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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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576 news items

The Times (subscription)

The Times (subscription)
Thu, 26 Jun 2014 13:22:04 -0700

The oiks and plebs of the Tory back benches are in uproar at being left out of a document showcasing the party's working-class talent. The Renewal Group, a think-tank, recently published a collection of essays by 14 Tory MPs from humble roots, such as ...

Breitbart News

Breitbart News
Mon, 28 Jul 2014 07:37:30 -0700

Four of the constables were involved in the notorious "plebgate" affair, in which government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell was falsely accused of calling Police at Downing Street "plebs". The accusations led to him being forced out of office. Three ...
Courier Mail
Sun, 27 Jul 2014 16:41:35 -0700

PLANE travel is always going to be a tricky beast ... unless you're one of those annoyingly fortunate people who always fly business class (then scowls at us “plebs” as we clunk your head with our hand-luggage while we shuffle down the aisle to the ...
Pune Mirror
Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:11:15 -0700

But the rest of you plebs out there will have to be prepared to die and reload a lot. Once you get a hang of it, though, the combat is a lot of fun. You will have to think on the fly and plan strategically, balancing out your action points, using the ...

Game Informer

Game Informer
Fri, 25 Jul 2014 23:23:37 -0700

by akbirdman Friday, July, 25, 2014 at 08:49. Arya would destroy Ellie. Seems unnecessary to do a film at this point, but it's certainly well-within Williams' abilities. "She doesn't look exactly the same! Wah wah wah!" = plebs. by MikeBogina Friday ...
VH1 (blog)
Sun, 27 Jul 2014 07:03:45 -0700

In a bonus clip from episode 13, Benzino throws Thi Thi a birthday party where he gives her new bling for her finger which she proudly shows-offs to the plebs in the audience but then comes the moment in front of their friends and family…Benzino lifts ...


Wed, 23 Jul 2014 20:19:39 -0700

Jack Nicholson, for instance. 'With my sunglasses on,' he says, 'I'm Jack Nicholson. Without them, I'm fat and 70.' Fine, it works for him. The trouble is, plenty of plebs for whom it doesn't work start kidding themselves. Well I hate to break it to ...


Fri, 25 Jul 2014 22:35:48 -0700

As for life expectancy, if you were a rich patrician you might hit 60 but the poor plebs were looking at an average of 35. However miserable the early 21st century is at least we live long enough to experience a few high points. And personally, I ...

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