Social class in ancient Rome

The centre of the early social structure, dating from the time of the agricultural tribal city state, was the family, which was not only marked by blood relations but also by the legally constructed relation of patria potestas. The Pater familias was the absolute head of the family; he was the master over his wife (if she was given to him sub manu, otherwise the father of wife retained patria potestas), his children, the wives of his sons (again if married sub manu which became rarer towards the end of the Republic), the nephews, the slaves and the freedmen (liberated slaves, the first generation still legally inferior to the freeborn), disposing of them and of their goods at will, even having them put to death. Slavery and slaves were part of the social order. The slaves were mostly prisoners of war. There were slave markets where they could be bought and sold. Roman law was not consistent about the status of slaves, except that they were considered like any other moveable property. Many slaves were freed by the masters for fine services rendered; some slaves could save money to buy their freedom. Generally mutilation and murder of slaves was prohibited by legislation[citation needed], although outrageous cruelty continued. Apart from these families (called gentes) and the slaves (legally objects, mancipia i.e. "kept in the [master's] hand") there were Plebeians that did not exist from a legal perspective. They had no legal capacity and were not able to make contracts, even though they were not slaves. To deal with this problem, the so-called clientela was created. By this institution, a plebeian joined the family of a patrician (in a legal sense) and could close contracts by mediation of his patrician pater familias. Everything the plebeian possessed or acquired legally belonged to the gens. He was not allowed to form his own gens. The authority of the pater familias was unlimited, be it in civil rights as well as in criminal law. The king's duty was to be head over the military, to deal with foreign politics and also to decide on controversies between the gentes. The patricians were divided into three tribes (Ramnenses, Titientes, Lucere

). Social class in ancient Rome was hierarchical, but there were multiple and overlapping social hierarchies, and an individual's relative position in one might be higher or lower than in another. The status of freeborn Romans during the Republic was established by: ancestry (patrician or plebeian); census rank (ordo) based on wealth and political privilege, with the senatorial and equestrian ranks elevated above the ordinary citizen; attainment of honors (the novus homo or self-made man established his family as nobilis, "noble", and thus there were noble plebeians); and citizenship, of which there were grades with varying rights and privileges. Men who lived in towns outside Rome (such as municipia or colonies) might hold citizenship, but lack the right to vote (see ius Latinum); free-born Roman women were citizens, but could not vote or hold political office. There were also classes of non-citizens with different legal rights, such as peregrini. Under Roman law, slaves were considered property and had no rights as such. However, some laws regulated slavery and offered slaves protections not extended to other forms of property such as animals. Slaves who had been manumitted were freedmen (liberti), and for the most part enjoyed the same legal rights and protections as free-born citizens. Roman society was patriarchal in the purest sense; the male head of household (paterfamilias) held special legal powers and privileges that gave him jurisdiction (patria potestas) over all the members of his familia, a more encompassing term than its modern derivative "family" that included adult sons, his wife (but only in Rome's earlier history, when marriage cum manu was practiced), married daughters (in the Classical period of Roman history), and various relatives as well as slaves. The patron-client relationship (clientela), with the word patronus deriving from pater, "father", was another way in which Roman society was organized into hierarchical groups, though clientela also functioned as a system of overlapping social networks. A patron could be the client of a socially superior or more powerful patron; a client could have multiple patrons.