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'' A commoner, also known as the ''common man'', ''commoners'', the ''common people'' or the ''masses'', was in earlier use an ordinary person in a community or nation who did not have any significant social status, especially one who was a member of neither
royalty Royalty may refer to: * Kingship * Royal family, the immediate family of a king or queen regnant, and sometimes his or her extended family * Royalty payment for use of such things as intellectual property, music, or natural resources Entertainment ...
,
nobility Nobility is a social class normally ranked immediately below Royal family, royalty and found in some societies that have a formal aristocracy (class), aristocracy. Nobility has often been an Estates of the realm, estate of the realm that p ...
, nor any part of the
aristocracy Aristocracy ( grc-gre, ἀριστοκρατία , from 'excellent', and , 'rule') is a form of government that places strength in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class, the aristocracy (class), aristocrats. The term derives from the G ...
. Depending on culture and period, other elevated persons (such members of
clergy Clergy are formal leaders within established religions. Their roles and functions vary in different religious traditions, but usually involve presiding over specific rituals and teaching their religion's doctrines and practices. Some of the ter ...
) may have had higher social status in their own right, or were regarded as commoners if lacking an aristocratic background.


History

Various
states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, Un ...
throughout history have governed, or claimed to govern, in the name of ''the common people''. In Europe, a distinct concept analogous to ''common people'' arose in the Classical civilization of ancient Rome around the 6th century BC, with the social division into
patricians The patricians (from la, patricius) were originally a group of ruling class The ruling class is the social class of a given society A society is a Social group, group of individuals involved in persistent Social relation, social intera ...
(nobles) and
plebeians The plebeians, also called plebs, were, in ancient Rome In historiography, ancient Rome is Roman people, Roman civilization from the founding of the Italian city of Rome in the 8th century BC to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in ...

plebeians
(commoners). The division may have been instituted by
Servius Tullius Servius Tullius was the Roman mythology, legendary sixth king of Rome, and the second of its Etruscan civilization, Etruscan dynasty. He reigned from 578 to 535 BC. Roman and Greek sources describe his Slavery in ancient Rome, servile origins and ...
, as an alternative to the previous clan-based divisions that had been responsible for internecine conflict. The ancient Greeks generally had no concept of class and their leading social divisions were simply non-Greeks, free-Greeks and slaves. The early organisation of
Ancient Athens Athens Athens ( ; el, Αθήνα, Athína ; grc, Ἀθῆναι, Athênai (pl.) ) is the capital city, capital and List of cities in Greece, largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica (region), Attica region and is one of the List ...
was something of an exception with certain official roles like
archon ''Archon'' ( gr, ἄρχων, árchōn, plural: ἄρχοντες, ''árchontes'') is a Greek word that means "ruler", frequently used as the title of a specific public office. It is the masculine present participle of the verb stem αρχ-, meanin ...
s, magistrates and treasurers being reserved for only the wealthiest citizens – these class-like divisions were weakened by the democratic reforms of
Cleisthenes Cleisthenes (; grc-gre, Κλεισθένης, Kleisthénēs ; also Clisthenes via la, Clīsthenēs ) was an ancient Athenian lawgiver credited with reforming the constitution of ancient Athens , image_skyline = File:A ...

Cleisthenes
who created new ''horizontal'' social divisions in contrasting fashion to the ''vertical'' ones thought to have been created by Tullius. Both the
Roman Republic The Roman Republic ( la, Rēs pūblica Rōmāna ) was a state of the ancient Rome, classical Roman civilization, run through res publica, public Representation (politics), representation of the Roman people. Beginning with the Overthrow of the ...
and the
Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Rōmānum ; grc-gre, Βασιλεία τῶν Ῥωμαίων, Basileía tôn Rhōmaíōn) was the post-Roman Republic, Republican period of ancient Rome. As a polity it included large territorial holdings aro ...

Roman Empire
used the
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the ...

