plebs (plĕbz) [key] or plebeians plĭbēˈənz [Lat. plebs = people], general body of Roman citizens, as distinct from the patrician class. They lacked, at first, most of the patrician rights, but with the establishment of the tribune of the people in the 5th cent. B.C., they gradually achieved political equality with the patricians. First marriage of plebeians with patricians was validated, then plebeians were admitted successively over several decades to the quaestorship, the consulate, the dictatorship, the censorship, and the praetorship; they finally obtained the important priestly offices of the pontificate and augurship in 300 B.C. With the blurring of the distinction between the two classes, from this time the name plebs passed to the lowest ranks of the people.

See K. Raaflaub, ed., Social Struggles in Archaic Rome (1986).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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