians in Macedonia.10 At Rome,
those who are 'in Caesar's household' are taken to be slaves.11
Women such as Phoebe, a deaconess in the church at
Cenchreae12 and Lydia from Thyatira13 are seen as ranking 'far
below the civic, let alone the Imperial, aristocracies'.14
Yet Fox's assumptions about status are not always
correct. In Romans 16:23 Paul mentions an Erastus who was the
οἰκονόμος; of the Roman colony at Corinth. Fox takes this to
mean that an οἰκονόμος was 'another eminent post which was
responses to Corinthian famines', TynB 40 (1989) 86-106; 'Theological and
ethical responses to religious pluralism: 1 Corinthians 8-10', TynB 41
(1990) 209-26; 'Civil litigation in secular Corinth and the church: the
forensic background to 1 Corinthians 6', NTS 37 (1991) 559-72.
6 G. Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity (Edinburgh, T. & T.
Clark 1982) esp. pp. 70-1. W. Meeks (The First Urban Christians: the Social
World of the Apostle Paul [New Haven, Yale University Press 1983] 68)
7 Honourable exceptions would include, for example, E.A. Judge, 'The
Early Christians as a Scholastic Community', Journal of Religious History 1
(1960) 8: 'Christianity was a movement sponsored by local patrons to their
social dependents'. See also Meeks (pp. 51-53) for a discussion of the
history of scholarship in this area.
8 Fox, 293-312.
9 Eph. 4:28.
10 2 Cor. 8:2.
11 Phil. 4:22.
12 Rom. 16:1.
13 Acts 16:14, 40.
14 Fox 293. See also Meeks (p. 51) for second century examples of how
Christians were viewed.
GILL: In Search of the Social Élite in the Early Church 325
often held by a public slave'.15 He throws doubt on the link
with the Erastus, the aedile of the colony, who dedicated a
piazza adjoining the theatre in fulfilment of an election pledge.16
The link between the two Erasti cannot be certain, especially as
Paul does not give the praenomen and nomen of Erastus, and the
inscription is damaged.17 However, it does seem likely from the
available evidence that the Greek term ' οἰκονόμος of the city'
was the equivalent of the Latin term aedile. Yet as has been
argued elsewhere, why does Paul draw attention to the status
of a man like Erastus if he was only a slave?18 Indeed, the fact
that Paul gives emphasis to the civic status of Erastus may be to
encourage other Christian members of the social elite to
emulate him and take a full part in the life of their respective
cities. If the Erastus of the inscription and of Paul are the same,
then we would be wrong to give him servile status. However
the lack of a patronymic in the inscription19 might suggest that
Erastus was a freedman 'who had acquired considerable wealth
in commercial activities'.20
Yet Fox does allow some contact with the élite.21 At
Athens Paul encounters Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus
which was, in the Roman period, a council drawn from
members of the élite.22 At Ephesus after the riots over Ephesian
Artemis, Paul was encouraged not to go into the crowd; these
included the 'Asiarchs' who were described as his friends
(φιλοί).23 This group, which consisted of ten elected
magistrates, were drawn from the elite of the various cities of
15 Fox, 293.
16 D.W.J. Gill, 'Erastus the aedile', TynB 40 (1989) 293-301; see also A.D.
Clarke, 'Another Corinthian Erastus inscription', TynB 42 (1991) 146-151;
idem., Secular and Christian Leadership 46-56.
17 See Theissen, 75-83, followed by Meeks, 58-9.
18 Theissen, 76; 'an exceptional instance in which the worldly status of one
member of the community is mentioned probably indicates status worth
mentioning, that is, relatively high status'.
19 There is not space for the letters.
20 J.H. Kent, The Inscriptions, 1926-1950, Corinth 8.3 (Princeton (NJ),
American School of Classical Studies at Athens 1966) no. 232.
21 Fox, 293-4.
22 Acts 17:34. For a summary of the arguments see Gill, 'Achaia'; T.D.
Barnes, 'An apostle on trial', JTS 22 (1969) 407-19.
23 Acts 19:31.
326 TYNDALE BULLETIN 44.2 (1993)
the commune Asiae.24 Indeed Fox draws attention to the fact that
subsequent to his meeting with Sergius Paulus, the governor of
Cyprus, Paul travelled to the colony of Pisidian Antioch with
which the governor had strong family ties.25 As Fox puts it,
'Christianity entered Roman Asia on advice from the highest
It would be wrong to draw sole attention to Fox.
