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The plebeians ( Latin plebs , f , "crowd, people") were the simple people in the Roman Republic who did not belong to the old nobility, the patricians (Latin patres "fathers, ancestors"). It consisted mostly of farmers and artisans. They were considered to be Romans and were protected by Roman law after the class struggles (approx. 500–287 BC). During the class struggles, the plebeians repeatedly used the secessio plebis (possibly: conscientious objection) as a means of exerting pressure in the conflict with the nobility. As Rome was almost constantly at war with its neighbors, the patricians often had to compromise. At the end of the class struggles, the plebeians had made important economic, legal and political concessions, which are summarized under the term tribunitia potestas . What the assembly of plebeians decided was recognized as law and from then on the tribunes were officially recognized as civil servants within the framework of the cursus honorum . They were given the right to prohibit measures by the magistrates (e.g. the punishment of a plebeian, cf. comitia populi tributa ).

historical development

In 494 BC The plebeians went on strike for the first time for more rights ( secessio plebis ), and in 449 BC. The second exodus of the plebs from the city of Rome took place in 445 BC. They were granted the right to marry patricians ( lex Canuleia ). As a result (367 BC) the plebeians built their own structures (the popular assembly and the new magistrates of the tribune and the plebeian aedile ). All these concessions were enforced with the leverage of the secessio plebis .

The class conflict was 287 BC. Resolved. At that time the plebeian dictator Quintus Hortensius enforced a law that made the decisions of the people's assembly binding not only for the plebeians but for all Roman citizens ( lex Hortensia ).

As a clientele, the plebeians were subordinate to a patron . This depicts a transitional state in which popular violence remains controllable by the old upper class as long as the officials are socially dependent on it.

During the late Republic, the meaning of the word plebs shifted . The term now served the social differentiation of all citizens below the senatorial and knighthood . A distinction was made between the urban (which only refers to the city of Rome) plebeians, the plebs urbana , and the rural, the plebs rustica . Here the plebs urbana was of particular importance, because only it could take part in the popular assemblies and thus in the election of magistrates due to its local residency. As a result, popular politicians courted them with grain allocations and the like. Furthermore, the plebs urbana could also exert “physical” pressure (in the form of mass demonstrations and riots). It is controversial to what extent it has to be assessed as an independent political factor or just as a "plaything" by popular politicians.

Change of meaning

The word plebs has an important expansion experienced. Today it also means in general “a lot of people”, especially disparagingly “simple people” or “uneducated masses ”. Accordingly, plebeian means "uneducated, vulgar , rabble" without any historical context . The words proletarian (historical term) and proletarian (derogatory term) have the same meaning .

In contrast to the historical meaning ( the plebs ), the gender fluctuates with the generalized meaning : the plebs , less often the plebs .

In Italian, the hereditary word pieve , which has changed its phonetic state, persists alongside the educational new borrowing plebe . Obtained in place names such as Pieve Santo Stefano , the pieve referred to a parish.


Latin plebs is related to Latin plere "to fill" and plenus "full".

The German word Pöbel is not directly related to plebs . It goes through the old French poble "servants, common people" back to Latin populus "people". Probably populus belongs to the same Indo-European word family as plebs and plenus - as do the synonymous German words people and full . So there is probably a common primordial relationship - with the basic meaning "full" or "many".

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Plebeians  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Plebs  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations