Little is known about the early clients. They seem to have disappeared to form a part of the plebeian mass not long after the founding of the city. 12 But of the patricians themselves much more exact information is available.Next Page
Who were the patricians? The conquest theory that the patricians were Sabines, whereas the plebeians were Latins, has been answered, even while it was being promulgated, by research into the origins of the patrician families. Duruy 13 and Fustel de Coulagnes found that they were the cream of the society or neighboring towns who fled to Rome because of the political disturbances in their native places. Heitland 14 believes that the patricians were more largely Sabine and that the plebeians were more largely Latins, but that neither group was homogeneous. Blackmar's 15 idea that those who first settled in Rome established the patrician lines fails to take into consideration that each patron arrived in Rome with his clients. The gens and its dependents came as a unit.
The significant fact was that each patrician family could by marriage enter into connubium with each other, even though they were in some respects mutually strange to each other. This was because of their mutual recognition of common aristocratic backgrounds and status. Furthermore, families continued to come to the center as the city-state grew, and some of these aristocratic newcomers were also recognized as patricians.
Gibbon properly refers to the separation of patrician from plebeian as "the proudest and most perfect separation which can be found in any age or country between the nobles and the people . . . . " 16 But Sorokin's statement, that "the centuries before the fifth and sixth centuries BC. seem to have been the period of a weak mobility from the layer of the plebeians to that of the patricians," 17 lacks utterly in historical accuracy. The patricians kept their blood too pure to allow for any percolation into it. The separation was proud, perfect, and complete. "The patrician who formed a misalliance . . . lost his rank, fell into an inferior class. Every bastard was cast out by religion from pure families and counted among the plebs." 18
However, as will be shown, there was some circulation upward within the plebs. They had, by this time, ceased to constitute a layer in society. In fact, they were never a single social class, as were the patricians, because some of them were rich and illustrious persons from other cities, especially from the eastern Mediterranean.
Who were the plebs? Originally, there were few plebs. When Rome was founded, the lower class was composed of clients. The plebs were free men, unattached to a patriarch, living "in an enclosure on the slope of Capitoline Hill;" they were the clients who had lost their patron; they could hold property, and they practiced crafts. 19 When the lower classes were no longer distributed among the gentes, but lived apart, they were known as plebeians. 20
The only important social mobility during the early centuries, which in turn affected only a small percentage of the plebs, was the appearance of the new aristocracy, often referred to as the aristocracy of money. The development paralleled in trend that which had taken place in Greece. Some of these new aristocrats were themselves of highly respectable lineage. The following citation shows how old and honorable some of these plebeian families were: 21
The plebeian was not always poor. Often he belonged to a family that was originally from another city, which was there rich and influential, and whom the fate of war had transported to Rome without taking away his wealth, or the sentiment of dignity that ordinarily accompanies it.
Perhaps as an afterthought, at least in a secondary position, Fustel de Coulagnes states that "sometimes, too, the plebeian had become rich by his labor, especially in the time of the kings." 22
12. Georg Friedrich Schoeman, Griesche Alterthumer, vol. I (Berlin, 1861) p. 136.
13. Victor Duruy, History of Rome, vol. I. (Boston, 1883) pp. 132 ff.
14. W. E. Heitland, Roman Republic, vol. I (Cambridge, 1909) p. 42.
15. Blackmar, op. cit., p. 251.
16. Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. I (Modern Library edition, New York, 1932) p. 525.
17. Pitirim Sorokin, Social Mobility (New York, 1927) p. 148.
18. Fustel de Coulagnes, op. cit., p. 380.
19. Duruy, op. cit., pp. 196 - 197.
20. Fustel de Coulagnes, op. cit., p. 360.
21. Ibid., p. 398.
22. Loc. cit.