Donald Engels in his Roman Corinth places emphasis on the
lowly status of the Christians there.27 It should perhaps be
noted that Engels has been influenced by Meeks.28 For example,
Engels states that 'Paul was highly successful in making
converts among the pagan, urban poor of the city'.29 Or again,
'the humble social origins of Christ would have attracted many
of the city's working poor'.30 Indeed, for Engels the social
group who listened to Paul were not only poor, but they were
Greek: 'the large audience for Paul's letters and sermons were
mainly poor Greeks'.31 For him this seems to reflect the reason
why Paul 'experienced many difficulties with (the Corinthian
Christians) he did not experience with converts in other
cities'.32 Moreover, 'the urban working class. . .found his (sc.
Paul's) message attractive, not because it offered them
something different, but because it was similar to their own
religious beliefs; a complete break with their past religious
24 R.A. Kearsley, 'Asiarchs, archieireis and the archiereiai of Asia', GRBS 27
(1986) 183-92. For the most recent view of Roman Asia Minor see S.
Mitchell, Anatolia. Land, Men, and Gods in Asia Minor. Vol. 1: The Celts and
the Impact of Roman Rule; Vol. 2: The Rise of the Church (Oxford, OUP 1993).
25 Acts 13:7; S. Mitchell, 'Population and the land in Roman Galatia', in
ANRW 7.2 (1980) 1073-4.
26 Fox, 294.
27 D. Engels, Roman Corinth: an Alternative Model for the Classical City
(Chicago, University of Chicago Press 1990). For responses to Engels see
A.J.S. Spawforth, ClRev 42.1 (1992) 119-20; R. Sailer, ClassPhil 86.4 (1991)
28 Meeks, First Urban Christians. See the review by D. Kyrtatas, JRS 75
(1985) 265-7, esp. p. 267: '[Meeks] eliminates all attempts to present early
Christianity as a proletarian movement, or, for that matter, as any kind of
class movement'. For further observations in a review article: E.H. Pagels,
'Born Again', New York Review of Books 30,12 (1983) 41-3.
