Q&A: what was the difference between a wealthy Roman and a poor Roman in Ancient Rome history?

by admin on November 17, 2012

Question by Lisa: what was the difference between a wealthy Roman and a poor Roman in Ancient Rome history?
I wanted to know, what were the differences between the wealthy Romans (patrician) and a poor Roman (plebeian)? What could a patrician do that a plebeian couldn’t? I can’t seem to find all the info I want or need and I want to learn about Life in Ancient Rome. Please help!

Best answer:

Answer by Swissman
What mainly separated the two was political life. Patricians were the senator class; only they can act as consuls. They ruled Rome and were extremely wealthy. Their social and economic status came from the lots of land they owned.
Plebeians were from all stratums of society. Some of them were very rich but were disbarred from political life when the Etruscans were overthrown (since they were Etruscan themselves) on 508 B.C. The plebians soon after started electing a tribune as their leader. For them they had the same prestige as a consul (there were two consuls during the Republic; they were the highest political seats and acted as kings but were elected, like presidents if you will). The number of tribunes increased to ten some time during the fifth century and politically they became very respected figures and there were laws that protected them as being sacred and should not be harmed. The tribunes were the leaders at the popular assemblies (these assemblies were where the laws were passed during the monarchic and Republic period). The plebians soon started being granted political power when they threatened to secede (stop fighting for Rome) and Roman enemies were at her gates. This technique worked great. By 376 BC the Sextian laws were passed which stated from then on a plebian can be consul but will be called a military tribune instead of consul. The law made it that one consul position was reserved for plebians to vote for the tribune they wished to be consul.

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JosF November 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Being plebeian or patrician was a social status, it has -officially- nothing to do with wealth. There were poor patricians (Sulla and Caesar when they started) and very rich plebeians. Patricians were the higher nobility. The status was inherited.

Roman society was highly stratified. Much more than you can imagine. Togas for example could only be worn by Roman MALE citizens. Nobody else was legally allowed to wear them. Some women wore them too, but those women were for hire and that was their business dress. ;-)

That toga may have a narrow purple band for knights and a broader purple band for senators. Nobody else was allowed to were those togas. Senators had special colored shoes, only to be worn by senators.

Even the tunica was regulated. You could spot a slave right away because of his tunica.

Okay, that’s the background. A highly stratified society. It goes much further: the rich were punished differently by law. If a rich Roman was sentenced to death, it would be an ‘honorable’ death. A poor would be send to the mines or ad bestias during the games (being eaten by wild animals), a rich might be sent into exile or to a small island to live out his days. Or something like ad gladius: beheaded with a sword.

Patricians rules politics, but gradually plebeians gained supremacy. In the end, it was just a small cherry on top of the ice cream. Being patrician was to be better than anyone else, but it carried very few privileges. Certain priesthoods were reserved for patricians and they could be appointed a year earlier to certain positions.

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