The Struggle of the Orders Plebeians vs Patricians

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There is a problem in Rome from the beginning. It is the unequal status of the Patricians and the Plebeians. The Plebeians are given no power in the Republic. All the power and decision-making goes to members of the rich and super-rich Patricians.

The Plebs are totally fed up.they take action. They withhold their services from the Patricians. They refuse to serve in the army. They will do no work for a patrician. They will not sell to Patricians. Finally, the Plebs threaten to pack up and leave Rome. They say they will march away, find a new place, and create a city of their own. There they will create a government of their own.

The Plebs threaten to walk out of Rome

The plan to leave Rome shakes the Senate. Rome cannot operate without the Plebs. What would the Patricians do if there were no Plebs doing all the daily work? Rome would collapse. The angry Senators listen to the Plebs demands and do the only thing they can do.

The Senate grants some -- not all the rights the Plebs are demanding. The Plebs stay.

The conflict between the orders is not over. The Plebs are soon complaining about the laws and the law courts. The Patricians use the courts to get back at the Plebs. Plebs find themselves in court very often. They are charged with violating this law or that law. Who ever heard there is such a law? Where did it come from? The judges says it exists and find them guilty. The Plebs make a new demand. They want all the laws written out. They also want all the laws posted publicly where everyone can go and read them. This will stop judges "making up" laws as they go.

Again, the Senate is forced to give in. The laws are written out on twelve tablets, The tablets are attached to a display in the Roman Forum. The tablets become the written basis for all Roman law. From now on, all Roman laws will need to be written out.

Writing out the laws protects the Plebs from judges "making up" laws as they go. It does not protect them from the Senate making unfair laws. Plebs demand a way to protect their right and their interests. The Senate is forced to create a new elected office. It is the office of Tribune of the People.

The Plebs elect a College of Ten Tribunes of the People. These tribunes protect the rights of the common man. They have the power to call the Assembly of the Plebs. They have the power of the veto. They can veto a law of the Senate. They can veto any action taken by the elected magistrates. It is illegal for patricians to touch a tribune. It is a death penalty offense for anyone to harm or kill a tribune. They serve in office for one year.

Eventually, the Senate must give the Plebs even more rights. Plebs will be allowed to marry Patricians. Plebs can become magistrates including a consul. In rare instances, Plebs can join the Senate. What the Senate does not do is reform the law. It does not change the existing laws that continue to make Patricians rich and Plebs poorer and poorer. And the Senate does not deal with the problem of land, debt, and slaves.

Political inequalities have been dealt with through the tribunes. Legal inequalities have been dealt with through the tablets of the law and the new written laws. Income inequalities are not dealt with. In fact, these inequalities become worse and worse as time passes. Issues of debt, land, and jobs will rock the Republic.

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