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A Guide to Roman Nobles (Nobiles)

Updated on October 20, 2008

By the third century BC, the mixture of old patrician families and wealthy plebs had become the new aristocracy (nobiles) of rich landowners - the only respectable source of wealth for a Roman aristocrat. The nobles took no part in trade or anything commercial (at least directly). Simply because they were wealthy, they fulfilled the property qualification to enter the Senate (one million sesterces by the time of Augustus) and serve in the magistracies as aediles, praetors, and so on, because all these positions were unpaid and were regarded as a public honour (honor). Noble families were regarded as those who had had consuls amongst their number and who expected later generations to follow in those footsteps, serving in the magistracies of the cursus honorum (‘the succession of honours'), the career ladder for up-and- coming Roman politicians and statesmen. So although plebs had won the right to stand for office, in practice those without a substantial income couldn't consider it.

By the third century BC, the mixture of old patrician families and wealthy plebs had become the new aristocracy (nobiles) of rich landowners - the only respectable source of wealth for a Roman aristocrat. The nobles took no part in trade or anything commercial (at least directly). Simply because they were wealthy, they fulfilled the property qualification to enter the Senate (one million sesterces by the time of Augustus) and serve in the magistracies as aediles, praetors, and so on, because all these positions were unpaid and were regarded as a public honour (honor). Noble families were regarded as those who had had consuls amongst their number and who expected later generations to follow in those footsteps, serving in the magistracies of the cursus honorum (‘the succession of honours'), the career ladder for up-and- coming Roman politicians and statesmen. So although plebs had won the right to stand for office, in practice those without a substantial income couldn't consider it.

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