Patron (Lat. patronus, from pater, a father), an appellation given by the Romans to a patrician who had plebeians, called clients (see Client), under his protection, or to a master who had freed his slaves. When a slave was manumitted, he himself was called libertus or freedman, and his master patronus, and between them existed certain duties and privileges, which however seem to have been more fixed by custom than by law. The patron took the freedman under his protection, and the freedman owed to his former master respect and gratitude, and was bound to support both him and his children in cases of necessity. By a special agreement the libertus after he was freed took an oath to make an offering to the patron of gifts and services, the latter being of two kinds, services of respect and services of labor. The former ended with the death of the patron, but the latter were due also to his heirs. The patron was not entitled to any services that were either dangerous or disgraceful; and by the lex Julia et Papia Pop-pcea freedmen, with a few exceptions, were discharged from all requirements as to gifts and services, if they were the parents of two children who were in their possession, or were the parents of one child five years old.
The most important relation existing between the patron and freedman was the right of the former in certain cases to become the heir of the whole or a portion of the property of the latter. By the laws of the twelve tables, if a freedman died intestate without heirs of his own, the patron became his heir, as he was supposed to stand in the relation of an agnatus. By the lex Papia, when a freedman left property valued as high as 100,000 sesterces, some of it went to the patron whether a will had been made or not. If there were three children, however, the patron had no share. These rights of a patron extended to his direct but never to his collateral heirs, and the privileges of the liberti in regard to the succession of property extended only to those who were Roman citizens and not to the Latin freedmen. The latter "lost their life and their liberty at the same time," and their property passed into the hands of those who had manumitted them. In many other points the succession to their property differed from the succession to that of the Roman freedmen.
Justinian gave to the Latin freedmen the same privileges as were possessed by the Romans. If a freedman was guilty of ingratitude, his patron might punish him summarily, and in later times he had the right to relegate him some distance from Rome. In the time of Nero an effort to pass a decree enabling a patron to reduce his freedman again to slavery failed, but afterward it was successful. The patron lost his rights if he neglected to support his freedman in a case of necessity. The libertus assumed on his manumission the gentile name of his patron. - In the canon law, a patron is a man who has the right of disposing of a benefice, from the fact that it was founded or endowed by him or by those to whose rights he has succeeded. This right is said to have sprung up about the close of the 4th century, and was probably intended as an inducement to the wealthy to found churches with the privilege of naming the person who should officiate. In the Roman Catholic church, a patron is a saint under whose protection a person places himself, often from bearing the same name, or who holds that relation to a whole nation or a community; or a saint to whom a particular church or order is dedicated.