Ἡ φράση «ἄρτον καὶ θεάματα» εἶναι πολὺ γνωστή. Ὅλοι μας ἔχουμε ἀκούσει αὐτὰ τὰ μελὼ γιὰ τοὺς ὄχλους τῆς Ρώμης ποὺ ζητοῦσαν τροφὴ καὶ θεάματα, κι ἐπαναστατοῦσαν ὅποτε δὲν τοὺς δινόταν τροφή. Στὴν πραγματικότητα, κι ὅπως θὰ ἦταν λογικὰ ἀναμενόμενο κρίνοντας βάσει πιὸ πρόσφατων καταστάσεων, τὰ κριτήρια γιὰ τὴ διανομὴ ψωμιοῦ καὶ σίτου δὲν ἦταν μόνο ἡ κακὴ οἰκονομικὴ κατάσταση τῶν προνομιούχων. Στοὺς δικαιούχους συμπεριλαμβάνονταν ἄτομα ποὺ κάθε ἄλλο παρὰ ἐξαθλιωμένα ἦταν. Αὐτοὶ λάμβαναν τὶς κρατικὲς μερίδες ἄρτου ἢ σιταριοῦ ἐξαιτίας τῆς πολιτικῆς τους ἢ κοινωνικῆς τους θέσης, χωρὶς νὰ ἔχουν καμμία ἀνάγκη γιὰ κρατικὴ ἐλεημοσύνη. Τὰ παραπάνω δὲν σημαίνουν ὅτι ὁ ἑκάστοτε αὐτοκράτορας δὲν λάμβανε ὑπόψιν του πιθανὲς ἐξεγέρσεις πεινασμένων λαϊκῶν μαζῶν ὅταν δὲν λάμβαναν τὴ μερίδα τους· κάθε ἄλλο. Ἀλλὰ αὐτὴ ἡ χριστιανο-ρομαντική (ἄχ, οἱ κακοὶ Ρωμαῖοι) καὶ σπαρτακο-μαρξιστική (ἄχ, οἱ ἐκμεταλλευτὲς τοὺ ἀδιαφώτιστου λαοῦ) ἀντιμετώπιση τῶν παλαιότερων ἐποχῶν ὡς ριζικὰ διαφορετικῶν ἀπὸ τὴ δική μας –θύματα τῆς ἴδιας ὀφθαλμαπάτης πέφτουμε, ὅταν ἐκλαμβάνουμε τὰ πάντα τὰ ὁποῖα μᾶς περιτριγυρίζουν ὡς «μεταμοντέρνα» καὶ καινοφανή– εἶναι ἐσφαλμένη.
Constantine’s allowance of grain (or bread) for the clergy followed the logic of grain distributions that existed not only in Rome, but also in many other cities of the Empire. They too were not intended for the poor, but for those who boasted the status of permanent residents of the given city. Although in Rome most of the disbursements indeed ended up in the hands of the poor, a share of the handouts was also allotted to persons who, given their financial situation, had no need for them. They could give up their right to the allowance, but in theory they had it nonetheless. This groundbreaking conclusion (compared to the image, propagated by older research, of a mob of indigents demanding panem et circenses from the emperors) was formulated after the publication by John Rea in 1973 (P. Oxy. xL) of a dossier consisting of over forty papyrus documents dated to the reign of Aurelian (270-275). The texts come from Oxyrhynchus, a modest-sized town in Middle Egypt. They allow to reconstruct the system of disbursement of a considerable amount of grain (twelve artabas per person, an amount approaching the annual minimum for one individual) among three thousand citizens of Oxyrhynchus, which constituted most likely no more than a tenth of the inhabitants (total inhabitants, that is, not citizens, who constituted a privileged, much less numerous circle). The inclusion in the allowance-receiving group was determined in a lottery, as the number of those qualified exceeded three thousand. That a system of grain distributions to the privileged, instead of to the poor, emerged and functioned in a provincial town, and in years of the most acute crisis, was an important discovery. It compelled historians to put forward a suggestion, which had formerly been made in a timid and inconsistent manner: that grain distributions in the Roman Empire were primarily manifestations of a civic mentality stemming from the world of poleis. Allowances were handed out to members of the civic community on account of their political status, not material poverty. The authorities certainly acknowledged the need to placate the potentially dangerous mobs of the poor that inhabited major urban centres, but this factor neither formed the basis for the institution of allowances, nor contributed to their continued existence. Before attempting to analyse the system of allowances for members of the clergy (in the broad sense of the word), it is worth recalling that grain distributions, whose origin goes back as far as Gaius Gracchus (or the 120s BC), were still in existence in late antiquity, and not only in Rome, but also in many provincial cities.
Ε. Wipszycka, The Alexandrian Church: People and Institutions [The Journal of Juristic Papyrology Supplement 25], Warsow 2015, σσ. 178 -179.