Latin
term ''
Senatus Populusque Romanus The Senate was the governing and advisory assembly of the aristocracy in the ancient Roman Republic. It was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a Roman magistrate The Roman m ...

Senatus Populusque Romanus
'', (the Senate and People of Rome). This term was fixed to Roman legionary standards, and even after the
Roman Emperor The Roman emperor was the ruler of the Roman Empire during the imperial period (starting in 27 BC). The emperors used a variety of different titles throughout history. Often when a given Roman is described as becoming "emperor" in English, it ...
s achieved a state of total personal
autocracy Autocracy is a system of government in which absolute power over a state is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject neither to external legal restraints nor to regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perha ...
, they continued to wield their power in the name of the Senate and People of Rome. With the growth of Christianity in the 4th century AD, a new world view arose that underpinned European thinking on social division until at least early modern times.
Saint Augustine In religious belief, a saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of Q-D-Š, holiness, likeness, or closeness to God. However, the use of the term "saint" depends on the context and Christian denomination, denomination. ...

Saint Augustine
postulated that social division was a result of the
Fall of Man The fall of man, the fall of Adam, or simply the Fall, is a term used in Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life and Teachings of J ...
. The three leading divisions were considered to be the priesthood (
clergy Clergy are formal leaders within established religions. Their roles and functions vary in different religious traditions, but usually involve presiding over specific rituals and teaching their religion's doctrines and practices. Some of the ter ...
), the nobility, and the common people. Sometimes this was expressed as "those who prayed", "those who fought" and "those who worked". The
Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Roman Republic, it became the ...

Latin
terms for the three classes – ''oratores'', ''bellatores'' and ''laboratores'' – are often found even in modern textbooks, and have been used in sources since the 9th century. This threefold division was formalised in the estate system of
social stratification Social stratification refers to a society's categorization of its people into groups based on Socioeconomic status, socioeconomic factors like wealth, income, Race (human categorization), race, education, ethnicity, gender, Job, occupation, social ...
, where again commoners were the bulk of the population who are neither members of the nobility nor of the
clergy Clergy are formal leaders within established religions. Their roles and functions vary in different religious traditions, but usually involve presiding over specific rituals and teaching their religion's doctrines and practices. Some of the ter ...
. They were the third of the
Three Estates of the Realm 250px, A 13th-century French representation of the tripartite social order of the Middle Ages – ''Oratores'' ("those who pray"), ''Bellatores'' ("those who fight"), and ''Laboratores'' ("those who work"). The estates of the realm, or three esta ...
in
medieval Europe In the history of Europe The history of Europe concerns itself with the discovery and collection, the study, organization and presentation and the interpretation of past events and affairs of the people of Europe since the beginning of w ...
, consisting of
peasant A peasant is a pre-industrial farmhand, agricultural laborer or a farmer with limited land-ownership, especially one living in the Middle Ages under feudalism and tenant farmer, paying rent, tax, fees, or services to a landlord. In Europe, thre ...
s and
artisan Wood carver in Bali An artisan (from french: artisan, it, artigiano) is a skilled craft worker who makes or creates material objects partly or entirely by hand. These objects may be functional or strictly decorative, for example fur ...