29 Engels, 108.
30 Engels, 114.
31 Engels, 70.
32 Engels, 107.
GILL: In Search of the Social Élite in the Early Church 327
views was not necessary'.33 Indeed Engels hints that Paul had
no right to apply notions of religious dogma and orthodoxy to
this highly individual group.34
III. The Roman nature of the city of Corinth
In the following discussion of the Corinthian correspondence, I
will take a position which holds that the letters are addressed to
Roman citizens and deal with issues within the setting of a
Roman colony.35 This is not to deny the other cultural
groupings within the church. In Acts (18:2) Paul lived with the
Jews Aquila and Priscilla. The ἀρχισυνάγωγος at Corinth was
called Crispus (Acts 18:8). Yet we should note that all three had
adopted Latin names which could have been used by any
individual across the empire, Pagan, Jew or Christian; they had
all taken on a mantle of Romanness.36 Some scholars have
argued for a Greek presence in the colony and therefore Greek
cultural interpretations for the epistles. Yet we do know that
Greek families at Corinth also took on Roman names. For
example, C. Julius Spartiaticus, a member of a prominent
family at Sparta, set up an inscription in Latin at Corinth, but in
Athens, Epidauros and Sparta, the same text was set up in
The Romanness of the colony should not be
underestimated. The city had a full Roman name, Colonia Laus
Julia Corinthiensis. Its magistrates issued coinage with Latin
33 Engels, 115.
34 Engels, 111.
35 This is dealt with in more detail in D.W.J. Gill, 'Corinth: a Roman colony
in Achaea', BZ 37 (1993) 259-64. Not all scholars would agree that Corinth
was Roman in character; e.g., W. Willis, 'Corinthusne deletus est?', BZ 35.2
(1991) 233-41. R.E. Oster's ('Use, misuse and neglect of archaeological
evidence in some modern works on 1Corinthians [1 Cor 7,1-5; 8,10; 11,2-
16; 12,14-26V, ZNW 83 [1994 52-73) comments may need some revision,
especially with regard to continuity. Meeks (p. 47) claims that the depth of
‘romanization’ ‘should not be exaggerated’; however, he seems to
misunderstand the changes in Greece during the Hadrianic period. For
further insights into first century A.D. Corinth see A.J.S. Spawforth,
'Corinth, Argos, and the imperial cult: Pseudo-Julian, Letters 198', Hesperia,
36 Further on names at Corinth: Theissen, 94-6.
37 D.W.J. Gill, 'The Importance of Roman portraiture for head coverings in
1 Corinthians 11:2-16', TynB 41 (1990) 259.
328 TYNDALE BULLETIN 44.2 (1993)
texts. Until the early second century A.D. public inscriptions
were predominantly in Latin rather than Greek. The exceptions
seem to be linked to the Isthmian games,38 one of the three
most important religious and athletic events in Greece held
every two years; alternate Isthmian games coincided with the
Caesarean games. The architecture for the public buildings was
Italian not Greek. Indeed, it has been argued that Temple E
overlooking the Forum reflects the layout of the Forum of
Augustus at Rome. Even the tombs of the social élite, such as
that of Lucius Castricius Regulus, overlooking the harbour at
Cenchreae, were more in keeping with Italian families. The
individual's public career extended from c. 10 B.C. to A.D. 23,
and he has been described as 'one of the richest Corinthians of
his time'.39 Likewise images of the emperor were in Roman
guise. The portrait of Augustus showed him as an Italian
magistrate with his toga placed over his head. This type is not
found in the Greek city of Athens where more sympathetic
styles of portraiture were set up. Taken together, we should, I
would argue, seek to interpret the Corinthian correspondence
against a background of Roman culture and values.
IV. The Social Elite at Corinth
The Erastus of the theatre pavement inscription may have been
a freedman. Yet such a background was not unusual among the
social élite of the colony. Take for example Cn. Babbius
Philinus. He is known from inscriptions to have dedicated a
monument at the west end of the forum40 and the south-east
38 B.D. Meritt, Greek Inscriptions 1896-1927, Corinth 8.1 (Cambridge (Mass.),
American School of Classical Studies 1931) no. 14 (A.D. 3, list of officials
and victors at Isthmian games), no. 19 (Tiberius, victor's list), no. 70 (Nero
?, honorific base to C. Julius Spartiaticus). The inscriptions break down
chronologically as follows:
Date Greek Latin Total
Augustus-Trajan 4 99 103
Hadrian-Gallienus 35 17 52
39 Kent, under no. 153.
40 Kent, no. 155; West, Latin Inscriptions 1896-1926, Corinth 8.2 (Cambridge
(Mass.), American School of Classical Studies 1931) no. 132.
(Cn Babbius Philinu)s aed pontif(ex)
(d spfc ledmque) II Vir P
(Gaius Babbius Philinus), aedile and pontifex, (had this monument erected
at his own expense), and he approved it in his official capacity as duovir.
GILL: In Search of the Social Elite in the Early Church 329
building,41 both under Tiberius. Indeed his presumed son, Cn.
Babbius Italicus, seems to have been involved with further
work on the same south-east building.42 Despite the importance
of this family it seems that Philinus was a freedman.
Some of the families at Corinth seem to have been
members of the social elite of other cities in the province.
Spawforth has noted the way that the colony attracted people
to it and who went on to serve magistracies. One of the best
known examples is the involvement of the Euryclid family
from Sparta. This family rose to prominence in the late first
century B.C. and continued into the second century A.D.43 A
fragmentary Augustan inscription refers to the gift of baths by
Eurycles Herculanus.44 Indeed Pausanias (ii.3.5) refers to the
Baths of Eurycles in the city although it is not certain that these
are the same ones. The Augustan Eurycles was probably Gaius
Julius Eurycles Herculanus who was born C. Julius Deximachos
and adopted by C. Julius Eurycles sometime between 18 and 12
B.C. Indeed a later member of the family, C. Julius Spartiaticus,
went on to be a magistrate at Corinth.45
V. The Social Élite and 1 Corinthians
The problem of approaching the Corinthian correspondence is
whether or not the issues which Paul addressed were liked by
the social elite. It is noteworthy that at the beginning of 1
Corinthians Paul notes a church divided into separate groups,
and that among the church there were some who were quite
wealthy: 'not many of you were wise (σοφοί) according to
41 West, no. 122; Kent, no. 323.
(Cn Babbius Philinus, II V)ir, pont(ifex, tabularium) et porticum coloni(ae
(?) ------ (?) colo)nia.
