Definition: Today, the term plebeian is synonymous with lower class. In early Rome, the plebeians (also known simply as plebs) may have been that part of the Roman population whose origin was among the conquered Latins (as opposed to the Roman conquerors). Plebeians were contrasted with the patrician nobility. In the period of the early Roman Republic, membership in the Senate may have been denied to the plebeians, and restricted to the patricians. Since the ruling body of the Senate was more interested in itself than others, the plebeians suffered. Over time the plebeians were able to amass wealth and great power. By the time of Caesar, the patrician Claudius chose to become a plebeian (something he could do through adoption) in order to hold an important political office, the Tribune of the Plebs. [See the Plebeian Timeline for major points in the evolution from downtrodden to powerful.]
Also Known As: Plebes, Plebs
Common Misspellings: Plebian (my personal one)
Examples:In Alessandro Barbero's The Day of the Barbarians, the fourth century historian Ammianus Marcellinus is said to have referred to the Goths as plebs truculenta 'a mob of dangerous ruffians.'