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(1) The hereditary aristocracy of ancient Rome (seePATRICIANS).

(2) The wealthy upper stratum of medieval Western European cities who gained special rights and privileges in the urban community. The economic power of the patriciate was based on large-scale trade, usury, urban property, and so forth. In most cases, the patriciate seized power after a city acquired the right to self-government. Members of the patriciate assumed the right to elect the city council and to fill the office of city magistrate. Using this political power in their own interests, they introduced tax systems that were favorable to them, obtained profitable tax-farming contracts, and plundered city finances.

The oligarchical rule of the patriciate aroused dissatisfaction among the urban masses and led to uprisings in which the guilds usually played a leading role. The uprisings generally ended in a compromise between the patriciate and the leadership of the guilds. In many cities, especially the large commercial centers, the patriciate preserved all of its power. The patriciate occupied an ambivalent position in feudal society. On the one hand, the patriciate had developed on the basis of the urban commodity economy. As the elements of capitalism emerged, several strata of the patriciate sometimes became linked with early capitalist relations. On the other hand, the patriciate showed a predilection for rapprochement with the class of feudal lords. Members of the urban patriciate acquired land outside the city and enjoyed seignorial rights, as did the feudal lords. They strove to set themselves apart from the toiling masses as a hereditary, privileged estate, and they imitated the way of life of the feudal lords.