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Origins of patricians and plebeians

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Chieftain
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    Posted: 01 Jul 2009 at 07:36
I recently read an article about Republican Rome that challenged the traditional definition of plebeains and patricians.

Based on the accounts of Livius, the "patricians" descended from the founders of the city, and the plebeians descended from those to migrated to the city afterwards, most of them Latin and Sabine tribesmen. Prior to the 6th century B.C., most, if not all Roman citizens were patricians.
Due the the late arrival of the plebeians, they were denied any voting rights and forbidden to marry patricians; but as their numbers grew larger, so did they fight for their rights, and by the 4th century B.C. there were plebeian consuls in the senate.

The article (from National Geographic History), claims that there were in fact "plebeians" in the city since its founding, and that as far back as the 5th century B.C. there were already senators of plebeian origin. As a fact, the man who ousted the last Etruscan king, Lucius  Junius Brutus, was of plebeian stock.

Nevertheless, politics of the early republic was indeed dominated by the patricians. If this was the case, then what was the origins of the division of these 2 classes?
Were the plebeians just another "tribe" that took part in the founding of the city?

The article claims that Livius was himself biassed as he lived at the time of the civil wars near the end of the republic, between the "optimates" and the "popularii"; and tried to draw parallels of the class struggle of the patricians and plebeians of their forebears.
The truth is that the confrontation between "optimates" and "popularri" in the 1st century B.C. was not about the division between patricians and plebeians, but between the senate elite (of both patrician and plebeian stock), and the masses of urban proletariat.
In fact, by the time of Marius and Julius Caesar, the division between patrician and plebeian had largely melted.






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rider View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Jul 2009 at 18:57
Wouldn't it be more logical that the divison between Plebeian and Patrician developed when certain boundaries of wealth started dividing people into classes. That would be enough for the ruling council (mostly people with more wealth and such) to halt marriages between the two statuses (as was done twice, I think).
 
Also, it would make sense for the ouster of a king to be of the lesser status due to him having to lose far more than the wealthier men who would be more careful by the logics of human nature.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Jul 2009 at 22:26
this very article claimed at in the "early republic", there was really not much difference in wealth between patrician and plebeian. There had always been rich patricians and rich plebeians, but the difference was defined purely by descent; and this bloodline determined your "political", rather than "financial" status.
Patrician votes counted for more (all the plebeians were counted as one tribe); only patricians could be elected as senator, and while performing military service, the patricians served as officers and the plebeians common soldiers.
Nevertheless, before the late republic, the Roman society consisted mainly of peasants farming their own land, and the wealth gap wasn't as great.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Dawn- Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28 Jul 2009 at 23:24
Was this particular article on line?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2009 at 03:44
If a reference were possible, after all historians have long felt uncomfortable with the Aristos versus the Prols approach, how would it stand up to the thesis put forth by Randall S. Howarth in The Origins of Roman Citizenship (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 2006)? As first broached by Richard Mitchell as a challenge to the accepted view on the "Struggle of the Orders", which Mitchell held an interpretative fancy, Howarth postulated that what took place was a protracted negotiation between the rurally based Latin aristocracy and the populuos elements of the city itself [In a way accepting as literal the symbolic SPQR] that repesented the emergence of the City and its institutions as the political fulcrum.

Edited by drgonzaga - 29 Jul 2009 at 03:46
Honi soit qui mal y pense
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calvo View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2009 at 04:27
Originally posted by Dawn Dawn wrote:

Was this particular article on line?
 
 
Here is an introduction to the article, but written in Spanish. Shame that on the web page I couldn't find any options to change the language to English.
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Praetor View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Praetor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2009 at 15:06
Originally posted by calvo calvo wrote:

this very article claimed at in the "early republic", there was really not much difference in wealth between patrician and plebeian. There had always been rich patricians and rich plebeians, but the difference was defined purely by descent; and this bloodline determined your "political", rather than "financial" status.
Patrician votes counted for more (all the plebeians were counted as one tribe); only patricians could be elected as senator, and while performing military service, the patricians served as officers and the plebeians common soldiers.
Nevertheless, before the late republic, the Roman society consisted mainly of peasants farming their own land, and the wealth gap wasn't as great.


It is true that though your average Patrician was very likely to be wealthier than your average Plebeian, the difference between the two was based their families recognized claims of descent, I agree with the article here.

