Cicero attacks the conspirator in the senate

An Elite Class That Ruled Over the 99%. Sound Familiar? It All Began with the Patricians of Rome

(Read the article on one page)

In ancient Rome, the patricians (from the Latin word patres, meaning ‘fathers’) were one of the main classes of Roman society. They were the ruling class, and enjoyed great prestige as well as special privileges, which they gladly lorded over the other inhabitants of Rome – for as long as they could.

Founding the Patrician Families

Some of the famous patrician families include the Claudii, the Julii and the Cornelii. According to some sources, the origins of the patrician class may be traced back to the founding of Rome. This class existed throughout the history of Rome (both the Republic and the Empire), and continued well into the Byzantine period. It may be noted, however, that the nature of this class, for example, their rights and privileges, changed over time. During the Byzantine period, for instance, the word ‘patrician’ was reduced to an honorary title without the power that it once enjoyed.

According to the Roman historian Livy, the patrician class was established by Romulus, the founder of Rome. Livy’s account of the institution of the patrician class is as follows:

“A promiscuous crowd of freemen and slaves, eager for change, fled thither from the neighbouring states. This was the first accession of strength to the nascent greatness of the city. When he [Romulus] was satisfied as to its strength, his next step was to provide for that strength being wisely directed. He created a hundred senators; either because that number was adequate, or because there were only a hundred heads of houses who could be created. In any case, they were called the “Patres” in virtue of their rank, and their descendants were called “Patricians.””

The Pride of Romulus.

The Pride of Romulus. ( Public Domain )

Patrician Powers and Conflicts

The patricians enjoyed great prestige and privileges in Roman society. For example, at the beginning of the Roman Republic, only members of this class were allowed to hold offices in the priesthoods. This was due to the belief that the patricians were able to communicate with the gods better than the rest of the population. Therefore, it was they alone who could perform such priestly duties. During this same period of time, membership of the Senate was open only to the patrician class, though this privilege did not last.   

Since the patrician class was created for the purpose of ruling, there would also be a social class / classes that was / were being ruled. One of these was the plebeian class, which eventually came into conflict with the patricians. The plebeians formed the majority of Rome’s population, and were involved in various important occupations. Thus, this group included farmers, tradesmen, craftsmen, as well as the rank and file of the Roman army, in short, jobs that the patricians deemed unsuitable for their high position.

A young woman sits while a servant fixes her hair with the help of a cupid, who holds up a mirror to offer a reflection.

A young woman sits while a servant fixes her hair with the help of a cupid, who holds up a mirror to offer a reflection. ( Public Domain )

As some of the members of the plebeian class became wealthy, they began demanding that their voice be heard as well with regards to the governance of the republic. Although they were reluctant to give up the absolute power they held, the patricians were aware that they needed the plebeians more than the plebeians needed them. The plebeians were also conscious of this, and threatened on several occasions to leave Rome altogether.

This led to the Conflict of the Orders, known also as the Struggle of the Orders, which lasted from 494 BC to 287 BC. It was during this time that the plebeians were able to attain political power, in the form of the Council of the Plebs, which was a legislative assembly that made laws affecting the plebeian class.

At the end of the conflict, the Lex Hortensia was passed, which meant that all laws enacted by this Council applied to all Roman citizens, the patricians included. One importance of the Conflict is that it contributed greatly in the development of the Constitution of the Roman Republic.

Gaius Gracchus, tribune of the people, presiding over the Plebeian Council.

Gaius Gracchus, tribune of the people, presiding over the Plebeian Council. ( Public Domain )


Roberto Peron's picture

Good article!  One can only hope that the present day Patricians will soon meet their demise as they’ve pretty much made a mess of things all around.


Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

Top image: Archaeologists looking at aerial photography found what they thought to be a hidden long barrow, or Neolithic burial chamber, hidden beneath a wheat field.
This summer, the University of Reading Archaeology Field School excavated one of the most extraordinary sites we have ever had the pleasure of investigating. The site is an Early Neolithic long barrow known as “Cat’s Brain” and is likely to date to around 3,800BC. It lies in the heart of the lush Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire, UK, halfway between the iconic monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury.

Myths & Legends

Ancient Race of White Giants Described in Native Legends From Many Tribes
Several Native American tribes have passed down legends of a race of white giants who were wiped out. We’ll take a look at a few such legends, including those among the Choctaw and the Comanches of the United States down to the Manta of Peru.

Ancient Technology

The Norimitsu Odachi.
The Norimitsu Odachi is a huge sword from Japan. It is so large, in fact, that it was said to have been wielded by a giant. Apart from the basic knowledge of it having been forged in the 15th century AD, measuring 3.77 meters (12.37 ft.) in length, and weighing as much as 14.5 kg (31.97 lbs.), this impressive sword is shrouded in mystery.

Ancient Places

A photo of the interior of the Siebenberg House.
The Siebenberg House is a house / museum located in the Old City of Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter. The Siebenberg House is best-known for the archaeological finds that have been made beneath the present structure. The excavations under the house have revealed several archaeological layers, and allow one to obtain a glimpse of the city’s history.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article