42 Kent, no. 327.
43 G,W. Bowersock, 'Eurycles of Sparta', JRS 51 (1961) 112-18. See also
A.J.S. Spawforth, 'Families at Roman Sparta and Epidauros: some
prosopographical notes', BSA 80 (1985) 191-258; P. Cartledge and A.
Spawforth, Hellenistic and Roman Sparta: a Tale of Two Cities (London,
Routledge 1989) 97-105.
44 Kent, no. 314.
45 Kent (p. 25) based on West, no. 68. For further information about the
magistrates of the Roman colony see M. Amandry, Le Monnayage des
duovirs corinthiens (BCH suppl. 15, Paris).
330 TYNDALE BULLETIN 44.2 (1993)
worldly standards, not many were powerful (δυνατοί), not
many were of noble birth (εὐγενεῖς).46
Given this background, it would be worth considering
several sections in the Corinthian correspondence to see if they
can be read against the background of social élites jostling for
power in the church just as they would have done in the colony
itself if we accept the Roman cultural norm.
1. Law courts (1 Corinthians 6:1-8)
The issue of not taking fellow Christians to court is one issue
that should be discussed against the social background.47 Some
have looked to the Jewish settlement of such cases. However,
the 'trivial cases' (κριτηρίων ἐλαχίστων) of Paul probably refers
to civil rather than criminal cases, viz. claims concerning legal
possession, breach of contract, damages, fraud and injury. Such
cases could not be brought by people of lower rank or children,
and thus it seems likely that Paul is referring to cases brought
by members of the social élite against other elite families: the
δυνατοί of chapter 1. Winter has argued that Paul was
addressing the problem of magistrates and jurors who were
ἀδικοί (v. 1) and ἀπιστοί (v. 6). If the legal system could be
corrupted, then there could be no fair trial. A second point was
that such cases could be brought to aggravate personal enmity
by launching a personal attack on the character of one's
opponents.48 Indeed it was a time for young men from the elite
families to demonstrate their forensic skills and put their
oratorical training into practice. If there was rivalry between
households in the Corinthian church—as reflected in chapter
1—then what better way for this to show itself than by
launching civil actions against one's opponents. It is at this
point that Paul asks: 'can it be that there is no man among you
wise enough to decide between members of the
brotherhood.. .?' (v. 5).
Yet Paul has noted that there were people called σοφοί
in the congregation.49 Surely what Paul is doing is asking for
those members of the élite to put their skills to use in the
46 1 Cor. 1:26. This point was emphasised by Theissen, 70-1.
47 B.W. Winter, 'Civil litigation'.
48 Kelly (1976) 98.
49 1 Cor. 1:20, 26, 3:18.
GILL: In Search of the Social Élite in the Early Church 331
church as arbitrators rather than by increasing enmity within
the church by pressing legal cases.
2. Head Dresses (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)
Paul urges men in the church not to wear head coverings when
they come into the ἐκκλησία. On the other hand women are to
cover their heads in the assembly. The norm in Roman worship
was for members of the social élite to cover their heads when
coming to offer sacrifice, the so-called capite velato.50 What he
seems to be suggesting is that members of the social elite who
were also members of the church were adopting pagan forms
of dress for worship. At Corinth it is clear from inscriptions that
the élite were fulfilling such priesthoods and indeed were
honoured by the city for it.51 Thus the élite would be
recognisable by the fact that in the worship they would be the
ones with their heads covered; they would be the ones who
could pray. As a result the non-élite could not pray in the
ἐκκλησία and thus were excluded because of their status. Paul
therefore re-emphasises that forms of worship must not be
adopted which are exclusive; worship was open for all.
Such an approach by the élite is understandable. The
colony was relatively new (less than 100 years old) and as a
result it was very fashionable to adopt Roman styles in all
aspects of civic life as we have seen. Thus, if, as Spawforth has
argued, Corinth was the centre of Romanitas in Greece,52 then
the church too would be trying to express itself in a Roman
rather than Greek or Jewish way. Such cultural 'snobbery' is
perhaps hinted at in chapter 1 (v. 17) when Paul says that he
did not bring the gospel with words of wisdom 'lest the cross of
Christ be emptied of its power'. The implication is that
members of the elite were expecting him to preach in an
acceptable rhetorical style; when Paul did not, they were
critical. Likewise in the church they may have been critical of
non-Roman forms of worship.
