The common people, also known as the common man, commoners, or the masses, are the ordinary people in a community or nation who lack any significant social status, especially those who are members of neither royalty, nobility, the clergy, nor any member of the aristocracy.
Various states 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 (nobles) and plebeians (commoners). The division may have been instituted by Servius Tullius, 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 was something of an exception with certain official roles like archons, magistrates and treasurers being reserved for only the wealthiest citizens – these class-like divisions were weakened by the democratic reforms of Cleisthenes who created new vertical social divisions in contrasting fashion to the horizontal ones thought to have been created by Tullius.
Both the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire used the Latin term Senatus Populusque Romanus , (the Senate and People of Rome). This term was fixed to Roman legionary standards, and even after the Roman Emperors achieved a state of total personal autocracy, 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 postulated that social division was a result of the Fall of Man. The three leading divisions were considered to be the priesthood (clergy), the nobility, and the common people. Sometimes this was expressed as "those who prayed", "those who fought" and "those who worked". 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, where again commoners were the bulk of the population who are neither members of the nobility nor of the clergy. They were the third of the Three Estates of the Realm in medieval Europe, consisting of peasants and artisans.
Social mobility for commoners was limited throughout the Middle Ages. Generally, the serfs 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,though from the Carolingian era, 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 peasantry.
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 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 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 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 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.
Social historian Karl Polanyi wrote that in 19th-century Britain, the new middle class turned against their fellow commoners by seizing political power from the upper classes via the Reform Act 1832. Early industrialisation had been causing economic distress to large numbers of working class commoners, leaving them unable to earn a living. The upper classes had provided protection such as workhouses where inmates could happily "doss" about and also a system of "outdoor"relief both for the unemployed and those on low income. Though early 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 save working class commoners from starvation. In 1834 outdoor relief was abolished, and workhouses were deliberately made into places so dehumanising that folk often preferred to starve rather than enter them. For Polanyi this related to the 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. Later the same Laissez-faire free market doctrine led to British officials turning a blind eye to the suffering in the Irish potato famine and various Indian famines and acts of exploitation in colonial adventures. By the late 19th century, at least in mainland Britain, economic progress has been sufficient that even the working class were generally able to earn a good living, so working and middle class interests began to converge, lessening the division within the ranks of common people. Polanyi writes that on continental Europe middle and working class interests did not diverge anywhere near as markedly as they had in Britain.
A People's Republic is typically a Marxist or socialist one-party state that claims to govern on behalf of the common people even if it in practice often turns out to be a dictatorship.
Populism is another umbrella term for various political tendencies that claim to represent the common people, usually with an implication that they serve the common people instead of the elite.
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: "People's Reprisal", "People’s Will", "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."
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.
Referred to as the "common folk", the "common people" and "Serfs" in the description.
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Caste is a form of social stratification characterized by endogamy, hereditary transmission of a style of life which often includes an occupation, ritual status in a hierarchy, and customary social interaction and exclusion based on cultural notions of purity and pollution. Its paradigmatic ethnographic example is the division of India's Hindu society into rigid social groups, with roots in India's ancient history and persisting to the present time. However, the economic significance of the caste system in India has been declining as a result of urbanization and affirmative action programs. A subject of much scholarship by sociologists and anthropologists, the Hindu caste system is sometimes used as an analogical basis for the study of caste-like social divisions existing outside Hinduism and India. The term "caste" is also applied to morphological groupings in female populations of ants and bees.
The szlachta was a legally privileged noble class in the Kingdom of Poland and in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. After the Union of Lublin in 1569, the Grand Duchy and its neighbouring Kingdom became a single state, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.
Bourgeoisie is a polysemous French term that can mean:
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, which developed during the Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages in Europe and lasted in some countries until the mid-19th century.
The estates of the realm, or three estates, were the broad orders of social hierarchy used in Christendom from the medieval period to early modern Europe. Different systems for dividing society members into estates developed and evolved over time.
The Lithuanian nobility was historically a legally privileged class in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania consisting of Lithuanians, from the historical regions of Lithuania Proper and Samogitia, and, following Lithuania's eastern expansion, many Ruthenian noble families (boyars). Families were primarily granted privileges for their military service to the Grand Duchy. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had one of the largest percentages of nobility in Europe, close to 10% of the population, in some regions, like Samogitia, it was closer to 12%.
The landed gentry, or simply the "gentry", is a largely historical British social class consisting of landowners who could live entirely from rental income, or at least had a country estate. It was distinct from, and socially below, the British peerage, although in fact some of the landed gentry were wealthier than some peers, and many gentry were close relatives of peers. It is the British element of the wider European class of gentry.
