This paper studies the meaning and function of the titles “patroness” and “mother” of collegia in Italy and the Latin-speaking provinces of the Roman Empire in the first three centuries CE. It is investigated why some collegia co-opted female patrons or appointed “mothers.” What was expected from these women and was there any difference between a “mother” and a patroness of a collegium? On the basis of epigraphic evidence it is argued that patrona collegii and mater collegii were no empty titles but denoted distinct functions exercised by different classes of women. Whereas patronesses were, as a rule, outsiders to the collegium they patronized, “mothers” were mostly social climbers from within the ranks of the collegia. Though both types of women acted on behalf of the collegia, they did so in a different way. Moreover, they were honored differently. Collegia, therefore, had good reasons to distinguish between the titles they gave them.

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