artisan
s.
Social mobility Social mobility is the movement of individuals, families, households, or other categories of people within or between Social stratification, social strata in a society. It is a change in social status relative to one's current social location ...
for commoners was limited throughout the
Middle Ages In the history of Europe, the Middle Ages or medieval period lasted approximately from the 5th to the late 15th centuries, similarly to the Post-classical, Post-classical period of global history. It began with the fall of the Western Roma ...
. Generally, the
serfs Serfdom was the status of many peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to manorialism, and similar systems. It was a condition of debt bondage and indentured servitude with similarities to and differences from slavery, which developed ...
were unable to enter the group of the ''bellatores''. Commoners could sometimes secure entry for their children into the ''oratores'' class; usually they would serve as rural parish priests. In some cases they received education from the clergy and ascended to senior administrative positions; in some cases nobles welcomed such advancement as former commoners were more likely to be neutral in dynastic feuds. There were cases of serfs becoming clerics in the
Holy Roman Empire The Holy Roman Empire ( la, Sacrum Imperium Romanum; german: Heiliges Römisches Reich) was a multi-ethnic complex of territories in Western Europe, Western and Central Europe that developed during the Early Middle Ages and continued until its D ...
, though from the
Carolingian era The Carolingian Empire (800–888) was a large Frankish-dominated empire in western and central Europe Europe is a continent A continent is one of several large landmasses. Generally identified by convention (norm), convention rath ...
, clergy were generally recruited from the nobility. Of the two thousand bishops serving from the 8th to the 15th century, just five came from the
peasant A peasant is a pre-industrial farmhand, agricultural laborer or a farmer with limited land-ownership, especially one living in the Middle Ages under feudalism and tenant farmer, paying rent, tax, fees, or services to a landlord. In Europe, thre ...
ry. The social and political order of medieval Europe was relatively stable until the development of the mobile cannon in the 15th century. Up until that time a noble with a small force could hold their castle or walled town for years even against large armies - and so they were rarely disposed. Once effective cannons were available, walls were of far less defensive value and rulers needed expensive field armies to keep control of a territory. This encouraged the formation of princely and kingly states, which needed to tax the common people much more heavily to pay for the expensive weapons and armies required to provide security in the new age. Up until the late 15th century, surviving medieval treaties on government were concerned with advising rulers on how to serve the common good: Assize of Bread and Ale, Assize of Bread is an example of medieval law specifically drawn up in the interests of the common people. But then works by Philippe de Commines, Niccolò Machiavelli and later Cardinal Richelieu began advising rulers to consider their own interests and that of the state ahead of what was "good", with Richelieu explicitly saying the state is above morality in doctrines such as National interest, ''Raison d'Etat''. This change of orientation among the nobles left the common people less content with their place in society. A similar trend occurred regarding the clergy, where many priests began to abuse the great power they had due to the sacrament of contrition. The Protestant Reformation, Reformation was a movement that aimed to correct this, but even afterwards the common people's trust in the clergy continued to decline – priests were often seen as greedy and lacking in true faith. An early major social upheaval driven in part by the common people's mistrust of both the nobility and clergy occurred in Great Britain with the English Civil War, English Revolution of 1642. After the forces of Oliver Cromwell triumphed, movements like the Levellers rose to prominence demanding equality for all. When the general council of Cromwell's army met to decide on a new order at the Putney Debates of 1647, one of the commanders, Colonel Thomas Rainsborough, requested that political power be given to the common people. According to historian Roger Osbourne, the Colonel's speech was the first time a prominent person spoke in favour of universal male suffrage, but it was not to be granted until 1918. After much debate it was decided that only those with considerable property would be allowed to vote, and so after the revolution political power in England remained largely controlled by the nobles, with at first only a few of the most wealthy or well-connected common people sitting in Parliament. The rise of the bourgeoisie during the Late Middle Ages, had seen an intermediate class of wealthy commoners develop, which ultimately gave rise to the modern middle classes. Middle-class people could still be called commoners however, for example in England Pitt the Elder was often called ''the Great Commoner'', and this appellation was later used for the 20th-century American anti-elitist campaigner William Jennings Bryan. The interests of the middle class were not always aligned with their fellow commoners of the working class. According to Social history, social historian Karl Polanyi, Social_class_in_the_United_Kingdom#Middle_class, Britain's middle class in Victorian era, 19th-century Britain turned against their fellow commoners by seizing political power from the Social_class_in_the_United_Kingdom#Upper_class, British upper class via the Reform Act 1832, Reform Act of 1832. The emergence of the Industrial Revolution had caused severe economic distress to a large number of Social_class_in_the_United_Kingdom#Working_class, working class commoners, leaving many of them with no means to learn a living as the traditional system of tenant farming was replaced with large-scale agriculture run by a small number of individuals. The upper class had responded to their plight by establishing institutions such as workhouses, where unemployed lower-class Britons could find a source of employment, and outdoor relief, where monetary and other forms of assistance were given to both the unemployed and those on low income without them needing to enter a workhouse to receive it. Though initial middle class opposition to the Poor Law reform of William Pitt the Younger had prevented the emergence of a coherent and generous nationwide provision, the resulting Speenhamland system did generally manage to prevent working class commoners from starvation. In 1834, Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, outdoor relief was abolished and workhouses were deliberately made into places so unappealing that many often preferred to starve rather than enter them. For Polanyi this related to the Classical economics, economic doctrine prevalent at the time which held that only the spur of hunger could make workers flexible enough for the proper functioning of the free market. However, by the tail end of the 19th century, at least in Great Britain, mainland Britain, economic progress has been sufficient that even the working class were generally able to earn a good living, and as such working and middle class interests began to converge, lessening the division within the ranks of common people. Polanyi notes that in Continental Europe, middle and working class interests did not diverge anywhere near as markedly as they had in Britain.


