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1. of, relating to, or characteristic of the common people, esp those of Rome
2. one of the common people, esp one of the Roman plebs
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) A member of a class of free men in ancient Rome.

(2) A member of the lowest and poorest stratum of the population in the cities of Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Plebeians included impoverished guildsmen; unskilled workers and day laborers outside the guild system; vagrants, beggars, and other lumpen proletarians; and some journeymen. Plebeians became an especially important element in society as feudalism declined and capitalist relations arose. In this period the number of plebeians greatly increased and protoproletarian elements among plebeians began to play an ever-increasing role.

Owing to their heterogeneous social composition, the plebeians as a class behaved in various ways during social struggles. Although the lumpen-proletarian elements sometimes supported reactionary tendencies, the plebeians more often belonged to the left wing of popular movements. They were placed in an antagonistic position to the entire social system of the time by their total, or almost total, lack of property and by their difficult material circumstances. They were the main driving force in many of the urban revolts against the patriciate, the domination of the guild oligarchy, and burdensome taxation. Together with the poorest of the peasantry, the plebeians constituted the social base for movements that raised demands for egalitarian communism; these demands were put forth by leftwing Czech Taborites, the Anabaptists, and T. Münzer. The plebeians and peasants made up force that secured victory for the bourgeoisie in the early bourgeois revolutions.


Engels, F. “Krest’ianskaia voina ν Germanii.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch, 2nd ed., vol. 7.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The perceptions and practices of plebeians regarding the economy were quite different from the vision of international merchants, financiers, bankers or ministers; however, as Lemire convincingly argues, it was no less significant.
William Christmas seeks to provide both; he has seen what he believes to be a clear development during the period in the production and reception of this writing which has not previously been identified; and he adds to the familiar list some names which are not so well known, and whose work tends to support his thesis--that although, as so many people have maintained, 'class' in the Marxist sense did not exist in the eighteenth century, a kind of proto-class-consciousness, its early glimmerings, can be perceived to be developing in the relations between those he calls 'plebeian' poets and their patrons.
As Phyllis Rackin points out, the play ultimately erases the memory of the plebeian men that fought and died on Henry's behalf (227).
Grits, a slightly different-flavored coarse meal of hominy--a hulled, treated dried corn--gets plebeian canking and is relegated to breakfast.
In his research into colonial Buenos Aires, Johnson found few plebeian challenges to the hierarchical definitions of honor, or their appropriation of the term "honor" "even while imitating the values and behaviors associated with this cultural system" (129).
For these plebeian populists, the most radical voice among Anti-Federalists, the rights of the Federalist minority in Carlisle were easily cast aside when they contradicted the will of the local community.
Enslaved people of both sexes, plebeian men, women of all classes and races - all were denied the right to participate in the body politic until their political struggles forced a broadening of the definition of democracy.(2) "Who was left out?" is obviously an important question, but this article seeks to take the discussion a step further.
In Part One, "Women and Men in Plebeian Culture," Clark identifies what she terms a "sexual crisis" in plebeian culture due to a sexual division of labor, marital instabilities, and shifting sexual moralities.
Over the past 50 years, 14th Street continued with its plebeian orientation and became known as an affordable place for working people to buy clothing.
Layth, the founder of the dynasty, was plebeian, and contrasted sharply with the aristocratic origins of the Tahirids and the Samanids, the rivals of the Saffarids for power in eastern Iran.