In this memo, I look into the original plebs — the plebeian class of ancient Rome. The bitcoin plebs are the solid core of the community, and the bitcoin rabbit hole has encouraged all of us to read history with fresh eyes. So I became curious — who were the plebeians, and are there lessons that us modern day plebs can learn from their experience?
Classes In Ancient Rome
Society in ancient Rome was split into two classes, the patricians and the plebeians, or plebs. Patricians were the aristocrats. Legend has it that the original 100 patricians were chosen by Rome’s founder, Romulus, at the founding of the city in 753 BC. These 100 men were chosen for their wisdom and merit, and the Senate acted as an advisory to the king. Interestingly, they also elected new Roman kings. So the king’s title was not hereditary; however the descendants of the patricians laid claim to their title, and thus there was a noble class.
The plebeians were everyone else. Free Roman citizens, they were nevertheless only one step above slavery. Plebs were farmers, laborers and bakers. Often a pleb would have a patronage relationship with a patrician, which constituted employment as well as a pledge to fight as a soldier in case war broke out. Plebs worked long hours, and lived in crowded apartment buildings with unsanitary conditions. Plebs were forbidden from holding political office, and from intermarriage with patricians.
As could be expected, over the course of generations the patrician class became entitled and corrupt. Upon the overthrow of the last Roman king in 509 BC, patricians had complete control of the Senate, as well as two consuls, analogous to the executive branches of United States government. So the patricians had total political control, as well as most of the wealth.
After 509 BC, the patricians passed onerous taxes and changed the structure of farming, in order to increase their profits. Under the monarchy, many plebeian farmers worked the public land owned by…