Early Roman Society

The History of Rome - Early Roman Society

"Brutus, the founder, made the people swear never to allow any man to be king in Rome. He promoted national unity and lessoned the friction between the patricians and the plebs" -Livy

The Family

The family was the most important part of Roman society. The main person in charge legally of the family was the pater or father. He even had the power of life or death within the family. If the matron, the woman of the house, was of a dignified social status, the power of the father was somewhat restrained. Originally called by the Latin title of paterfamilias, the father evolved into the patron of Roman Republican and early Imperial society.

Class Divisions

In Rome there were various class divisions that were very stringent. Under the Etruscans, a new wealthy aristocratic class had come into Rome known as the patricians.

The Patricians

The patricians were great land-owners and of a noble Latin birth. Once the Etruscans were driven out the patricians declared Rome a republic (a community by which people elect their leaders). They served in the Senate and were very privileged. They controlled the offices within the army, and they governed the important events that happened within society such as the public religious ceremonies.

Patricians were people who belonged to one of the original 35 gens, or tribes. The people who were not of the Patrician class were the Plebeians. The important aspect of class was familial relation to the original tribes, and secondarily, property ownership.

The Plebeians

There were also the Plebeians who made up the majority of Rome's inhabitants. Plebeians were a class of citizens who were usually non aristocratic farmers, artisans and shopkeepers, and some were wealthy. They did have rights, such as the right to serve in the Assembly and the right to vote, trade, hold property, and administer judicial self defense. They were not as privileged as the patricians and could never marry one. They could not hold a public office and could never receive entry into the Senate and there was no recorded bill of rights.

The Clients and the Slaves

The Clients were peasant farmers who rented land. They would follow a certain patron and perform political duties, including assassinations, and lying in court, if it would help further his patron's political career. In return, the client often received money, a job, or an invitation to dinner at the patron's house. A dinner invitation may not seem like much to us today, but in Roman times it could mean a great place in society if he appeared at the right dinner parties. His prestige in society would be much more enhanced if he were seen by the rich and famous at only one dinner party hosted by a powerful patron.

This patron-client relationship led to many interesting situations in ancient Rome. Sometimes candidates for various government magistracies would travel around Rome with several hundred or even a few thousand of their clients.

Lastly were the Slaves, who had no freedom or rights whatsoever unless it was bestowed upon them by their master.