Patricians (Lat. pa-tricii, from pater, a father), the members and descendants, by blood or adoption, of the original houses of which the populus Roma-nus was wholly composed until the establishment of the plebeian order. They were at first divided into the tribes of Ramnenses, Ti-tienses, and Luceres or Lucerenses, each tribe consisting of 10 curiae, and each curia of 10 gentes, or in regard to representation and war of 10 decurice. The gens, all the members of which bore the same gentile name, sent its leader to the senate. Originally the two tribes of Ramnenses and Titienses enjoyed exclusive political privileges, but the Etruscan tribe of Luceres was admitted to the same rights by Tarquinius Priscus, and the number of senators, which before had been 200, was in consequence increased to 300. To distinguish the old senators from the new, the former were called patres majorum gentium, and the latter patres minorum gentium. At this period all the population who were not patricians were clients or slaves. After the formation of the plebeian order, the patrician became a real aristocracy, which held all civil and religious offices.
No matter how poor he was, a patrician could not become a plebeian unless he voluntarily left his gens and curia, and gave up its obligations and privileges; and no matter how wealthy he was, a plebeian could not become a patrician except in accordance with the lex curiata. At the end of the republic the number of patrician families had diminished to about 50, and both Julius Csesar and Augustus and the succeeding emperors found it necessary to raise plebeians to the patrician rank. The plebeians, in a struggle of centuries, had conquered all their political rights. The formation of the new aristocracy, founded upon wealth and upon the holding of the offices of consul, praetor, and curule aedile, rendered the old patrician families of still less account. During the empire the Roman citizens were divided into the two classes of populus and patricii. At the accession of Oonstantine the patrician families had almost entirely died out, and that monarch made it a personal title instead of a hereditary distinction. It was granted to all who had made themselves eminent by their services to the empire or the emperors. With the exception of the consuls, they constituted the highest rank in the state.
Those members of the patrician body who were in actual service, as usually most of them were, went under the name of patricii prcesentales; the others were dalled patricii coclicillares or honorarii. This distinction was conferred by most emperors with much caution, but some granted it even to eunuchs. It was also conferred at times on foreign princes. The exarch of Ravenna was sometimes styled patrician. After the loss of Italy, the Romans conferred this title on their rulers and protectors. During the middle ages families entitled patrician sprang up in many of the cities. In Venice members of the great council and their descendants bore the title. After 1297 no person was created patrician, but all descendents of those who belonged to that body became members by right at the age of 25. In Rome, Genoa, and other cities of Italy, the title of patrician is still used.