Ancient Roman Social Structure: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Kristin Pia Hayman

Kristin taught for over 10 years in the elementary classroom. She holds a B.A. in Journalism as well as a Master's Degree in Elementary Education.

The people of ancient Rome were born into different classes based on certain factors such as family, wealth, and lifestyle. This lesson will explore some of the differences and similarities between the people of the upper and lower classes.

Divided Citizens

Imagine if you lived in ancient Rome. What would your life be like? What would your job be? What rights would you have? Well, in ancient Rome all of those things depended on what social class you were in. Ancient Rome was made up of a structure called a social hierarchy, or division of people into differently-ranked groups depending on their jobs and family. The emperor was at the top of this structure, followed by the wealthy landowners, the common people, and the slaves (who were the lowest class).

Your social class mainly depended on what type of family you were born into — Roman citizens didn't get to choose their class. Wealthy children were almost automatically a part of the upper classes, while children born to common people usually stayed in the lower classes for life.

Emperors were at the top of society
emperor

Patricians and Plebeians

The emperor was at the top of the structure, and no one had more power than him! Patricians were the people just below the emperor. This upper-class group included the wealthiest and most powerful citizens. Members of government and nobles (the highest title) all made up the upper class. They were just a small fraction of the population, but they had the most control and power. These people enjoyed the finest foods, the fanciest clothing, and relaxing days with little work. They also received the best education and jobs.

On the other hand, plebeians made up the majority of the population in ancient Rome. These were the common people: the farmers, craftsmen, traders, and other workers. These people spent their days working from dawn to dusk. In the early days of the empire, the plebeians could not participate in government, but eventually, they were given this right.

All adult males who weren't slaves were citizens of Rome. Whether a plebeian or a patrician, these men were given rights in government. Slaves, however, were given no rights, and women had very few rights as well. Although women were part of the plebeian or patrician classes, the slaves were in a class of their own that was well below the citizens. Occasionally a slave could be freed by his master (or could purchase his freedom). Once a slave was freed, he or she became a part of a higher class of freed people. This class was above the slaves, but below the plebeians.

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