Breakdown of the trifold division

After the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars and with industrialization, the division in three estates - nobility, clergy and commoners - had become somewhat outdated. The term "common people" continued to be used, but now in a more general sense to refer to regular people as opposed to the privileged elite. Communist theory divided society into capitalists on one hand, and the proletariat or ''the masses'' on the other. In Marxism, the people are considered to be the creator of history. By using the word "people", Marx did not gloss over the class differences, but united certain elements, capable of completing the revolution. The Intelligentsia's sympathy for the common people gained strength in the 19th century in many countries. For example, in Imperial Russia a big part of the intelligentsia was striving for its emancipation. Several great writers (Nekrasov, Herzen, Tolstoy etc.) wrote about sufferings of the common people. Organizations, parties and movements arose, proclaiming the liberation of the people. These included among others: "Sergey Nechayev, People's Reprisal", "Narodnaya Volya (organization), People’s Will", "Constitutional Democratic Party, Party of Popular Freedom" and the "People's Socialist Party". In the United States, a famous 1942 speech by vice president Henry A. Wallace proclaimed the arrival of the "century of the common man" saying that all over the world the "common people" were on the march, specifically referring to Chinese, Indians, Russians, and as well as Americans. Wallace's speech would later inspire the widely reproduced popular work ''Fanfare for the Common Man'' by Aaron Copland. In 1948, U.S. President Harry S. Truman made a speech saying there needs to be a government "that will work in the interests of the common people and not in the interests of the men who have all the money."


Social divisions in non-Western civilisations

Comparative history, Comparative historian Oswald Spengler found the social separation into nobility, priests and commoners to occur again and again in the various civilisations that he surveyed (although the division may not exist for pre-civilised society). As an example, in the Babylonian civilisation, The Code of Hammurabi made provision for punishments to be harsher for harming a noble than a commoner.Western Civilization: Ideas, Politics, and Society By Marvin Perry, Myrna Chase, Margaret C. Jacob, James R. Jacob, page 13


See also

* Aam Aadmi * Battler (underdog) * Demagoguery * Deme * Dominant ideology * Folk (disambiguation), Folk * Hoi polloi * Ochlocracy * List of peasant revolts * Plain folks * Populism * Republicanism * The Common Man * Tyranny of the majority * Qara bodun * Rayah


Notes and references


Further reading

*''The common people: a history from the Norman Conquest to the present'' J. F. C. Harrison Fontana Press (1989) *''The concept of class: a historical introduction '' Peter Calvert Palgrave Macmillan (1985)


External links

{{social class Social divisions Political history of the Ancien Régime Peasants