Pliny the Younger, Letter 1.4: Could any part of the relationship between Pliny and his mother-in-law, Pompeia Celerina be described as patronage?
It is difficult to ascertain a sense of patronage from Pliny the Younger's Letter 1.4 alone. We know that Pliny's mother-in-law Pompeia Celerina was a wealthy woman in her own right, most likely being the daughter of a wealthy member of the Roman consulate--a consul was the highest elected political office in the Roman Republic--and in her first marriage, the wife of a proconsul (a governor appointed by the Senate) (Shelton, 2012, p. 259). We also know that she married at least twice, and it is equally likely that given her status, she married wealthy men. Pliny, himself being a consul appointed by Emperor Trajan, was wealthy, as well, and patron of the towns of Umbria after his uncle's (Pliny the Elder) death. One of his duties as patron would have been to travel to the estates in his region to make sure they were being managed well and profitably. It is possible that the visit to which Pliny refers in Letter 1.4 is in this line of duty. Pompeia lived in the region of Umbria, so it could be said that Pliny was her patron, and his letter to her contains some hints that this was true. First, Pliny writes "that some of my own property is scarcely so completely mine as is some of yours" and that he is "more thoroughly and attentively looked after by [Pompeia's] servants" than he is by his own. The first statement indicates that Pliny feels so at home at Pompeia's villas that it's as if he owns them, in which case, Pompeia would live there by his leave; the second indicates that her servants recognize his authority.
On the other hand, it is equally possible that Pompeia was Pliny's patron. According to Shelton (2012), "in-laws were expected to help finance a man's political career" (p. 261), and she also suggests that Pompeia had "sent a brief written message to the staffs of her villas, alerting them that Pliny had her approval to stay at them" (emphasis mine, p. 262). Pliny's Letter 1.4 also seems to support this: "My letters--for now there is no need for you to write--will have shown you how pleased I am, or rather the short letter will which I wrote long ago." This statement seems to indicate that Pompeia had indeed once written a letter to her staffs that Pliny was welcome anytime and that he no longer required a letter of consent each time he wished to visit. In addition, it was Pliny himself who chose the letters that were published; it is possible that he chose the publication of this letter, and the attention it would have brought to Pompeia, as a way to show his gratitude to her for her generous support (Shelton, 2012, p. 264).
From either perspective, it seems clear that Pliny and Pompeia shared a close relationship of mutual trust and affection for many years.