Citizenship in ancient
Rome (Latin: civitas) was a privileged
political and legal status afforded to free individuals with respect
to laws, property, and governance.
A male Roman citizen enjoyed a wide range of privileges and
protections defined in detail by the Roman state. A citizen could,
under certain exceptional circumstances, be deprived of his
Roman women had a limited form of citizenship. Though held in high
regard they were not allowed to vote or stand for civil or public
office. The rich might participate in public life by funding building
projects or sponsoring religious ceremonies and other events. Women
had the right to own property, to engage in business, and to obtain a
divorce, but their legal rights varied over time. Marriages were an
important form of political alliance during the Republic.
Client state citizens and allies (socii) of
Rome could receive a
limited form of
Roman citizenship such as the
Latin Right. Such
citizens could not vote or be elected in Roman elections.
Slaves were considered property and lacked legal personhood. Over
time, they acquired a few protections under Roman law. Some slaves
were freed by manumission for services rendered, or through a
testamentary provision when their master died. Once free, they faced
few barriers, beyond normal social snobbery, to participating in Roman
society. The principle that a person could become a citizen by law
rather than birth was enshrined in Roman mythology; when Romulus
Sabines in battle, he promised the war captives that were
Rome they could become citizens.
Freedmen were former slaves who had gained their freedom. They were
not automatically given citizenship and lacked some privileges such as
running for executive magistracies. The children of freedmen and women
were born as free citizens; for example, the father of the poet Horace
was a freedman.
2 Classes of citizenship
2.1 Cives Romani
3 Citizenship as a tool of Romanization
Edict of Caracalla
5 See also
7 External links
The rights available to individual citizens of
Rome varied over time,
according to their place of origin, and their service to the state.
They also varied under
Roman law according to the classification of
the individual within the state. Various legal classes were defined by
the various combinations of legal rights that each class enjoyed.
However, the possible rights available to citizens with whom Roman law
The toga was the characteristic garment of the Roman male citizen, and
statues of emperors (here Antoninus Pius) frequently depict them
Ius suffragiorum: The right to vote in the Roman assemblies.
Ius honorum: The right to stand for civil or public office.
Ius commercii: The right to make legal contracts and to hold property
as a Roman citizen.
Ius gentium: The legal recognition, developed in the 3rd century BC,
of the growing international scope of Roman affairs, and the need for
Roman law to deal with situations between Roman citizens and foreign
persons. The ius gentium was therefore a Roman legal codification of
the widely accepted international law of the time, and was based on
the highly developed commercial law of the Greek city-states and of
other maritime powers. The rights afforded by the ius gentium were
considered to be held by all persons; it is thus a concept of human
rights rather than rights attached to citizenship.
Ius conubii: The right to have a lawful marriage with a Roman citizen
according to Roman principles, to have the legal rights of the
paterfamilias over the family, and for the children of any such
marriage to be counted as Roman citizens.
Ius migrationis: The right to preserve one's level of citizenship upon
relocation to a polis of comparable status. For example, members of
the cives Romani (see below) maintained their full civitas when they
migrated to a
Roman colony with full rights under the law: a colonia
Latins also had this right, and maintained their ius
Latii if they relocated to a different
Latin state or
(Latina colonia). This right did not preserve one's level of
citizenship should one relocate to a colony of lesser legal status;
full Roman citizens relocating to a Latina colonia were reduced to the
level of the ius Latii, and such a migration and reduction in status
had to be a voluntary act.
The right of immunity from some taxes and other legal obligations,
especially local rules and regulations.
The right to sue in the courts and the right to be sued.
The right to have a legal trial (to appear before a proper court and
to defend oneself).
The right to appeal from the decisions of magistrates and to appeal
the lower court decisions.
Following the early 2nd-century BC Porcian Laws, a Roman citizen
could not be tortured or whipped and could commute sentences of death
to voluntary exile, unless he was found guilty of treason.
If accused of treason, a Roman citizen had the right to be tried in
Rome, and even if sentenced to death, no Roman citizen could be
sentenced to die on the cross.
Roman citizenship was required in order to enlist in the Roman
legions, but this was sometimes ignored. Citizen soldiers could be
beaten by the centurions and senior officers for reasons related to
discipline. Non-citizens joined the
Auxilia and gained citizenship
Classes of citizenship
The legal classes varied over time, however the following classes of
legal status existed at various times within the Roman state:
The Orator, c. 100 BC, an Etrusco-Roman bronze sculpture depicting
Aule Metele (Latin: Aulus Metellus), an Etruscan man wearing a Roman
toga while engaged in rhetoric; the statue features an inscription in
the Etruscan alphabet
The Cives Romani were full Roman citizens, who enjoyed full legal
protection under Roman law. Cives Romani were sub-divided into two
The non optimo iure who held the ius commercii and ius conubii (rights
of property and marriage)
The optimo iure, who also held these rights as well as the ius
suffragiorum and ius honorum (the additional rights to vote and to
Latin League and
The Latini were a class of citizens who held the
Latin Rights (ius
Latii), or the rights of ius commercii and ius migrationis, but not
the ius connubii. The term Latini originally referred to the Latins,
citizens of the
Latin League who came under Roman control at the close
Latin War, but eventually became a legal description rather
than a national or ethnic one.
