Before any of our modern-day’s government set up a help and assistance plan in case of emergency or catastrophe, the only help any citizen could get was from his neighbor. For more serious matters like fire, flooding or earthquake where more substantial help was needed, the role of a benefactor was of the highest importance.
Even today, we still have millionaires and billionaires who donate all or part of their fortune to a good cause, and in some cases, it may be the only help the recipients are getting. The role of benefactor has not really changed over the course of history, but we seldom connect it to antiquity. This thought hit me while traveling through Lycia in southwestern Turkey where time and again I came across the same names, more particularly in connection with the devastating earthquake that hit the region in 141 AD.
The main benefactor or maybe the best known is Opramoas of Rhodiapolis who contributed approximately 2 billion denarii for widespread activities, an enormous amount considering that the wage of a shepherd or manual worker was about 10 denarii. This man deserved a post of his own. (Please read: Opramoas of Rhodiapolis).
But there are several others, who definitely merit to be mentioned as well:
A wealthy man from Lycia who donated large amounts to the city of Myra. Following the earthquake of 141 AD, Licinius Langus donated 10,000 denarii for the rebuilding of the theater and its portico.
Another Lycian philanthropist and a contemporary of Opramoas and Licinius Lanfus, said to have contributed to the development many cities; 16 Lycian cities issued honorific decrees for him. He is said to have given handsome monetary gifts to the city of Myra. He was an important man and became the Lyciarch (the head of the Lycian League).
Theodora was a lobbyist for Lycian interests at Corinth in the mid-1st century AD and a Roman citizen. The Lycian Federation issued two decrees in her honor and presented her with a crown of gold and her portrait was painted on a gold background and five minas of saffron. Myra, Patara, and Telmessus also honored her with decrees of gratitude for her assistance. According to the decrees, she did excellent work in gaining favor with the authorities for Lycian interests. She also provided hospitality for ambassadors and private citizens from the Lycian Assembly and from Lycian cities at her home. Upon her death, her will favored the Lycian people. Sextus Julius, her agent, and heir assisted her in her work.
Diogenes of Oenoanda was a philosopher and prominent citizen who lived in the second century AD and is famous for making one of the most extraordinary inscriptions of ancient times. He had found peace of mind in the teachings of Epicurus and in order to show the people in Oenoanda the road to happiness, he commissioned an inscription 80 meters long and more than 3 meters high which set out Epicurean doctrines* in about 25,000 words. The huge inscription was placed in the agora and its large inscribed letters were painted - nobody could miss seeing them. This inscription is one of the most important sources for the philosophical school of Epicurus. Today it is broken but its fragments are being studied. Many of its blocks were used for building houses, paving streets, etc. – most probably during the early Christian era. They are being discovered one by one since the late 19th century.
This list is about Lycia alone and only covers the first and second centuries. It makes you wonder how many more benefactors, known and unknown, must have contributed to the well-being and even the survival of so many people at any time BC or AD. All those great men and women deserve a commemoration and a commendation, like the one just granted to Opramoas of Rhodiapolis who became an honorary member of the Antalya Industrials and Businessmen Association (ANSIAD) nearly two thousand years after his death (see: Opramoas of Rhodiapolis, posthumously businessman of the year?). Paul Getty and Bill Gates did not come up with a new idea; they only put it in a new context.
* Epicurism assured people that there was nothing to fear from death, for the reason that there is no afterlife: death is the end of us because the only reality is physical reality. It conveyed the ultimate conviction that individuals can live in serene happiness, fortified by the continual experience of modest pleasures.