Patrician (from Latin: patricius) is a term that originally referred to a group of ruling class families in ancient Rome. Although the distinction was highly significant in the early republic, its relevance waned after the Struggle of the Orders (494 BC to 287 BC) and by the time of the Late Republic and Empire, membership in this group was of only nominal significance.
After the fall of the Western Empire it remained a high honorary title in the Byzantine Empire. Medieval patrician classes were once again formally defined groups of leading burgess families in many medieval Italian republics, such as Venice and Genoa, and subsequently “patrician” became a vague term used for aristocrats and the higher bourgeoisie in many countries.
According to Livy, the first 100 men appointed as senators by Romulus were referred to as “fathers” (Latin “patres“), and the descendants of those men became the patrician class. According to other opinions, the patricians (patricii) were those who could point to fathers, so define their family origin. The patricians were distinct from the plebeians because they had wider political influence, at least in the times of the early Republic. As the middle and late Republic saw this influence stripped, plebeians were granted equal rights on a range of areas, and quotas of officials, including one of the two consulships, were exclusively reserved for plebeians. Although being a patrician remained prestigious, it was of minimal practical importance. Excepting some religious offices, plebeians were able to stand for all the offices that patricians could, and plebeians of the senatorial class were no less wealthy than patricians at the height of the republic.