Christian Trade Guilds
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Christian Trade Guilds
Page 173

Dionysiac Artists

Dionysiac ArtistsThe appearance of Trade guilds like the associations for performers, tradesmen and artisans in the Roman Empire was quietly adopted as a format for Christian meetings. Co-fraternities of tradesmen and professional associations organized like trade unions, cartels or secret societies were especially important in Rome. Trade Guilds, otherwise known as "collegia" were mentioned for their organized opposition to the Christian Church. Saint Luke wrote in Acts 19.23-25, "About that time there arose a great disturbance about 'the Way.' A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. He called them together, along with the workers in related trades." They were silversmiths who feared the loss of their trade in silver idols. Other guilds were also known to have existed for bankers, architects, bakers, linen manufacturers, doctors, workers in metal or stone, dyers, pastry cooks, barbers and even embalmers! They often relied on permits or letters patent from a ruler or other authority to ensure the flow of trade to self employed members and to keep ownership of the supply of materials and tools. They met and conducted their business from "guildhalls" which later became town halls and local law courts. Before the Roman Empire, they had been uncommon in the East, apart from special cases like the "Dionysiac Artists," who were a guild of actors, scene painters, and others associated with the theatre. In this period, the organization of other artisans, merchants and trade guilds spread throughout Greek cities as well.

Purely Social Bodies

Icon of Early ChristiansAlthough it became customary to call these groups "Christian trade guilds", their purpose was not to be confused with those of medieval guilds, much less with those of modern trade unions. Inscriptions indicated that the trade guilds seemed to have been purely social bodies, unconcerned with the business activities of their members. Only in later times did the government sometimes intervene and manipulated the trade guilds in an attempt to regulate commerce.

Patchwork Rug Makers

ThessalonicaBuilders and carpenters, patchwork rug makers, porters and groups like the purple dyers of Eighteenth Street in Thessalonica met to hold banquets and to drink wine supplied by one member each week. Trade guilds also perhaps celebrated the birthday of their founder or patron or commemorated the feast of a local god such as the Greek and Olympian gods Poseidon, Hermes, Isis and Silvanus. Some trade guilds drew up membership rules to provide a decent burial for their members when their time had came. Christian trade guilds must have appeared to the authorities to be just such trade guild meetings.

"Christian Trade Guilds"
by Ron Meacock © 2018

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