The essay, taking a more than century-long overview and referring to the experiences of various countries, describes and analyses old and new features (and combinations of them) which have gradually constituted the basis of the public employment relationship. Loyalty, devotion and a sense of belonging are the "ethical" roots of the public employment relationship and they emerge also in the institute of administrative oathtaking. Loyalty to the states is a fundamental element of self-identification by civil servants; non-party loyalty gives a corporative identity consolidated by technical competences. The evident difference between the administrative and political class, however, does not give rise to conflicts alone. It also generates forms of cooperation and compromise and increasingly greater permeability to party influence. Today, under the impetus of innovation and competitiveness, new contradictions arise between "public" and "private" values which push towards an ethical redefinition of public-sector employment.