The head coverings for women is again a cultural
problem. There was no theological reason for women to
50 This is seen, for example, on the Ara Pacis at Rome. Cf. Plutarch
QuaestRom 266 D. For a discussion see Gill, 'Importance of Roman
51 E.g. Kent, no. 193.
52 A.J.S. Spawforth, in Cartledge & Spawforth, op. cit., 104.
332 TYNDALE BULLETIN 44.2 (1993)
uncover their heads in worship. Indeed women priests could be
shown with their heads uncovered. However in the wider
community the uncovering of the head by women hinted at
dishonour. Thus people outside the church might think that
female members of the church were devalued, especially those
who were wives of men in public office. Therefore Paul advises
the women to bow to cultural norms and cover their heads.
Indeed such an interpretation is supported by Paul's command
which is not to women in general but specifically to wives. In
Roman Corinthian society it was commonplace for wives to
honour their husbands, sometimes erecting elaborate honorific
dedications, and Paul is suggesting that they do nothing to
3. Divisions at the Lord's Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-21)
The issue of division caused by dress is continued in the next
few verses. Paul recognised that σχίσματα became particularly
apparent when the church met for the Lord's Supper. It has
been argued by Alastair Campbell that the key group to whom
Paul refers (v. 19) is the élite, the δοκιμοί.53 He suggests that
this verse should be translated as follows: 'For there actually
has to be discrimination in your meetings, so that (if you
please!) the élite may stand out from the rest'. In other words
when the ἐκκλησία met the élite formed a distinct group
arguing that they need not mix. In this way the élite stood apart
from the rest.
4. Christians as benefactors (1 Corinthians 11:17-33)
There is a theme in Romans (13:3-4) and 1 Peter (2:14-15) to do
good deeds. Winter has argued that this should be seen in the
context of public benefactions by members of the social élites.54
This theme of benefactions appears in the Corinthian
correspondence during the discussion of the Lord's Supper
where it has been argued there is a background of food
shortage. There seem to be two specific groups mentioned (v.
21). The first, those for whom food and drink are plentiful and
the second may be described as the 'have nots'. The epistle
seems to have been written 'around the time of a famine—a
53 R.A. Campbell, 'Does Paul acquiesce in divisions at the Lord's supper?',
Novum Testamentum 33 (1991) 61-70.
54 Winter, 'Secular and Christian responses'.
GILL: In Search of the Social Élite in the Early Church 333
time of food shortage—in the eastern Mediterranean. Garnsey
has recorded various shortages which include Egypt and
Boeotia,55 and the Roman historian Tacitus specifically records
A.D. 51 as a famine year.56
If Paul was in Corinth in A.D. 51 it is likely that he
either lived through a famine or one hit the city shortly after his
departure.57 There is a series of at least ten honorific
inscriptions, perhaps supporting a statue, set up by the
different tribes of Corinth to one Tiberius Claudius Dinippus.58
He is recorded as holding the position of curator annonae three
times. This man seems to have held the post of quinquennial
duovir in A.D. 52/3. Thus it seems that in the A.D. 50s there
was a food shortage which required a wealthy member of the
city to hold this important role; and a role which he fulfilled so
well that the citizens of the colony wished to honour him.
The scale of the problem of the food shortage at Corinth
is suggested by the following figures. Although there is no
ancient census recording the population of the colony, some
attempts have been made to estimate it through the size of the
settlement, the water supply, the size of public buildings
(including the theatre), etc. Some years ago I proposed that
Corinth and its territorium should have a population of no
more than 100,000 people.59 More recently Engels has
suggested figures of 80,000 for the colony and 20,000 for its
territorium.60 It has been estimated that the average grain
consumption per person per year in antiquity was in the region
of 175 kg.61 Using other statistics it has been calculated that 55
55 P. Garnsey, Famine and Food Supply in the Graeco-Roman World
(Cambridge, CUP 1988) 261.