However the claim that only Patricians could become senators (you were not elected to this rank) is complete and utter rubbish, Pompey and Crassus were both senators and plebeians, as were the Caecilius Metellus family who were a dominant force in Roman politics for a number of generations. There were not just a few Plebeian sernators but many.

same goes for the articles claim that the Plebeians were all placed in one tribe, that distinction belonged to a sub-group of Plebeians known as the Proletarii (from whence we get the term Proletariot), the Roman voting system was largely based on wealth with an emphasis on landed property, the Proletarii were those who possessed no land of their own, however Equestrians were also a sub-group of Plebieans and as previusly mentioned many senators were also Plebeian and these two groups were on average very wealthy and contained members who were immensely so. Plebieians were present in all tribes.

I also don't think the members of the Metelli family or the sons of Crassus or Pompey were ever in the habit of serving as common soldiers.

On a final note, much confusion is caused by the use of the term Patrician when the term that should be used is Nobilitas, the two are not interchangeable. The Nobilitas (as you either already know or no doubt guessed this is where the word Noble comes from) are the senatorial order which was composed of both Plebeians and Patricians (the ratio of which changed of course during the course of the Republics history) and thus the cities political elite, Pompey, Crassus and the Metelli family may not have been Patricians but they were considered as Nobilitas.

In general I suspect that that article while addressing some valuable misconceptions is largely being revisionist for the sake of it, as that often sells better and I suspect Ideological loyalties also come into it.

Regards, Praetor.

Edit: Just took another brief look at your first post Calvo and saw that you noted some of my corrections to the article you mentioned yourself, including the existence of both Plebeians and Patricians in the senate.


Edited by Praetor - 29 Jul 2009 at 15:17
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2009 at 17:52
Praetor,
 
what you mentioned applies more to the "late republic". During the early republic, such a class as "equestrians" did not even exist.
 
The evolution of the republic could pretty much be summarised as a rural society divided between patricians and plebeians defined by bloodline that gradually evolved into an urban society divided between the elite and the proletariat defined by wealth.
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Jul 2009 at 19:38

Sam, who do you count under 'common soldier'?

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Jul 2009 at 17:50
"Common soldier" refers to the non-commissioned ranks of the army.
 
In the Roman army, it would usually refer to all the ranks that were not legates or military tribunes. It would include all the legionaries up to and including the ranks of centurions.
 
Centurions, as a fact, largely came from plebeian stock, but generally they were born into better-off plebeian families that gave them the education and influence to gain promotion.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Praetor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03 Aug 2009 at 08:40
Sorry for the delay, Rider what I meant by common soldier was legionary, the sons of nobility would often serve as aide de camps to the commanding officer and in Rome's earliest days perhaps as cavalry.

You are quite right that what I said applies MORE to the late Republic but the class of equestrians in one form or another existed well before the late Republic and my primary purpose in bringing it up was to draw attention to the fact that there were plebeians in considerable numbers of some wealth and hence a highly important vote.

Regards, Praetor.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Birddog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Aug 2009 at 03:42
I thought that the Patricans came from the decendants of the men who where the Senetors at the time of the expulsion of the Kings of Rome. As the Repulbic grew older the number of Patricans diminished. A Plebeian could en-noble himself and his decendants by being elected Consul. Plebeians who entered the Senete without a noble background (Guius Marius, Cicero, Cato the Censor) were refered to as 'New Men'. All three on my list became Counuls and en-nobled their families. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rockingham Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2009 at 07:44
What of modern Rome? To what extent are the Patricians and Plebeians their ancestors? If not significantly, at what point was their demographic dominance eroded?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Birddog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 05 Nov 2009 at 12:04

As far as I am aware there are no Patricians and Plebeians in modern Rome. Rome is now the capital city of Italy. When they devided themselves up into Patricians and Plebeians it was a rather small city state. Populations move. Thounands of slaves came through Italy during the empire, an large numbers of them became freedmen and citizens of the empire and lived and bread with the locals of Italy. Italy since the time of the Romans has been invaded scores of times over the centuries. Different people bring in new blood. A modren roman has as much claim to say he's a patrician or plebeian as just about any other Europian.

But Patricians pretty well lost any last vestages dominance completly at the start of the empire when Augustus more of less created a new nobility. Augustus was of mixed pleb/patric stock like many other roman noblemen.
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