In ancient Rome, the patricians (from the Latin word patres, meaning ‘fathers’) were one of the main classes of Roman society. They were the ruling class, and enjoyed great prestige as well as special privileges, which they gladly lorded over the other inhabitants of Rome – for as long as they could.
Founding the Patrician Families
Some of the famous patrician families include the Claudii, the Julii and the Cornelii. According to some sources, the origins of the patrician class may be traced back to the founding of Rome. This class existed throughout the history of Rome (both the Republic and the Empire), and continued well into the Byzantine period. It may be noted, however, that the nature of this class, for example, their rights and privileges, changed over time. During the Byzantine period, for instance, the word ‘patrician’ was reduced to an honorary title without the power that it once enjoyed.
According to the Roman historian Livy, the patrician class was established by Romulus, the founder of Rome. Livy’s account of the institution of the patrician class is as follows:
“A promiscuous crowd of freemen and slaves, eager for change, fled thither from the neighbouring states. This was the first accession of strength to the nascent greatness of the city. When he [Romulus] was satisfied as to its strength, his next step was to provide for that strength being wisely directed. He created a hundred senators; either because that number was adequate, or because there were only a hundred heads of houses who could be created. In any case, they were called the “Patres” in virtue of their rank, and their descendants were called “Patricians.””