The Russian nobility originated in the 14th century. In 1914 it consisted of approximately 1,900,000 members.
The modern social structure of France is complex, but generally similar to that of other European countries. Traditional social classes still have some presence, with a large bourgeoisie and especially petite bourgeoisie, and an unusually large proportion, for modern Europe, of farming smallholders. All these groups, and the remaining industrial working class, have considerable political power, which they are able to flex when required.
The Nobles of the Sword were the noblemen of the oldest class of nobility in France dating from the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, and arguably still in existence by descent. It was originally the knightly class, owing military service in return for the possession of feudal landed estates.
Ministerialis were people raised up from serfdom to be placed in positions of power and responsibility. In the Holy Roman Empire, in the High Middle Ages, the word and its German translations, Ministeriale(n) and Dienstmann, came to describe those unfree nobles who made up a large majority of what could be described as the German knighthood during that time. What began as an irregular arrangement of workers with a wide variety of duties and restrictions rose in status and wealth to become the power brokers of an empire. The ministeriales were not legally free people, but held social rank. Legally, their liege lord determined whom they could or could not marry, and they were not able to transfer their lords' properties to heirs or spouses. They were, however, considered members of the nobility since that was a social designation, not a legal one. Ministeriales were trained knights, held military responsibilities and surrounded themselves with the trappings of knighthood, and so were accepted as noblemen. Both women and men held the ministerial status, and the laws on ministeriales made no distinction between the sexes in how they were treated.
The Finnish nobility was historically a privileged class in Finland, deriving from its period as part of Sweden and the Russian Empire. Noble families and their descendants are still a part of Finnish republican society, but except for the titles themselves, no longer retain any specific or granted privileges. A majority of Finnish nobles have traditionally been Swedish-speakers using their titles mostly in Swedish. The Finnish nobility today has some 6,000 male and female members.
Medieval cuisine includes foods, eating habits, and cooking methods of various European cultures during the Middle Ages, which lasted from the fifth to the fifteenth century. During this period, diets and cooking changed less than they did in the early modern period that followed, when those changes helped lay the foundations for modern European cuisine. Cereals remained the most important staple during the early Middle Ages as rice was introduced late, and the potato was only introduced in 1536, with a much later date for widespread consumption. Barley, oats and rye were eaten by the poor. Wheat was for the governing classes. These were consumed as bread, porridge, gruel and pasta by all of society's members. Fava beans and vegetables were important supplements to the cereal-based diet of the lower orders.
In the Kingdom of England from the 12th to 15th centuries, a franklin was a member of a certain social class or rank. In the Middle English period, a franklin was simply a freeman; that is, a man who was not a serf. In the feudal system under which people were tied to land which they did not own, serfs were in bondage to a member of the nobility who owned that land. The surname "Fry", derived from the Old English "frig", indicates a similar social origin.
The Lithuanian National Revival, alternatively the Lithuanian National Awakening, was a period of the history of Lithuania in the 19th century at the time when a major part of Lithuanian-inhabited areas belonged to the Russian Empire. It was expressed by the rise of self-determination of the Lithuanians that led to formation of the modern Lithuanian nation and culminated in the re-establishment of an independent Lithuanian state. The most active participants of the national revival included Vincas Kudirka and Jonas Basanavičius. The period largely corresponded to the rise of romantic nationalism and other national revivals of 19th-century Europe.
Gentry are "well-born, genteel and well-bred people" of high social class, especially in the past. In the United Kingdom, the term gentry refers to the landed gentry, the majority of the land-owning social class who were typically armigerous, but did not have titles of nobility.
Edo society refers to the society of Japan under the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate during the Edo period from 1603 to 1868.
The shliakhta were a noble class of ethnic Ukrainians in what is now western Ukraine, that enjoyed certain legal and social privileges. Estimates of their numbers vary. According to one estimate, by the mid-nineteenth century there were approximately 32,000 Ukrainian nobles in the western Ukrainian territory of Galicia, over 25% of whom lived in 21 villages near the town of Sambir. They comprised less than 2% of the ethnic Ukrainian population. Other estimates place the number of nobles at 67,000 people at the end of the 18th century and 260,000 by the end of the nineteenth century, or approximately 6% of the ethnic Ukrainian population. The nobles tended to live in compact settlements either in villages populated mostly by nobles or in particular areas of larger villages.
Like slavery, serfdom has a long history that dates to ancient times.
The social structure of Spain in the 18th century continued to be based upon nobility and peasantry. However, the period also saw the growth of a middle class, centred upon the growing bureaucracy associated with Bourbon rule, and upon a limited development of commerce and industry.