The Roman Empire - In The First Century
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Sitting at the top of Roman society were the emperor and the patrician classes.

Although they enjoyed fabulous wealth, power and privilege, these perks came at a price. As Rome’s leaders, they couldn’t avoid its dangerous power struggles.

Life of luxury

As absolute ruler of Rome and its enormous empire, the emperor and his family lived in suitable style. They stayed at the best villas, ate the finest food and dressed in only the most magnificent clothes.

Life was luxurious, extravagant and indulgent – the emperor’s family could spend their days enjoying their favorite pastimes, like music, poetry, hunting and horse racing.

Palace intrigue

Still, it was not an easy life. Succession to the emperor was not strictly hereditary: the throne could pass to brothers, stepsons or even favored courtiers and any heir had to be approved by the Senate.

As a result, royal palaces were constantly filled with political intrigue. Potential heirs and their families always needed to be pushing their name, making their claim and hustling for position.

They would have to keep an eye on their rivals for the throne – including members of their own family – and would need to keep tabs on the many political factions within the Senate. Ultimately, to secure the ultimate prize would often require betrayal, backstabbing and even murder. It all made for a very stressful life in which only the strongest and most determined could survive.


Ranked just below the emperor and his relatives, the patrician families dominated Rome and its empire. The word “patrician” comes from the Latin “patres”, meaning “fathers”, and these families provided the empire’s political, religious, and military leadership.

Most patricians were wealthy landowners from old families, but the class was open to a chosen few who had been deliberately promoted by the emperor.

A good education

Boys born into a patrician family would receive an extensive education, usually from a private tutor. This would focus on the subjects a sophisticated noble would be expected to know, as well as some required for his future career. Poetry and literature, history and geography, some mythology and important languages – like Greek – would all be taught.

The Romans also considered lessons in public speaking and the law to be essential parts of a good education. Most young patrician men would go on to careers in politics and government, for which these two subjects were crucial. However, the patrician families were also expected to help continue the ancient priesthoods.

A privileged position

The patrician class enjoyed few privileges: its members were excused some military duties expected of other citizens, and only patricians could become emperor. But this eligibility carried its own dangers: patricians could find themselves becoming wrapped up in palace intrigue. If they ended up on the losing side, they could easily lose their home, their lands and even their lives.

Apart from the plots and politics, however, members of both royal and patrician families faced little work or real responsibility and were blessed with a relatively charmed life – certainly compared to the other inhabitants of Rome at the time.

Where to next:
Life in Roman Times – Home Life
Religion in Ancient Rome – Roman Worship

Related Links:

Social Order   Order
Emperors   Emperors
The Roman Empire

Republic to Empire

Age of Augustus

Years of Trial

Empire Reborn


Social Order
- Patricians
- Senators
- Equestrians
- Plebians
- Slaves & Freemen
- Soldiers
- Women
- On The Frontiers

Life in Roman Times


Enemies and Rebels


The Roman Empire - In The First Century