At the turn of the 5th Century BC Rome was facing several severe internal conflicts. The Republic was new and had just relinquished itself from the control of the Tarquins. Rome was faced with famine and the weight of its foreign wars. In the newly found Republic Patricians were busy competing for control of powerful positions and securing their families might. The average person in Rome must have felt the weight of all this too heavy.
Livy helps us to understand what was occurring. Plebeians’ difficult times were not only burdened with the troubles of the State but also the added burdens placed on them by their Patrician rulers. They were shut out of governing positions, and faced with unjust ruling and regulations that were lorded over them by the Patrician elite. Rome’s wars would leave the Plebeians in destitute when they were torn by both military service making them abandoned their trades and farming to fight and when Roman wars reached their homes and destroyed their farms. Meanwhile the Patricians sat protected within the city of Rome as the Plebeians returned home to find the land destroyed and themselves now in a destitute state (Morrey). What was a struggle that originally began as Rich versus Poor became more complicated when other more prominent members of Roman Society that were left out by the Patricians joined the Plebeian cause. The outcry for economic change was a major driving force the Plebs.
A major factor in the demand for economic reform was the unjust laws of Debt that were held at the time. The Plebeians who were faced from the economic hardships that were developing around them. Therefore the Plebeians were forced into borrowing money that the needed from the Patricians. The Patricians used this to further themselves and lock the Plebeians in place. Many Plebeians were now in the Debtor class which was extremely looked down upon in Roman Society (Morey). Burdened with poverty and debt those Plebeians who were not able to pay off the money they owed where forced into debt-bondage. They were now legally permitted to be chained and become a slave to the Patrician that they owed the debt to. The Patricians used this as a tool to attempt to control the poor and destitute and to keep them in their place (Morey).
Another area that united the Plebeians in protest was the unfair allotment of public lands within Rome. As Rome emerged from its victories and acquired more land the Patricians sought to use this to their own advantage. While instead the land that was acquired could have been used to help the vast amount of poor that was growing within Rome, it was instead used by the Patricians to increase their own wealth. The Patricians allowed the land to be “rented” out to members of their own class at small rates (Morey). The Patricians who rented the land ignored the fact that is was public property for all Romans and treated it as if it were their own.
The legal and judicial aspect of Roman society also called for drastic change. The Plebeians were susceptible to whatever law the Patrician elite passed as they had complete control of the legal process. Plebeian were without legal representation and the laws were dictated and controlled at the whim of the Patricians and how they saw fit to administer them. Plebeians saw that it was clear that they must make themselves equal within the law to change their current predicament.