This week in class I learned about a peaceful war that happened in Rome known as the “Struggle of the Orders.” In this essay, I am going to talk about the changes in Roman society because of this event.
The Struggle of the Orders was a type of peaceful protest that happened in 494 BC. The Plebeians (Rome’s lower class) had gotten tired of how they were being treated by the Patricians (Rome’s higher class) and seceded from the city. This made the Patricians realize that they needed the lower class to maintain the city and do their work. The Patricians agreed to lessen the restrictions on the Plebeians and invited them back into the city.
Once the Plebeians re-joined Rome, many major changes happened not only in the government, but in society. The lower class was allowed to choose tribunes (people who “commanded bodyguard units and auxiliary cohorts”[i]) to represent them in the government. In 471 BC, the concilium plebis was formed. This allowed the Plebeians to govern themselves. The laws passed by the concilium plebis were only enforced on the Plebeians at first, but by 287 BC, it applied to everyone regardless of class. Starting in the early 4th century BC, Plebeians would start getting land won from wars, a luxury that only the Patricians enjoyed before the Struggle of the Orders.
Intermarriage between classes was legalized and debt slavery of a Plebian to a Patrician was abolished.
Plebeians became eligible for the office of consul in 367 BC and by 342 BC at least one consul (decision makers in the government) had to be a Plebian. In 172 BC, for the first time ever, both consuls were Plebeians.
As you can see, the Struggle of the Orders significantly impacted the Plebeians political abilities, but socially, they were still considered less than the Patricians. The higher class still had more wealth and were not afraid to continue to flaunt it. Even into the 4th century AD, the Patricians had special shoes that only the higher class wore.
Thanks for reading!
[i]Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “tribune”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 Nov. 2019, https://www.britannica.com/topic/tribune-Roman-official. Accessed 4 May 2022.