M.I. Finley, 22 December 1983
The durability of the Roman ruling class, despite the continuing loss of individual families, was perhaps unique in history. From the establishment of a republic at the end of the sixth century BC to, anyway, the death of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius seven hundred years later, the Roman state, which had grown by conquest from a small autonomous city on the Tiber to a great empire reaching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Euphrates River, was dominated and ruled by a relatively small aristocracy which had survived not only various threats from below but also the replacement of the republic by the monarchy of Augustus. There were all kinds of changes, of course, especially those made necessary by the vastly increased scale of activity, the vastly increased wealth and luxury, the vastly increased armies and military operations, and so on. Yet ‘durability’ is the correct term. Occasionally there were nicely illustrative personal examples: both Julius Caesar and his assassin Brutus could claim membership of lineages that traced their high status back half a millennium.