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Among the ancient Greeks there were friendly societies, whose object was, like the modern Masonic Lodges, to relieve the distresses of their necessitous members. They were permanently organized, and had a common fund by the voluntary contributions of the members. If a member was reduced to poverty, or was in temporary distress for money, he applied to the eranos, and, if worthy, received the necessary assistance, which was, however, advanced rather as a loan than a gift, and the amount was to be returned when the recipient was in better circumstances. In the days of the Roman Empire these friendly societies were frequent among the Greek cities, and were looked on with suspicion by the emperors, as tending to political combinations. Smith says (Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities) that the Anglo-Saxon gilds, or fraternities for mutual aid, resembled the eranoi of the Greeks. In their spirit, these Grecian confraternities partook more of the Masonic character, as charitable associations, than of the modern friendly societies, where relief is based on a system of mutual insurance; for the assistance was given only to cases of actual need, and did not depend on any calculation of natural contingencies.

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