From Academic Kids

This is an article about the privileged class in ancient Rome. For other uses of the term, see Patrician (disambiguation).

Patricians (patricii) were originally the elite caste in ancient Rome. In the time of the late Roman Empire, the term patrican (patricius) was a specific title given to a high court official. The word patricius is partly based on the Latin pater, which means father.


Patrician caste

In the early days of the Roman Republic, patricians formed a hereditary ruling group within the state. All magistracies were off-limits to non-patricians, who were known as plebeians. Patrician status was inherited, and intermarriage between patricians and plebians was forbidden. Trade between patricians and plebians was also forbidden.

Over time, conflict raged between the two classes, and patricians were slowly forced to relinquish their power. In 494 BC, the office of tribune was created to safeguard the interest of plebians; no patrician could hold this office. By the 320s BC, all magistracies were open to plebian candidates, and the importance of the distinction between patricians and plebians began to fade. In addition, because patrician status was strictly inherited and no new patrician families were created, the number of patrician families decreased.

By the last days of the Roman Republic in the first century BC, wealthy plebian families had long become an integral part of the Roman elite, and patrician status offered little more than prestige. This reality was made clear in 59 BC, when the patrician Publius Clodius Pulcher arranged to be adopted by a plebian (who was a year younger than he!) so that he could run for tribune. One of the few positions that remained reserved to patricians at this time was the office of high priest, or pontifex maximus. Julius Caesar, one of the most prominent patrician politicians of his day, held this office until his death.

Patrician position

Under the Roman Empire, patrician status as it had been understood in the Republic ceased to have meaning in everyday life. The emperor Constantine reintroduced the term; Patrician (Patricius) became an honorific title for those who demonstrated faithful service to the Empire. There were generally only a few patricians in the Empire at any given time, and sometimes only one. By the fifth century in the West, the title generally denoted a man who held the power behind the imperial throne, usually a general of the Roman army. Patricians of this era included Stilicho, Constantius III (before he became co-emperor), Aetius, Boniface, and Ricimer. The term was occasionally used in this sense in Western Europe after the end of the Roman Empire; for instance, Pope Stephen III granted the title "Patrician of the Romans" to the Frankish ruler Pippin III. In the East, where the Emperors maintained their hold on power, the title maintained its meaning as an honorific until Latin titles fell out of use as Greek became the language of the court.

List of Patricii

Modern usage

In modern English, the word patrician is generally used to denote a member of the upper class, often with connotations of inherited wealth, elitism, and a sense of noblesse oblige. This definition derives from the first meaning of the word above.

Use in fiction

In the satirical fantasy series Discworld by British author Terry Pratchett, the city of Ankh-Morpork is run by a Presidential like figure akin to the old roman nobility. The ruler rules under the title of Patrician but is in all respects simply a tyrant. In the City Watch (see Guards! Guards!) series of novels the Patrician is named Lord Vetinari and though he often gives puts up a democratic facade he is to all intents and purposes a dictator.

In the science-fiction 'Foundation' trilogy of Isaac Asimov, in the novel 'Foundation and Empire', Ducem Barr is referred to as a Patrician of the Empire. Within the story it is an inherited noble title, clearly derived of the Roman Imperial meaning, after which Asimov's Galactic Empire was he:פטריקים it:Patrizio (antica Roma) lb:Patrizier nl:Patricir pl:Patrycjusze fi:Patriisi sv:Patricier


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