AskDefine | Define plebes

Extensive Definition

In Ancient Rome, the plebs were the general body of Roman citizens, distinct from the privileged class of the patricians. A member of the plebs was known as a plebeian (Latin: plebeius). The term is used more commonly today to refer to one who is in the middle or lower class, or who appears to be; however, in Rome, plebeians could become quite wealthy and influential.

Ancient tale

The true origin of the distinction between plebeians and patricians is unknown; there is little evidence for any sort of ethnic basis, nor many signs of a distinction during the time of the kings. However, the populace of the city of Rome during the reigns of Romulus, Numa Pompilius, and Tullus Hostilius were all called patrician as they were the only inhabitants of Rome. It is during the reign of Ancus Marcius that the plebeians came to Rome from diplomatic alliances as secondary citizens. In any case, around the time of the foundation of the Roman Republic, the plebeians were excluded from religious colleges and magistracies, and the law of the Twelve Tables disallowed intermarriage (which was finally allowed by the Lex Canuleia). At the same time, plebeians were enrolled in the gentes and tribes, served in the army, and could become military tribunes.
Even so, the "Conflict of the Orders" over the political status of the plebeians went on for the first two centuries of the Republic, ending with the formal equality of plebeians and patricians in 287 BC. The plebeians achieved this by developing their own organizations (the concilium plebis), leaders (the tribunes and plebeian aediles), and as the ultimate weapon used the secessio, by which the plebeians would literally leave Rome, effectively boycotting the city. This is recorded to have happened five times, although only the last (in 287) is believed to be accurately documented.
After this period, the plebeians were gradually incorporated into the Senatorial elite. The distinction between members of patrician families and members of wealthy senatorial plebeian families became essentially a legal, rather than a social one — at least one consul each year had to be a plebeian, and only plebeians had the right to act as Tribune of the People and to vote in the Plebeian Council. By the first century BC, many of the wealthiest and most prominent senatorial figures were actually plebeians, as many of the old patrician families died out.
Still later, during the Empire the term was often used of anyone not in the senatorial or equestrian orders.

Modern usage

In British, Irish and Australian English pleb is a derogatory term for someone thought of as inferior, common or ignorant. A pleb is seen as the lowest form of society and the highest form of loser. In Dutch it is used literally; someone may be part of the Plebeians. See also: prole.
plebes in Bosnian: Plebejci
plebes in Bulgarian: Плебеи
plebes in Catalan: Plebs
plebes in Czech: Plebej
plebes in Danish: Plebejer
plebes in German: Plebejer
plebes in Modern Greek (1453-): Πληβείοι
plebes in Spanish: Plebe
plebes in French: Plèbe
plebes in Croatian: Plebejac
plebes in Indonesian: Pleb
plebes in Icelandic: Plebeiar
plebes in Italian: Plebei
plebes in Hebrew: פלבאים
plebes in Georgian: პლებეები
plebes in Kurdish: Plebs
plebes in Lithuanian: Plebsas
plebes in Hungarian: Plebejus
plebes in Dutch: Plebejer
plebes in Japanese: プレブス
plebes in Norwegian: Plebeier
plebes in Polish: Plebejusze
plebes in Portuguese: Plebe
plebes in Romanian: Plebeu
plebes in Russian: Плебс
plebes in Serbian: Плебејци
plebes in Serbo-Croatian: Plebejci
plebes in Finnish: Plebeijit
plebes in Swedish: Plebej
plebes in Turkish: Plebler
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