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(from the root gen of geno=gigno). A Roman family in the widest sense of the word, descended on the male line from a common ancestor, and therefore bearing a common name. So long as the patricians were the only citizens with full rights, there could of course be no gentes not patrician. The oldest gentes belonged to the tribes of the Latin Ramnes and the Sabine Tities. Besides these there were the gentes belonging to the Alban families, brought to Rome by King Tullus Hostilius; and embodied by the other gentes in the community as a third tribe, the Luceres. These, the most ancient, were called gentes maiores as distinguished from the gentes minores, which included the plebeians whom Tarquinius Priscus raised to the rank of patricians. There were in later times instances of plebeian gentes being raised to patrician rank; but these became rarer and rarer, so that the number of patrician gentes was finally much reduced. During the last years of the Republic we hear of only fourteen still in existence, including thirty familiae (or families in the narrower sense). Many large gentes were divided into houses (stirpes) who had a common cognomen in addition to the name of their gens; thus the gens Cornelia included the Cornelii Maluginenses, Cornelii Cossi, Cornelii Scipiones, Cornelii Rufini, Cornelii Lentuli, Cornelii Dolabellae, Cornelii Cethegi, Cornelii Cinnae, Cornelii Sullae. Among the plebeians, as among the patricians, the familia naturally developed into a larger circle of relationship; but gentes in the old sense were not formed by the process. Though the plebeian had his gentile name, and afterwards his cognomen, he had not the real ius gentilicium. See Ius.

All gentiles, or members of a gens, had a right to its common property, which included a common burial-place. They also had a testamentary law of their own which lasted on into the imperial period. When a member of a gens died without heirs of his body, the next to inherit (as in the case of the plebeians) were the agnati, or gentiles on the male side, who could prove their relationship: failing these, the gentiles divided the inheritance. The existence of this law rendered it, in old times, necessary to obtain the consensus of the whole gens in cases of adoption and testamentary bequest. Another consequence of it was, that it was the duty of the gentiles to provide a curator for insane persons and spendthrifts, and a guardian for minors. See Curator.

Every gens had its meetings, at which resolutions were passed binding its individual members in matters affecting the gens. It was a decree of the gens Manlia, for instance, which forbade any one of its members to bear the praenomen Marcus. As every familia, whether patrician or plebeian, had certain sacrifices which it was bound to perform, so had every gens, as a larger or extended familia. All members of the gens were entitled, and indeed bound, to take part in the sacra gentilicia, or common worship of the gens. These sacra ceased to exist with the extinction of a gens; and if a member of a gens left it, this right and duty also came to an end. It should be added that certain public religious services were assigned to particular gentes, that of Hercules, for instance, to the gens Pinaria. See Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht, iii. i. pp. 15-22; Becker, Handbuch, ii. 1.

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