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PATRI´CII The authorised version of Roman History, as given in the narrative of [p. 2.354]Livy and Dionysius and by Cicero in the de Republica, represents the state as divided from the first into ordinary citizens and a privileged class who are generally described as patricii. These are further stated to have been the families of one hundred persons selected by Romulus for his senate: “Patres certe ab honore, patriciique progenies eorum appellati” (Liv. 1.8, 7). On the other hand, we find in Festus a second tradition: “Patricios Cincius ait in libro de Comitiis eos appellari solitos, qui nunc ingenui vocentur.” It is connected with a strange etymological guess, that the patricii were originally those “qui patrem ciere possent;” that is to say, all freeborn persons (Liv. 10.8, 10). The word has, of course, really no connexion with ciere, but is simply the adjectival form of pater. Nevertheless it is certain that the explanation of Cincius is right in referring patricius to pater, not in its sense of senator, but in its original meaning of father and head of a family. On no other supposition can we account for the fact that the word patres is sometimes used of the whole order as synonomous with patricii (so in Liv. 4.4, 5, “ne conubium patribus cum plebe esset” ). The true explanation is summed up by Mommsen (Staatsrecht, iii. p. 13): “They are called either patres, inasmuch as they and they alone are or can be fathers. or else in adjectival form patricii, inasmuch as they and they alone have a father.” If there ever were a time in Rome when the word patricius was strictly and etymologically significant, so that no one but a patricius had a lawful father or could himself become a paterfamilias, then at that time the patricii were the only real citizens of Rome. It is impossible to count as a full burgess anyone who is incapable of becoming as paterfamilias a person of the civil law, able to hold property and to sue and be sued in his own right. The old story, which represents the patricians as from the first a nobility among their fellow-citizens, appears however in a somewhat different light, when we read that Romulus assigned the whole of the plebs as clients to one or other of the patres. According to this, there would be in the state as originally constituted no one but the patricii and their clients; as a client was at first in a position hardly distinguishable from that of a slave, this brings us round again to the proposition that “patrician” and “freeborn man” were originally synonymous.

The development of the rights and capacities of citizens outside the patriciate will be discussed elsewhere [see PLEBS]. It is sufficient here to say that in process of time certain outsiders won their way to the position of patresfamilias. By analogy these persons, or at any rate their children, should have been able to claim the title of patricii. But this logical conclusion was never drawn. The word patricius survived as a token of an arrested development: it was confined to the descendants of those who once exclusively possessed the qualifications on which the title rested. From the moment when plebeian patresfamilias come into existence the patricii must be counted as a nobility among their fellow-citizens. It is possible that the power to vote in the assemblies [see POPULUS] was for a time a privilege reserved to these nobles. But such a situation, if it ever existed, did not last long enough for the patricians to consolidate into a corporation with a general assembly and officers and powers of separate action. The patriciate as a body never gets free from the body of the Roman people. “Magistratus patricius” and “auspicia patriciorum” are always precisely the same as “magistratus” and “auspicia Populi Romani” [see MAGISTRATUS]. It may be noticed that this fact in itself gives us strong reason to conclude that the patricii were the original stock on which the other branches of the Roman people were grafted.

For a long time the patricians alone were eligible to the great offices of the state. The struggle over this question of eligibility lasted on into historical times. When it finally closed about the year 300 B.C., the members of the two orders were not left in a position of absolute equality. The patrician was weighted in the race for office with certain disqualifications, which had been originally imposed as a means of breaking the ancient monopoly of the order. Both places in the consulship and the censorship were open to plebeians, but only one to patricians. The patricians were likewise, as a matter of course, excluded from the offices of tribune and plebeian aedile. On the other hand, the great colleges of pontiffs, augurs, and decenciri sacris faciundis were divided as equally as possible between the two orders (in favour, therefore, of the chances of a member of the less numerous one), and certain other functions still remained for which patricians alone were qualified. The best list of these is derived from Cicero's description (pro Domo, 14, 38) of what will happen if the patriciate suffers extinction (a description closely followed by Liv. 6.41): “Ita populus Romanus brevi tempore, neque Regem sacrorum, neque flamines, neque salios habebit, nec ex parte dimidia reliquos sacerdotes, neque auctorcs centuriatorum et curiatorum comitiorum: auspiciaque Populi Romani, si magistratus patricii creati non sint, intereant necesse est, quum interrex nullus sit, quod et ipsum patricium esse et a patriciis prodi necesse est.”

