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For the TV series, see Plebs (TV series).

In ancient Rome, the plebs was the general body of free Roman citizens who were not patricians, as determined by the census. Shopkeepers, crafts people, and skilled or unskilled workers might be plebeian (/plɨˈbən/; Latin: plebeius).[1] From the 4th century BC or earlier, some of the most prominent and wealthy Roman families, as identified by their gens name, were of plebeian status (see Roman naming conventions). Literary references to the plebs, however, usually mean the ordinary citizens of Rome as a collective, as distinguished from the elite—a sense retained by "plebeian" in English. In the very earliest days of Rome, plebeians were any tribe without advisers to the King. In time, the word - which is related to the Greek word for crowd, plethos - came to mean the common people.

Plebs in ancient Rome[edit]

In Latin the word plebs is a singular collective noun, and its genitive is plebis.

The origin of the separation into orders is unclear, and it is disputed when the Romans were divided under the early kings into patricians and plebeians, or whether the clientes (or dependents) of the patricians formed a third group. Certain gentes ("clans") were patrician, as identified by the nomen (family name), but a gens might have both patrician and plebeian branches that shared a nomen but were distinguished by a cognomen, as was the case with the gens Claudia. The 19th-century historian Barthold Georg Niebuhr held that plebeians began to appear at Rome during the reign of Ancus Marcius and were possibly foreigners settling in Rome as naturalized citizens. In any case, at the outset of the Roman Republic, the patricians had a near monopoly on political and social institutions. Plebeians were excluded from magistracies and religious colleges, and they were not permitted to know the laws by which they were governed. Plebeians served in the army, but rarely became military leaders.

Dissatisfaction with the status quo occasionally mounted to the point that the plebeians engaged in a sort of general strike, a secessio plebis, during which they would withdraw from Rome, leaving the patricians to themselves. From 494 to 287 BC, five such actions during the so-called "Conflict of the Orders" resulted in the establishment of plebeian offices (the tribunes and plebeian aediles), the publication of the laws (the Law of the Twelve Tables), the establishment of the right of plebeian–patrician intermarriage (by the passage of the Lex Canuleia), the opening of the highest offices of government and some state priesthoods to the plebeians and passage of legislation (the Lex Hortensia) that made resolutions passed by the assembly of plebeians, the concilium plebis, binding on all citizens.

Noble plebeians[edit]

During the Second Samnite War (326–304 BC), plebeians who had risen to power through these social reforms, began to acquire the aura of nobilitas, "nobility" (more literally "notability"), marking the creation of a ruling elite of nobiles that allied the interests of patricians and noble plebeians.[2] From the mid-4th century to the early 3rd century BC, several plebeian–patrician "tickets" for the consulship repeated joint terms, suggesting a deliberate political strategy of cooperation.[3] Although nobilitas was not a formal social rank during the Republican era, in general a plebeian who had attained the consulship was regarded as having brought nobility to his family. Such a man was a novus homo, a "new man" or self-made noble and his sons and descendants were nobiles.[4] Marius and Cicero are notable examples of novi homines in the late Republic, when many of Rome's richest and most powerful men—such as Lucullus, Crassus, and Pompeius—were plebeian nobles. Some or perhaps many noble plebeians, including Cicero and Lucullus, aligned their political interests with the faction of optimates, conservatives who sought to preserve senatorial prerogatives. By contrast, the populares or "people's party", which sought to champion the plebs in the sense of "common people", were sometimes led by patricians such as Julius Caesar and Clodius Pulcher.[citation needed]

United States military academies[edit]

Main article: Plebe summer
Plebes (first year students) marching in front of Bancroft Hall, United States Naval Academy

In the U.S. military, Plebes are freshmen at the U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, Valley Forge Military Academy, the Marine Military Academy, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Georgia Military College, California Maritime Academy and the Philippine Military Academy.

British Empire[edit]

Early public schools in the United Kingdom would enroll pupils as "plebeians" as opposed to sons of gentry and aristocrats.

In British, Irish, Australian, New Zealand and South African English the back-formation pleb, along with the more recently derived adjectival form plebby,[5] is used as a derogatory term for someone considered unsophisticated or uncultured.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Richard C. Beacham, The Roman Theatre and Its Audience, p.14-15, Harvard University Press, 1991
  2. ^ E.T. Salmon, Samnium and the Samnites (Cambridge University Press, 1967), p. 217.
  3. ^ Gary Forsythe, A Critical History of Early Rome: From Prehistory to the First Punic War (University of California Press, 2005), p. 269.
  4. ^ Fergus Millar, "The Political Character of the Classical Roman Republic, 200–151 B.C.," as reprinted in Rome, the Greek World, and the East (University of North Carolina Press, 2002), p. 126; P.A. Brunt, "Nobilitas and novitas," Journal of Roman Studies 72 (1982) 1–17.<
  5. ^ "plebby". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 24 September 2012. 
  6. ^ "pleb". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 24 September 2012. 


External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plebs — Please support Wikipedia.
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582 news items

Wed, 06 Aug 2014 05:12:57 -0700

Google's 'right to be forgotten': One rule for celebs, another for plebs. Shady 'some results' search disclaimer? Not if you're a star. By Jennifer Baker, 6 Aug 2014. 41. Related stories. EU justice chief blasts Google on 'right to be forgotten ...
Fri, 29 Aug 2014 17:48:11 -0700

That's why unlimited amounts of money will continue to pour into our political campaigns. PollyPrissyPants 5pts. @Reborn Don't take offence, but I think you meant plebs. TangledUpInBlue 5pts. @riderofthelegend It's illegal to cross state lines to ...

Yahoo Celebrity UK

Yahoo Celebrity UK
Fri, 29 Aug 2014 23:56:15 -0700

Cameron's no different, but lucky for us she brings those meet ups to us plebs via her social media snaps, like she did in January when she bumped into Lena Dunham at 'Good Morning America'. And it seems massive movie stars love their quiet nights in ...
Braintree and Witham Times
Fri, 29 Aug 2014 01:18:10 -0700

for swallowing live fish – namely innocent Carassius Auratus (AKA Goldfish to us plebs) - and yet we even now have the 'Local Rag' extolling the bravery of people who feel a compulsion to similarly devour other living creatures viz; poor little 'morio ...
Los Angeles Times
Sun, 24 Aug 2014 16:01:35 -0700

To no one's surprise, he failed to win over either aristocrats or plebs. Julianus proudly held office for a full 66 days before being executed and replaced by Septimius Severus, a general astute enough to get himself proclaimed Caesar without a bidding ...
ITV News
Tue, 26 Aug 2014 05:11:15 -0700

The first show of the new series features award winning actor and writer James Corden, Coronation Street star Catherine Tyldesley, Loose Women's Jamelia, Plebs star Tom Rosenthal, Good Morning Britain's Charlotte Hawkins, comedian Mick Miller and ...
Times of Malta (blog)
Thu, 28 Aug 2014 23:56:15 -0700

Another reason why I hold dear my friendship with Mgr. Farrugia is his fervent support for the parish of Saint George in Victoria, where the dynamic between us plebs down on the plain and the more exalted supporters of the parish based up in the Castle ...
The 405
Thu, 28 Aug 2014 05:45:00 -0700

The idea of the muse has historically been seen through a rosy, feminine lens, girlish and naïve and starry-eyed while she watches the artist at work, usually chaste and sitting towards the lower end of the social hierarchy; the place reserved for ...

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