The patricians (from Latin: patricius) were originally a group of ruling class families in ancient Rome. The distinction was highly significant in the Roman Kingdom, and the early Republic, but its relevance waned after the Conflict of the Orders (494 BC to 287 BC). By the time of the late Republic and Empire, membership in the patriciate was of only nominal significance.
The social structure of ancient Rome revolved around the distinction between the patricians and the plebeians. The status of patricians gave them more political power than the plebeians, however the relationship between the groups eventually caused the Conflict of the Orders. This time period resulted in changing the social structure of ancient Rome.
After the Western Empire fell, the term "patrician" continued as a high honorary title in the Eastern Empire. In many medieval Italian republics, especially in Venice and Genoa, medieval patrician classes were once again formally defined groups of leading families. In the Holy Roman Empire, the Grand Burgher families had a similar meaning. Subsequently "patrician" became a vague term used to refer to aristocrats and the higher bourgeoisie in many countries.
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