The aristocracy of office, which, at Rome, took the place of the patrician aristocracy of
birth, after the admission of the plebeians to all the offices of State and the levelling of
the distinction between patricians and plebeians consequent thereon. It comprised those
patrician and plebeian families whose members had held one of the curule magistracies. These
families, for the most part the most illustrious and wealthy, had the influence and money,
which afforded them the necessary means to canvass for and hold an office.
Thus, in spite of the theoretical equality of rights now existing, they almost completely
excluded from the higher magistracies all citizens who had neither wealth nor noble relatives
to support them. It was quite exceptional for a man who did not belong to the nobility to be
fortunate enough to attain to them. If he did so, he was styled a novus
(“new man,” “parvenu”), and his condition
It was one of the privileges of the nobility that they enjoyed
the right (ius imaginum
) to possess images of their ancestors, and this
was the chief external distinction between the nobiles
and the ignobiles.