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Myth of Plebian Poverty

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Guest ParatrooperLirelou

I found an interesting article on the web dispelling many Roman myths.

 

http://listverse.com/2008/05/05/top-10-myths-about-the-romans/

 

In modern days we tend to use the term plebeian to refer to the common or poor classes, but in Rome, a plebeian was just a member of the general populace of Rome (as opposed to the Patricians who were the privileged classes). Plebeians could, and very often did, become very wealthy people
Edited by ParatrooperLirelou

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Nothing really suprising here but bad marks for Myth No 1 - 'Nero Fiddled While Rome Burned'.

 

OK they note that Nero was highly unlikely to have been in Rome during the great fire but totally miss the point that a 'fiddle' (basically a violin but strung differently) is a relatively modern musical instrument dating in its modern form only from about 16th century.

 

If anything he would have used a lyre ;)

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But let us not forget that the majority of the plebeian class were not rich and wealthy, even if they could be so.

 

That's true. It's also worth remembering that the wealthy elite made up around 200,000 people at the height of the Empire - a time when its total population was around 60-70 million. That's a tiny amount. The vast majority of the plebians would have lived in horrible dirt poor conditions under a brutal system.

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After the passing of the Hortensian law, the political distinction between patricians and plebeians ceased, and with a few unimportant exceptions, both orders were placed on a footing of perfect equality. Henceforth the name populus is sometimes applied to the plebeians alone, and sometimes to the whole body of Roman citizens, as assembled in the comitia centuriata or tributa. The term plebs or plebecula, on the other hand, was applied in a loose manner of speaking to the multitude or populace in opposition to the nobiles or the senatorial party .

 

A person who was born a plebeian, could only be raised to the rank of a patrician by a lex curiata, as was sometimes done during the kingly period, and in the early times of the republic. Caesar was the first who ventured in his own name to raise plebeians to the rank of patricians, and his example was followed by the emperors.

Edited by Gaius Paulinus Maximus

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