There are other passages which casually confirm what Cicero here says about the exclusively patrician character of the interregnum. For instance, in Liv. 6.41, Ap. Claudius says, “sed nos quoque ipsi sine suffragio populi auspicato interregem prodirnus;” and again we have in Liv. 4.43, “prohibentibus tribunis patricios coire ad prodendum interregem,” and in later times in Asconius (ad Cic. pro Mil.), “Tribuni plebis referri ad senatum de patriciis convocandis non essent passi.” On the other hand, the elaborate descriptions of the first interregnum by Livy (1.17) and Dionysius (2.57) attribute the whole proceeding to the senate, and the same is distinctly stated by Appian (App. BC 1.98), τῇ δὲ βουλῇ προσέταξεν ἑλέσθαι τὸν καλούμενον Μεταξὺ βασιλέα: and above, βουλεντὴς ἕτερος παρ᾽ ἑτεροὺ ἐπὶ ἐπὶ πέντε ἡμέρας ἦρχεν, &c. There seems no way of reconciling these very clear statements on either side except by adopting Mommsen's hypothesis that the powers of the interregnum were vested in the patrician members of the senate, who met on such occasions unsummoned and without the co-operation of their plebeian brethren. [p. 2.355]

The same theory must serve to explain the patrum auctoritas. The words are sometimes used in a general sense for the approval or recommendation of the senate (e. g. Liv. 7.15, 12; 17, 9; 33.24, 4; 35.7, 5), and the single word auctoritas likewise bears the meaning of a resolution of the senate which has been vetoed by a magistrate. But patrum auctoritas in its technical sense is quite distinct from this later usage. It is a confirmatory act necessary to give legal validity to the decrees and elections made by the populus Romanus, and it survived as a form down to the Augustan age. Livy (1.17), in speaking of the election of king Numa, attributes the confirmation to the senate which had just conducted the interregnum; and we may trust him here, for he appeals to the practice of his own time: “Hodie quoque in legibus magistratibusque rogandis usurpatur idem jus vi adempta; priusquam populus suffragium ineat in incertum eventum comitiorum patres auctores fiunt.” Cicero likewise (Rep. 2.32), after beginning with the words “Tenuit igitur in hoc statu senatus rempublicam,” proceeds to adduce, amongst other points, “quodque erat ad retinendam potentiam nobilium vel maximum, vehementer id retinebatur populi comitia ne essent rata nisi ea patrum approbavisset auctoritas.” On the other hand, we have passages in which the established phrase “patres auctores fiunt” is altered into “patricii:” e. g. Liv. 6.42, “quia patricii se auctores futuros negabant;” and Sallust, Fragm. 82, 15, “libera ab auctoribus patriciis majores vostri suffragia paravere” --and Cicero, as we have seen, distinctly says that the auctoritas will lapse with the patriciate. The difficulty then is precisely the same as in the case of the interregnum, and may be solved by the same hypothesis of a “patrician senate.”

Since the auctoritas patrum was reduced to a mere form by being put before instead of after the voting (as was ordered by the Lex Publilia of B.C. 339 and the Lex Maenia), it can never have amounted to the power of rejecting a measure on its merits: such a power could be exercised as easily, perhaps more easily, on a bill before it came to the assembly. If, however, the patrum auctoritas was limited to a confirmatory certificate that the law had been passed in due form, it would be rendered nugatory if it had to be given before any objections could possibly be raised to the procedure. (For Mommsen's view, which differs slightly from this, see Röm. Forsch. i. p. 242, and Staatsrecht, iii. p. 1041.)

In spite of the decay of their political privileges, the patricians retained to the end of the Republic the dignity which attached to the oldest and purest blood in Rome. The number of families known from the lists of magistrates of the later Republic amounts to about 30 (Mommsen, Staatsr. iii. p. 12). Dionysius, however, gives 50 as the number of “Trojan families” which remained to his day. It would seem to follow that outside the ranks of the nobility of office there remained a certain number of patricians in equestrian station, though their ancient birth was fully recognised. Their position would somewhat resemble that of the more obscure Scottish peers in our time. Like the Scottish peerage, the patriciate could not be recruited. With the doubtful exception of the Claudii, no instance is known in Republican times of any man or family attaining the patriciate.

