Patrician (post-Roman Europe)  

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Patricianship, the quality of belonging to a patriciate, began in the ancient world, where cities such as Ancient Rome had a class of patrician families whose members were the only people allowed to exercise many political functions. In the rise of European towns in the 10th and 11th centuries, the patriciate, a limited group of families with a special constitutional position, in Henri Pirenne's view, was the motive force. In 19th century central Europe, the term had become synonymous with the upper Bourgeoisie.

With the establishment of the medieval Italian republics, the patriciate was a formally defined class of governing elites found within metropolitan areas such as Venice, Florence, Genoa, and Amalfi and also in many of the Free imperial cities of Germany such as Nuremberg, Ravensburg, Augsburg, Konstanz and Lindau and Switzerland such Bern, Basel and Zurich.

As in Ancient Rome, patrician status could generally only be inherited. However, membership in the patriciate could be passed on through the female line. For example, if the union was approved by her parents, the husband of patrician daughter was granted membership in the patrician society Zum Sünfzen of the Imperial Free City of Lindau as a matter of right, on the same terms as the younger son of a patrician male (i.e., upon payment of a nominal fee) even if the husband was otherwise deemed socially ineligible. Accession to a patriciate through this mechanism was referred to as "erweibern."

In any case, only male patricians could hold, or participate in elections for, most political offices. Often, as in Venice, non-patricians had next to no political rights. Lists were maintained of who had the status, of which the most famous is the Libro d'Oro (Golden Book) of the Venetian Republic. From the fall of Hohenstaufen (1268) city-republics increasingly became principalities, like Milan and Verona, and the smaller ones were swallowed up by monarchical states or sometimes other republics, like Pisa and Siena by Florence, and any special role for the local patricians was restricted to municipal affairs. The few remaining patrician constitutions, notably that of Venice and Genoa, were swept away by the conquering French armies of the period after the French Revolution, though many patrician families remained socially and politically important, as some do to this day.

The term patrician is also used broadly in a number of European countries to refer to a social class until the late 19th or early 20th century, namely those families whose prominence was based on economic activity over many generations. For instance in Scandinavia, the term became synonymous with the mercantile elite.

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