Plebs were the general body of landowners; of Roman
citizens in Ancient Rome. They were 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.
The origin of the class separation is clear. However the populace of the city of Rome during the reigns of Romulus,
Numa Pompilius, and Tullus Hostiliuswere all called "patrician" as they were likely the only inhabitants of Rome. It is during the reign of Ancus Marciusthat 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 Tablesdisallowed 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.
In British, Irish, Australian and South African English "pleb" is a derogatory term for someone thought of as inferior, common or ignorant. In Dutch it is used literally; someone may be part of the Plebeians. See also: prole.
* [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Plebs.html Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, article "Plebs"]
* [http://www.livius.org/pi-pm/plebs/plebs.html Livius.org: Plebs]
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