Libera res publica
From the Latin idiom libera res publica meaning "free from things public". In the original Republic of Rome the power of the State was returned to the people and held individually. The people gathered in small groups called hearths.
The original Senate was merely a gathering of older men selected through a network of people gathering in small local groups. They did not have a legislative power that was capable of infringing on the natural rights of the people. Rome was a Republic and enjoyed a Republican form of government.
As the people became willing to receive benefits from society and the State at the expense of their neighbor Polybius writes of their degeneration into an unnatural state which brought about a centralization of government power under the Caesars.
- “Tacitus repeatedly contrasts the res publica under the emperors with the pre-Augustus libera res publica; and in the Germania 37, encountering the disasters which Germans inflicted upon the res publica Romanorum, he distinguishes between the old res publica, which he calls the populus Romanus, and the new res publica, which he calls “Caesar.” The old res publica hardly had the mixed constitution which dreamers assigned it and which actually never can exist, but it was something greater and majestic which lives on as a glorious memory in a mean age.” The Ruling Power: A Study Of The Roman Empire In The Second Century After Christ Through The Roman Oration Of Aelius Aristides, James H. Oliver, Kessinger Publishing, July 25, 2006. ISBN-13: 978-1428659315. see Republican form
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), various dependent relatives, and 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.
The ancient Roman republic had three branches of government. In the beginning, the Senate, a group made up of 300 citizens from Rome's patrician class, the oldest and wealthiest families of Rome. It was the patricians, tired of obeying the king, who revolted and threw out Tarquinius Superbus.
The cursus honorum (Latin: "course of offices") was the sequential order of public offices held by aspiring politicians in both the Roman Republic and the early Roman Empire. It was designed for men of senatorial rank. The cursus honorum comprised a mixture of military and political administration posts. Each office had a minimum age for election. There were minimum intervals between holding successive offices and laws forbade repeating an office.
The equites (Latin: eques nom. singular; sometimes referred to as "knights" in modern times) constituted the second of the property-based classes of ancient Rome, ranking below the senatorial class. A member of the equestrian order was known as an eques (plural: equites).
The distinction between patricians and plebeians in Ancient Rome was based purely on birth. Although modern writers often portray patricians as rich and powerful families who managed to secure power over the less-fortunate plebeian families, plebeians and patricians among the senatorial class were equally wealthy.
A senate composed of patricians elected these consuls. At this time, lower-class citizens, or plebeians, had virtually no say in the government. Both men and women were citizens in the Roman Republic, but only men could vote.
The term plebeian referred to all free Roman citizens who were not members of the patrician, senatorial or equestrian classes. Plebeians were average working citizens of Rome – farmers, bakers, builders or craftsmen – who worked hard to support their families and pay their taxes.
Plebeians and patricians could also get married. Wealthy plebeians became part of the Roman nobility. However, despite changes in the laws, the patricians always held a majority of the wealth and power in Ancient Rome. A third social class in Roman society was the slaves.
By the Late Empire, few members of the Senate were from the original patrician families, most of which had died out. Rome continued to have a hierarchical class system, but it was no longer dominated by the distinction between patricians and plebeians.