Plebeians (Lat. plebeius, from plebs, the common people), a class of Roman citizens not included either among the patricians or clients. Originally they were excluded from the senate, from all offices of state, from the making of laws, and from marriage with patricians. The constitution of Servius Tullius recognized their political existence, and divided them into tribes. Tarquinius Superbus abolished all the privileges conferred on them by the preceding king; and although on his expulsion these were professedly restored, yet when all fears of his return had been laid aside their condition was exceedingly grievous. The first important step toward their full consideration in the commonwealth was the establishment of the tribune-ship in 494 B. 0., a privilege which was still further increased by a law of Volero Publilius in 471 that the election of these magistrates should take place in the comitia tributa, in which the power of the plebeians was predominant. After the overthrow of the decemvirs, another point was gained by the lex Valeria Horatia in 449, which declared that the plebiscita, or decrees of the comitia tributa, should be of equal authority with the decrees of the comitia centuriata, and should become laws if sanctioned by the senate and confirmed by the curim.
A change in the constitution was again made in 445, by the law of the tribune Caius Oanuleius, which legalized the marriage of the two classes; but the demand of his colleagues that the consulship should be thrown open to plebeians was so strenuously resisted by the patricians, that a compromise was finally agreed upon, in accordance with which was established the new magistracy of military tribunes with consular power, to which members of both orders were declared eligible. Yet this was but a barren victory, so far as regarded its immediate effects, as the tribunes were usually chosen from the patricians. But the great point was finally gained in 366 by the passing of the Licinian laws, one of which abolished the office of military tribune, and declared that one of the consuls should always be a plebeian. The rogation to that effect was proposed in 376 by C. Licinius Stolo and Lucius Sextius, and the reading of it was then stopped by the eight other tribunes, who had been gained over by the other party. Year after year these two men were elected to the tribune-ship in the face of the fiercest opposition of the great patrician houses; and after ten years of struggle their rogations became laws.
Afterward the dictatorship, censorship, prsetorship, and finally by the lex Ogulnia in 300 the priesthood, were thrown open to plebeians. The lex Valeria was extended by the law of the plebeian dictator, Q. Publilius Philo, passed in 339, providing that the pleMscita should not require the confirmation of the curim in order to have the force of laws; and it was still further extended by the lex Hortensia in 286, declaring that they should not need the sanction of the senate. Henceforth the distinction between the two orders gradually disappeared.