56 Tacitus 12.43.1.
57 For a summary of the arguments see Gill, 'Achaia'.
58 West, nos. 86-90; Kent, nos. 158-163. Dinippus was also military tribune
of the Legion VI Hispanensis, and agonothete.
59 In an unpublished lecture given at Tyndale House, Cambridge. This was
based on city size. For a comparison of Corinth with other cities in the
Roman province see S.E. Alcock, Graecia Capta: the Landscape of Roman
Greece (Cambridge, CUP 1993) 162 fig. 56 (based on city perimeters).
60 Engels, 84. See also Alcock, 160, with p. 252, n. 45. The parameters are
100 people/ha: and 160 people/ha.
61 Garnsey, 99. He has an upper figure of 230 kg, and a minimum figure of
334 TYNDALE BULLETIN 44.2 (1993)
consumers could be fed by 1 km2.62 Using these figures and
possible populations for Corinth, the following calculations are
population grain (tonnes) land needed (km2)
100,000 17,500 1818
80,000 14,000 1455
70,000 12,250 1273
60,000 10,500 1091
50,000 8,750 909
40,000 7,000 727
The territorium of Corinth has been calculated as covering
some 825 km2, of which only some 207 km2 is available for
agriculture.63 Using Garnsey's consumption figures such land
would only support some 11,385 people.64 It is quite clear that
there would have been a need to import the vast majority of the
food needs for this city, and that in times of shortage a large
percentage of the population would suffer shortage.
The growing emphasis of field-survey in recent years
has focused on the use of land. One of the current areas of
discussion is the impact of urban centres such as Corinth on
peripheral agricultural areas such as the southern Argolid.65
Yet even in this area with perhaps some 200 km2 there would
not have been enough land to feed its own population, perhaps
some 6,800 to 7,300 people,66 and that of Corinth.
If Christian members of the elite were to be active in the
church to ease the problems of famine, then how were they to
do this? Although we do not know the names of members of
the Christian élite at Corinth, and thus find the base for their
wealth, it is possible to look at other Corinthian families. For
example the Euryclids, who were great benefactors of the
62 The upper figure is 42 km2, the lower 64 km2. Garnsey, 102, with
reference to Table 7.
63 Engels, 27.
64 207 km2 x 55 = 11,385 people. Engels (p. 27) estimates that some 17,600
could be supported as an absolute maximum; elsewhere (p. 29) he
suggests the figure of 10,000.
65 Tj. H. van Andel and C. Runnels, Beyond the Acropolis: a Rural Greek Past
(Stanford, Stanford University Press 1987).
66 van Andel and Runnels, 174. The area need to grow the food for this
population would 124-133 km2.
GILL: In Search of the Social Élite in the Early Church 335
Roman colony, came from Sparta. Their estates would almost
certainly have grown grain as well as olives.
Another example would be Lucius Licinnius Anteros
who was granted grazing rights on the peninsula of Methana in
the Argolid.67 There seems to be a family tie with this polis as
another member of the Licinnii was elected to the
Panhellenion—a cultural grouping—in the second century A.D.
If Anteros was indeed an absentee landlord, it may be possible
to see him linked to the ownership of large flocks, and perhaps,
by analogy with Hierapolis, the production of textiles.68 This of
course would not be to argue that members of the élite were
directly involved in manufacture, but that they had enough
money to invest in flocks which could then be used to generate
wealth. Methana itself has been the scene of a major intensive
field-survey by a team from the University of Liverpool in
conjunction with the British School at Athens. This has
revealed, for the first century A.D., a number of sites mainly in
the area around the urban centre.69 Foxhall has argued from
this evidence that some of the sites may indeed be agricultural
sites belonging to the estates of absentee landlords, as only they
would have the money to invest in the equipment for olive
The last two examples would suggest money from
agriculture and livestock. However Pleket has argued that in
the large harbour cities of the eastern Mediterranean, members
of the social elites were involved with shipping.71 This is linked
to the large risks undertaken by shipping and the élites would
be in a position to finance enterprises. One such member of the
Corinthian elite involved in this way may well have been L.
67 IG IV,1, 853.
68 H.W. Pleket, 'Urban elites and business in the Greek part of the Roman
Empire', in P. Garnsey, K. Hopkins and C.R. Whittaker (eds.), Trade in the
Ancient Economy (London, Chatto & Windus 1983) 141-43.