When Caesar as Dictator wished to increase their numbers, there appears to have been no machinery by which the patricians could act as a body in admitting fresh members. This admission was accomplished by a special law (Lex Cassia) of the sovereign people, whose mandate was of course absolute in all matters. The same precedent was followed by Augustus, who was authorised by the Lex Saenia to create a fresh batch of patricians. Claudius seems to have made such creations on the strength of his power as censor (Tac. Ann. 11.25), and after him the emperors conferred the rank freely. [Mommsen's view of the patrician senate (Röm. Forsch. vol. i. p. 218 seq.; Staatsrecht, iii. p. 1037 seq.), which is maintained in this article, is disputed by Willems, Sénat de la République, vol. ii. 1. § § 1-5.] [J.L.S.D]

Period from the time of Constantine to the Middle Ages.--From the time of Constantine the dignity of patricius was a personal title, which conferred on the person to whom it was granted a very high rank and certain privileges. Hitherto patricians had been only genuine Roman citizens, and the dignity had descended from the father to his children; but the new dignity was created at Constantinople, and was not bestowed on old Roman famsilies; it was given, without any regard to persons, to such men as had for a long time distinguished themselves by good and faithful services to the Empire or the emperor. This new dignity was not hereditary, but became extinct with the death of the person on whom it was conferred; and when during this period we read of patrician families, the meaning is only that the head of such a family was a patricius. (Zosim. 2.40; Cassiodor. Variar. 6.2.) The name patricius during this period assumed the conventional meaning of father of the emperor (Ammian. Marcellin. 29.2; Cod. 12, tit. 3.5), and those who were thus distinguished occupied the highest rank among the illustres; the consuls alone ranked higher than a patricius. (Isidor. 9.4, 1, 3; Cod. 3, tit. 24, s. 3; 12, tit. 3, s. 3.) The titles by which a patricius was distinguished were magnificentia, celsitudo, eminentia, and magnitudo. They were either engaged in actual service (for they generally held the highest offices in the state, at the court, and in the provinces), and were then called patricii praesetales, or they had only the title and were called patricii codicillares or honorarii. (Cassiod. 8.9; Savaron. ad Sidon. Apoll. 1.3.) All of them, however, were distinguished in their appearance and dress from ordinary persons, and seldom appeared before the public otherwise than in a carriage. The emperors were generally very cautious in bestowing this great distinction, though some of the most arbitrary despots conferred the honour upon young men and even on eunuchs. Zeno decreed that no one should be made patricius who had not been consul, praefect, or magister militum. (Cod. 3, tit. 24, s. 3.) Justinian, however, did away with some of these restrictions. The elevation to the rank of patricius was testified to the person by a writ called diploma. (Sidon. Apollin. 5.16; Suidas, [p. 2.356]s. v. Γραμματείδιον; compare Cassiodor. 6.2, 8.21, &c.)

This new dignity was not confined to Romans or subjects of the Empire, but was sometimes granted to foreign princes, such as Odoacer, the chief of the Heruli, and others. When the popes of Rome had established their authority, they also assumed the right of bestowing the title of patricius on eminent persons and princes, and many of the German emperors were thus distinguished by the popes. In several of the Germanic kingdoms the sovereigns imitated the Roman emperors and popes by giving to their most distinguished subjects the title of patricius, but these patricii were at all times much lower in rank than the Roman patricii, a title of which kings and emperors themselves were proud. (See Gibbon, vols. 2.109, 6.158; Bryce, Holy Roman Empire, p. 40; Rein, in Ersch und Gruber's Encyclopädie, s. v. Patricier.


hide References (20 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (20):
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.11.98
    • Tacitus, Annales, 11.25
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 4
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 42
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 15
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 17
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 9
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 33, 4
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 35, 5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 41
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 12
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 10
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 8
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 35, 7
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 17
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 7
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 8
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 43
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 33, 24
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