Roman aristocracy in the third century. B.C.
In the third century BC the Roman vir nobiles belonged to about 20 patrician and plebeian families; among these the most influential were the gens Fabia, the most illustrious and important patrician family, flanked by the gens Aemilia and the gens Cornelia all three of Latin origin, then there were the powerful Claudii and Valerii families of Sabine origin.
The plebeian families had seen their wealth and influence increase only after the enactment of Leges Liciniae Sextiae in 367 BC. which resolved the strong social conflicts of the fifth and fourth centuries by modifying the distinction, now anachronistic, between patricians and plebeians that was traced back to Romulus.
The republican patricians were the heirs of the 100 patres curiales but they had not always preserved that primacy in wealth and virtue for which they had been recognized a privileged position in the monarchical age, on the other hand many plebeians had enriched themselves with their mercantile work and not only in goods but also of merits in civil society.
The term plebs did not indicate those who were in conditions of economic subjection, but simply those who did not belong to the 100 families that founded Rome; all those who arrived in Rome joined the ranks of the plebs and could be both free men from other communities who had been granted Roman citizenship but also freed slaves. The patricians thus remained a closed caste to which all positions of power were reserved, but social events and individual skills over the centuries changed the wealth and influence of both people belonging to the aristocracy and the plebs.
In 367 BC the tribunes Gaius Licinius and Lucius Sestius proposed a law that had to restore a greater balance between the citizens of Rome; it should be remembered that for each war conquest the booty was divided only among the patricians who therefore drew their income from possessing large estates and from the riches plundered in war among which there were also slaves.
The plebs up to the 4th century BC he did not own land and therefore his income came from trade, craftsmanship or servile work and sudden events such as the descent of the Gauls Senones had made the plebs lose the possibility of earning as well as their houses; many had gone into debt and, failing to repay the loan, they became slaves.
The Liciniae Sextiae laws set new criteria for the repayment of debts, extending the term within which a loan could be repaid to three years, limited the latifundium by setting the maximum expansion of ager pubblicus that could be owned at 500 jugeri and above all they opened the consulate , the highest office, even to the plebeians.
The first consul belonging to a plebeian gens was Lucius Sextius Lateranus in 366 BC, it was then the turn of Lucius Genucius Aventinensis in 365 who, in 362 was also the first plebeian consul to lead a military campaign.
In the first years of application of the Liciniae Sextiae laws they were not always respected: in 355, 354 and 353 the patricians did not grant the office to the plebeians, they succeeded by maneuvering so that not everyone showed up to vote.
In the years between 300 and 200 BC these families, patrician and plebeian, together controlled Rome and this group had a strong aristocratic connotation so that in fact we must consider that the whole group was made up of about three hundred people. But who were these men?
To find out who decided on the future of Rome in that century, it is enough to consult the consular fasti or the lists of the names of the consuls according to the date of office; for the period we are interested in, we can refer to both the Fasti Capitolini and the Fasti Antiates.
The Gens Claudia had a representative as consul 16 times including 5 consulates for Marcus Claudius Marcellus the hero of Syracuse; in the same period, at the end of the century, the gens Fabia had as its champion Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus consul 5 times.
In the last decades of the century the men of power in Rome were:
- Marcus Claudius Marcellus, consul 5 times;
- Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, consul 5 times;
- Quintus Fulvious Flaccus, consul 4 times;
- Lucius Postumius Albinus, consul 3 times.
It was a difficult time for Rome which, in the face of the great effort that the war with Carthage required, preferred a line of continuity in command ...
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by M.L. ©ALL RIGHTS RESERVED (Ed 1.0 - 15/10/2022)
A painting depicting tabernae of carpet dealers by Edoardo Ettore Forti (1850-1940)
A Roman person wearing a toga, Barberini Collection, I century BCE – Montemartini Museum, Rome IT
Fasti consulares from the imperial era, in which many members of the gens Aemilia are registered