Classes of Roman Citizens
Legal Classes of Roman Citizens (Cives):
Patricians/ Upper Class:
This class was the Roman born wealth, property and power. The upper class was further divided into two divisions: The Senatores, and the Equites. Belonging to one of these upper classes had many significant advantages for Romans besides prestige. A man's social class determined his economic, political and legal rights. Rome did not have a middle class and the expanse between the upper and lower class was immense. Although, a freeborn Roman citizen had at least a slight possibility of moving into the equestrian class through the accumulation of wealth. Entry into the senatorial class, even for wealthy equestrians, was difficult, since centuries of rule by a small number of elite families had monopolized this class.
- Senatorial Class (Senatores): The basis of this class was political. This class was also referred as noble class (nobilis) and all the political and royal families came under this category of ancient roman hierarchy. Senatores had to prove they owned land and were not allowed to do works like trade business, non-agricultural works, public contracts and even day to day tasks. These tasks were done by their Slaves. Having Slaves was like a Status Symbol for the Senatorial Class.
- Equestrian Class (Equites): The basis of this class was economic. This class was below the Senatorial Class and they were bound to perform the tasks which were prohibited for the Senatorial Class to do. The Equites had to prove that they possessed a stable minimum wealth, then they were allowed to enter Senatorial Class.
Women: Women in Rome were generally defined by the men who had guardianship over them. Citizens were admitted because they were male and only male. Women's place in these classes was therefore somewhat problematic. However, there came to be a customary acceptance that women belonged to the social class of their fathers and then of their husbands, although still subordinate to the male. The social status began to formalize under Augustus, who included the daughters, granddaughters, and great-grand daughters of Senators in his law prohibiting members of the senatorial class from contracting legal marriages with freed people.
Plebeian/ Lower Class: The Lower Class belongs to the Poor Class. They were further categorized as below:
- The Commons: This class was also referred as the Vulgus or the Plebs were those Roman citizens who were born free. They were identified by their dress, which was the toga. They were allowed to marry another Roman citizen and their children were considered citizens.
- Latins: These people who were born free, but in Italy and some other Roman areas, were not full citizens of Rome.
- Foreigners/ Peregrini: Freeborn from outer Latin areas were among this category and they had limited citizenship.
- Freed People/ Liberti: All the people who were once slaves to Roman people and then were granted their freedom were in this category. But, they still had limited rights as compared to other freeborn.
- Slaves: The persons who were born slaves or were sold as slaves due to any reason were categorized among this subdivision. They were the sole property of their owner and did not possess any rights or have citizenship.
Women: The lower classes were not defined by male activities, so women were included and subordinate to their male guardian. Female and male children were members of the social class of their parents. If the parents were Roman citizens and had contracted a legal Roman marriage, the children followed the social status of their father (i.e., they were Roman citizens). However, in the case of Latins, foreigners, and slaves, children took the social status of their mother, even if their father was a freeborn Roman citizen.
Roman Citizenship: Servi (slaves) were not citizens of Rome. Liberti (people who gained citizenship). All those encircled in Cives (Roman Citizens) enjoyed all the privileges of full Roman citizenship.
Source: Koenraad Verboven, "The Associative Order: Status and Ethos among Roman Businessmen in Late Republic and Early Empire," Athenaeum 95 (2007), p. 861