Ancient Rome was not all about conquests, gladiator fights and the construction of magnificent buildings. The truth is often a lot less glamorous, such as the Plebeian Secessions.
What were the Plebeian Secessions?
Plebeian secessions were a form of protest, or striking, in Ancient Rome during the early Roman Republic. Plebeians were not allowed to be elected to most public offices and had no say in the matters of the Senate, and thus were often at odds with the ruling class.
Secessions were used during disputes as a peaceful, last resort against the ruling patrician class and involved an organised effort by plebeians to simply put down their tools (or whatever they happened to be holding) and walk out of Rome to let the elite fend for themselves.
Since the plebeian class were responsible for virtually all production and transportation of goods and food, it meant that all commercial trade ground to a halt in Rome, ultimately leading to a knock on effect through out the Roman Empire.
How many were there?
There were an estimated five plebeian secessions, taking place in 494 BC, 449 BC, 445 BC, 342 BC and 287 BC. After this date no more are recorded.
How effective were they?
Plebeian secessions were very successful forms of protest as Rome simply could not function during these mass walk outs. The first secession in 494 BC, which was caused by disputes over a lack of welfare for the plebeians, ended with the creation of a new public office known as the Tribune of the Plebs. This office was one of the most powerful and influential in Ancient Rome and the sole duty was to protect the interests of the plebs. A Plebeian Tribune could even veto the decisions of consuls. In addition, the patricians could not be elected to this office and nor could they vote for candidates, which prevented any abuse of power by the ruling class.
The second secession in 449 BC was over an attempt by the chief legislators in Ancient Rome attempting to repeal some of the power of the Plebeian Tribunes by removing their power to appeal. Once again the patrician class yielded and the chief legislators of Rome were all forced to resign while the Plebeian Tribune powers were restored.
Over time the plebeians gained more rights and more public offices to act as their representatives, and also held their own assemblies.
Why did they end?
The need for plebeian secessions ended in 287 BC when a plebeian dictator called Quintus Hortensius passed the Lex Hortensia. This was a law which made referendums passed in the plebeian assemblies binding to all citizens of the Roman Empire.