Freedmen slaves, those of the Cives
Romani convicted of crimes, or citizens settling
Latin colonies could
be given this status under the law.
Further information: Socii, Foederati, Social War (91–88 BC), and
Foederati were citizens of states which had treaty
obligations with Rome, under which typically certain legal rights of
the state's citizens under
Roman law were exchanged for agreed levels
of military service, i.e. the Roman magistrates had the right to levy
soldiers for the Roman legions from those states. However, Foederati
states that had at one time been conquered by
Rome were exempt from
payment of tribute to
Rome due to their treaty status.
Growing dissatisfaction with the rights afforded to the Socii, and
with the growing manpower demands of the legions (due to the
Jugurthine War and the Cimbrian War) led eventually to the
Social War of 91–88 BC in which the Italian allies revolted against
Lex Julia (in full the Lex Iulia de Civitate Latinis Danda),
passed in 90 BC, granted the rights of the cives Romani to all Latini
and socii states that had not participated in the Social War, or who
were willing to cease hostilities immediately. This was extended to
all the Italian socii states when the war ended (except for Gallia
Cisalpina), effectively eliminating socii and Latini as legal and
Provinciales were those people who fell under Roman influence, or
control, but who lacked even the rights of the Foederati, essentially
having only the rights of the ius gentium.
A Peregrinus (plural Peregrini) was originally any person who was not
a full Roman citizen, that is someone who was not a member of the
Cives Romani. With the expansion of
Roman law to include more
gradations of legal status, this term became less used, but the term
peregrini included those of the latini, socii, and provinciales, as
well as those subjects of foreign states.
Citizenship as a tool of Romanization
A young woman sits while a servant fixes her hair with the help of a
cupid, who holds up a mirror to offer a reflection, detail of a fresco
from the Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii, c. 50 BC
Roman citizenship was also used as a tool of foreign policy and
control. Colonies and political allies would be granted a "minor" form
of Roman citizenship, there being several graduated levels of
citizenship and legal rights (the
Latin Right was one of them). The
promise of improved status within the Roman "sphere of influence", and
the rivalry with one's neighbours for status, kept the focus of many
of Rome's neighbours and allies centered on the status quo of Roman
culture, rather than trying to subvert or overthrow Rome's influence.
The granting of citizenship to allies and the conquered was a vital
step in the process of Romanization. This step was one of the most
effective political tools and (at that point in history) original
political ideas (perhaps one of the most important reasons for the
success of Rome).
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great had tried to "mingle" his Greeks with
the Persians, Egyptians, Syrians, etc. in order to assimilate the
people of the conquered Persian Empire, but after his death this
policy was largely ignored by his successors. The idea was not to
assimilate, but to turn a defeated and potentially rebellious enemy
(or their sons) into Roman citizens. Instead of having to wait for the
unavoidable revolt of a conquered people (a tribe or a city-state)
Sparta and the conquered Helots,
Rome tried to make those under
its rule feel that they had a stake in the system.
Edict of Caracalla
Caracalla (officially the
Constitutio Antoniniana (Latin:
"Constitution [or Edict] of Antoninus") was an edict issued in AD 212
by the Roman Emperor Caracalla, which declared that all free men in
Roman Empire were to be given full
Roman citizenship and all free
women in the Empire were given the same rights as Roman women. Before
212, for the most part only inhabitants of Italia held full Roman
citizenship. Colonies of Romans established in other provinces, Romans
(or their descendants) living in provinces, the inhabitants of various
cities throughout the Empire, and a few local nobles (such as kings of
client countries) also held full citizenship. Provincials, on the
other hand, were usually non-citizens, although some held the Latin
Right. However, by the previous century
Roman citizenship had already
lost much of its exclusiveness and become more available.
Ancient Rome portal
Civis romanus sum
Constitution of the Roman Republic
Rights of Englishmen
^ a b Goodfellow, Charlotte Elizabeth (1938). Roman citizenship: a
study of its territorial and numerical expansion from the earliest
time to the death of Augustus. The Johns Hopkins University
^ Hans Volkmann: Municipium. In: Der Kleine Pauly. vol. 3, Stuttgart
1969, col. 1464–1469.
^ Plutarch, Life of
^ "Roman Law". The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. New York:
Columbia University Press. Archived from the original on 2007-06-22.
^ conubium. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short.
A Latin Dictionary on
^ Catholic Resources
^ Geoffrey W. Bromiley (1979). The International Standard Bible
Encyclopedia. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. pp. 965–.
Goldsworthy, Adrian (2003-10-27). The Complete Roman Army. Thames
& Hudson. p. 224. ISBN 0-500-05124-0.
Jahnige, Joan (May 2002). "Roman Citizenship". Kentucky Educational
Television Distance Learning. Retrieved 2008-09-06.
Lassard, Yves; Alexandr Koptev. "The Roman Law Library" (Library).
Just, Felix. "Social Aspects of Pauline World". Catholic Resources for
Bible, Liturgy, Art, and Theology. Retrieved 2008-09-06.
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