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patrician(pətrĭsh`ən), member of the privileged class of ancient Rome. Two distinct classes appear to have come into being at the beginning of the republic. Only the patricians held public office, whether civil or religious. From the 4th cent. B.C. the plebeians struggled constantly for political equality until, by the 3d cent. B.C., the only offices reserved to the patricians were the civil office of interrex and some priestly offices. The increasing number of plebs in office together with patricians gave rise to the nobiles, an aristocracy of ruling families of both classes. Caesar and Augustus promoted plebeians to the patrician class. External marks of a patrician were a distinctive tunic and a shoe adorned with an ivory crescent.
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1. a member of the hereditary aristocracy of ancient Rome. In the early republic the patricians held almost all the higher offices
2. a high nonhereditary title awarded by Constantine and his eastern Roman successors for services to the empire
3. in medieval Europe
a. a title borne by numerous princes including several emperors from the 8th to the 12th centuries
b. a member of the upper class in numerous Italian republics and German free cities
4. (esp in ancient Rome) of, relating to, or composed of patricians
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005