69 See C.B. Mee, D.W.J. Gill, H.A. Forbes and L. Foxhall, 'Rural settlement
change in the Methana peninsula, Greece', in G. Barker and J. Lloyd (eds.),
Roman Landscapes; Archaeological Survey in the Mediterranean Region
(Archaeological Monographs of the British School at Rome 2, London 1991) 223-
70 L. Foxhall, 'The dependent tenant: landleasing and labour in Italy and
Greece', Journal of Roman Studies 80 (1990) 97-114.
71 Pleket, 138: 'the estate-owning urban elite in harbour cities of some size
and importance were involved indirectly in trade as shipowners'.
336 TYNDALE BULLETIN 44.2 (1993)
Castricius Regulus whose monumental tomb overlooked the
harbour at Cenchreae.72 His offices listed on the tomb included
aedile, quinquennial duovir, agonothete, benefactor of the
sanctuary of Poseidon at Isthmia and entertainer of all the
inhabitants of the colony at a meal, and these reflect the active
public life that he led.73
Paul argued (vv. 33-4) that the Lord's Supper was not
to be a time of feasting for some and not for others. If feasting
was in his mind, he encouraged those with food to eat at home.
5. Household of Stephanas (1 Corinthians 16:15)
It is against this background of food shortage that we should
probably understand the household (οἰκία) of Stephanas. This
man and his household were commended for 'devoting
themselves to the service of the saints'. There is a hint that
Stephanas is a member of the élite as his household is
mentioned.74 If he was like the Licinii or the Euryclids with
estates outside the territorium of Corinth, or like the Castricii
with links to shipping, then, he would have been in a position
to meet the needs of the saints through the distribution of food.
6. Invitations to dinner (1 Corinthians 10:27, 8:4-6)
Dining in the Roman world tended to be restricted to the
Roman élite. This is not to say that the poor were not given
meals. For example Lucius Castricius Regulus was recorded on
an inscription set up by his son to have given a banquet for all
the inhabitants of the colony;75 presumably this was during
some festival given that Regulus was an agonothete for several
of the games. However Paul here does seem to be addressing a
specific social group.
'If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you
are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without
raising any question on the ground of conscience.' This was
even when the food, probably meat, had previously been
72 W.W. Cummer, 'A Roman tomb at Corinthian Kenchreai, Hesperia 40
73 Kent, no. 153.
74 Cf. Theissen, 87: (in connection with Stephanas) 'Reference to someone's
house is hardly a sure criterion for that person's high social status; but it is
a probable one, particularly if other criteria point in the same direction'.
75 Kent, no. 153.
GILL: In Search of the Social Élite in the Early Church 337
offered as a sacrifice to the gods. A second issue of chapter 8
was actually attending pagan banquets, and the argument used
by Corinthian Christians was that idols were not real.76
correspondence it is becoming clear that there is an underlying
thread of Paul interacting with members of the social élite at
the colony who were also Christians. Other areas, such as
contributions for the saints77 or links with 'debaters of the
age',78 might be further topics to explore in connection with
euergetism and education respectively. I would suggest that
Corinthian Christians were not encouraged to abandon their
civic duties, but Paul did encourage them to put their gifts to
the good of the ἐκκλησία. Moreover he encouraged them not to
bring into the life of the church their cultural 'baggage' but to
think through how the Christian message would affect their life
as influential members of the Roman colony. It was Meeks
himself who called for a greater interaction with the 'secular
study of the Roman Empire'79 in order to understand how
Christianity expressed itself within the context of the Graeco-
Roman city. It is at Corinth, with its wealth of epigraphic,
archaeological and literary data, that the New Testament
scholar can gain important insights into social stratification
within the church. It is at Corinth that the élite can be found to
have played an important role in the ekklesia.80
76 Winter, 'Theological and ethical responses'.
77 1 Cor. 16:1-4.
78 1 Cor. 1:20.
79 Meeks, 1.
80 I am grateful to members of the Early Christian and Jewish Studies
seminar of the Divinity School, University of Cambridge, for their
contributions and comments when this paper was given in 1992.
Economic aspects had been presented to the 'Hellenistic and Roman
Greece' and Laurence seminars in the Faculty of Classics, Cambridge.