In the second century BC, the Roman aristocracy promoted a value system that emphasised the customs, traditions and reverence of ancestors. The military and political achievements of a man’s lineage permitted entry into a ruling elite that valued name over virtue.
In exceptional circumstances, these credentials could be acquired through patronage, adoption or marriage, albeit with the stigma of a novus homo or ‘new man’ attached to their authority.
Gaius Marius, an ambitious novus homo criticised the aristocracy for the advantages inherited by birth, the political system that supported it and the general avarice of their character. These protestations found a receptive audience among the people, proclaiming the ruling elites unworthy of the professed virtues of their noble lineage.