AskDefine | Define plebeian

Dictionary Definition

plebeian adj
1 of the common people of ancient Rome; "a plebeian magistrate" [ant: proletarian, patrician]
2 of or associated with the great masses of people; "the common people in those days suffered greatly"; "behavior that branded him as common"; "his square plebeian nose"; "a vulgar and objectionable person"; "the unwashed masses" [syn: common, vulgar, unwashed] n : one of the common people [syn: pleb]

User Contributed Dictionary



etyl la plebeius, from pleb, plebis


  • a UK /ˈplɛb.i.ən/, /"plEb.i.@n/
  • Rhymes with: -iːən


  1. Of or pertaining to the Roman plebs, or common people.
  2. Of or pertaining to the common people; vulgar; common; as plebeian sports;
    They were all from the ghetto, a plebeian throng.


  1. One of the plebs, or common people of ancient Rome, in distinction from patrician.
  2. A pejorative name given to newcomers pledging in certain Greek college fraternities and, sometimes, military organizations
    • "Step over here, pleb, and tie my shoe!"
  3. One of the common people, or lower rank of men.
    • 1748. David Hume. Enquiries concerning the human understanding and concerning the principles of moral. London: Oxford University Press, 1973. § 3.
      The feelings of our heart, the agitation of our passions, the vehemence of our affections, dissipate all its conclusions, and reduce the profound philosopher to a mere plebeian.


one of the common people
  • Portuguese: plebeu

Extensive Definition

In Ancient Rome, the plebs were the general body of Roman citizens, distinct from the privileged class of the patricians. A member of the plebs was known as a plebeian (Latin: plebeius). The term is used more commonly today to refer to one who is in the middle or lower class, or who appears to be; however, in Rome, plebeians could become quite wealthy and influential.

Ancient tale

The true origin of the distinction between plebeians and patricians is unknown; there is little evidence for any sort of ethnic basis, nor many signs of a distinction during the time of the kings. However, the populace of the city of Rome during the reigns of Romulus, Numa Pompilius, and Tullus Hostilius were all called patrician as they were the only inhabitants of Rome. It is during the reign of Ancus Marcius that the plebeians came to Rome from diplomatic alliances as secondary citizens. In any case, around the time of the foundation of the Roman Republic, the plebeians were excluded from religious colleges and magistracies, and the law of the Twelve Tables disallowed intermarriage (which was finally allowed by the Lex Canuleia). At the same time, plebeians were enrolled in the gentes and tribes, served in the army, and could become military tribunes.
Even so, the "Conflict of the Orders" over the political status of the plebeians went on for the first two centuries of the Republic, ending with the formal equality of plebeians and patricians in 287 BC. The plebeians achieved this by developing their own organizations (the concilium plebis), leaders (the tribunes and plebeian aediles), and as the ultimate weapon used the secessio, by which the plebeians would literally leave Rome, effectively boycotting the city. This is recorded to have happened five times, although only the last (in 287) is believed to be accurately documented.
After this period, the plebeians were gradually incorporated into the Senatorial elite. The distinction between members of patrician families and members of wealthy senatorial plebeian families became essentially a legal, rather than a social one — at least one consul each year had to be a plebeian, and only plebeians had the right to act as Tribune of the People and to vote in the Plebeian Council. By the first century BC, many of the wealthiest and most prominent senatorial figures were actually plebeians, as many of the old patrician families died out.
Still later, during the Empire the term was often used of anyone not in the senatorial or equestrian orders.

Modern usage

In British, Irish and Australian English pleb is a derogatory term for someone thought of as inferior, common or ignorant. A pleb is seen as the lowest form of society and the highest form of loser. In Dutch it is used literally; someone may be part of the Plebeians. See also: prole.
plebeian in Bosnian: Plebejci
plebeian in Bulgarian: Плебеи
plebeian in Catalan: Plebs
plebeian in Czech: Plebej
plebeian in Danish: Plebejer
plebeian in German: Plebejer
plebeian in Modern Greek (1453-): Πληβείοι
plebeian in Spanish: Plebe
plebeian in French: Plèbe
plebeian in Croatian: Plebejac
plebeian in Indonesian: Pleb
plebeian in Icelandic: Plebeiar
plebeian in Italian: Plebei
plebeian in Hebrew: פלבאים
plebeian in Georgian: პლებეები
plebeian in Kurdish: Plebs
plebeian in Lithuanian: Plebsas
plebeian in Hungarian: Plebejus
plebeian in Dutch: Plebejer
plebeian in Japanese: プレブス
plebeian in Norwegian: Plebeier
plebeian in Polish: Plebejusze
plebeian in Portuguese: Plebe
plebeian in Romanian: Plebeu
plebeian in Russian: Плебс
plebeian in Serbian: Плебејци
plebeian in Serbo-Croatian: Plebejci
plebeian in Finnish: Plebeijit
plebeian in Swedish: Plebej
plebeian in Turkish: Plebler

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Babbittish, Cockney, Everyman, John Smith, Philistine, average man, base, baseborn, below the salt, bourgeois, brutish, campy, coarse, cockney, common, common man, commoner, commonplace, crass, gauche, general, high-camp, homely, homespun, humble, ignoble, inferior, kitschy, little fellow, little man, low, low-camp, low-class, lowborn, lowbred, lowbrow, lowly, mean, nonclerical, ordinary, plain, pleb, pop, popular, proletarian, provincial, public, roturier, rude, rustic, shabby-genteel, third-estate, uncouth, undistinguished, ungenteel, unpolished, unrefined, unwashed, vernacular, vulgar, working-class
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