The people of Rome were divided into two classes of citizens: the aristocratic patricians and everyone else, known as the plebeians. These classes had an unequal distribution of power similar to the current class war in the late-stage capitalism United States between the 1% and the average citizen. This is also similar to the bourgeoisie and the proletariat of the French Revolution. This uneven distribution between a rich upper class and an impoverished lower class led to revolt.
Economic and Political Differences Caused the Plebeian Revolt
The patricians, the aristocratic of Rome with the wealth and from only the best families with the most powerful lineages, held the economic and political power in Rome. Most were landowners with families that provided the political, religious, and military leadership. Some were promoted to being patricians by the emperor (PBS, 2006). The patricians were the only ones who could be senators and emperors, and had elevated rights above the plebeian (Munro, n.d.).
Plebeians were other Roman citizens of Rome that were not the patricians. This included wealthy people that were from the wrong family, as well as the soldiers, craftsmen, farmers, and laborers of Rome. This is the working class, normal citizen. They worked hard and served their country in the military, but were in poverty and were distressed (Morey, 1901, Ch.7).
There were divisions between the patricians and the plebeians not only due to their historical familial status. Land won in war or dispute was owned by the patricians and the plebeians had to rent land to use from the plebeians. In this way, there was a one-sided division of land, favoring the patricians. In addition to land, the plebeians were in debt to the patricians from having to take loans from them to survive. The poverty of the plebeians in addition to having to pay rent and debts to the patricians in order to work their land created a large financial rift. The patricians had all of the wealth and economic control and the plebeians were poor and helpless (Morey, 1901, Ch.7).
The plebeians, under this debt burden, poor and with no property, made them slaves, by law. The debt of law in Rome was that the debtor was a slave to the creditor. Since plebeians were poor and could never pay off their debt, there was no escape. The plebeians had no legal way of addressing this wrong, so they revolted. Plebeians refused to serve in the army, forcing the patricians to fight for themselves. They threatened to start an independent city as well, leaving the patricians to work to feed themselves (Morey, 1901, Ch.7).
After this revolt, the patricians allowed two tribunes to be appointed from the plebeians with the power of veto over the decisions of any magistrate. The plebeians had an assembly as well, which was called by the tribunes. The assembly was permitted to pass law (plebiscite) that affected only the plebeians. The plebeian assembly was given the right to elect their own tribunes (Morey, 1901, Ch.7).
In Rome, as in other points of history, when power is held by a few and the rest of the population is powerless and poor, there will be a revolt. These revolutions cause for a more even distribution of power between the classes as the lower classes, who are much larger in population, assert their rights. In this case, the plebeian revolt ended up granting them two tribunes with veto power, right to assembly, and the right to elect their tribunes.
Morey, W. C. (1901). Outlines of Roman history. Forum Romanum. http://www.forumromanum.org/history/index.html
Munro, Rachel. (n.d.). Society of the Roman Empire: Patricians and Plebeians. Society of the Roman Empire. Retrieved from https://rightsandresponsibilitiesofrome.weebly.com/patricians-and-plebeians.html
PBS. (2006). Patricians. The Roman Empire in the First Century. https://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/patricians.html