chapter  1
Pages 14

Roman society was classified into two groups (or ‘orders’) – patricians and plebeians; the origins of this classification are obscure and, over the years, various explanations have been suggested. These include an original racial difference between the two groups, or a distinction based upon the concepts of economic success or failure. As we have seen, doubts persist over the chronology of the ending of the antique monarchy and the inception of the republic. But if we accept the traditional dating of c. 509 bc, then, despite the usual assertion that the early republic saw a patrician monopoly of power and influence, it must be noted that plebeians, too, held prominent positions until the middle years of the fifth century bc. It may be that so long as Rome remained within the Etruscan cultural and economic sphere there was opportunity still for those whose wealth was based upon sources other than agricultural.