Roman citizenship

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Image:Toga Illustration.png
The toga was the characteristic garment of the Roman citizen. Roman women (who were not considered citizens) and Non-citizens were not allowed to wear one.

Citizenship in the time of Ancient Rome was a privileged status afforded to certain individuals with respect to laws, property, and governance.


[edit] Summary

It is difficult to offer meaningful generalities across the entire Roman period, as the nature and availability of citizenship was affected by legislation, for example, the Lex Iulia. In the Roman Republic and later in the Roman Empire, people resident within the Roman state could roughly be divided into several classes:

  • Slaves were considered property and had only certain very limited rights as granted by statute. They could essentially be sold, tortured, maimed, raped and killed at the whim of their owners. It was the exceptional feature of ancient Rome that almost all slaves freed by Roman owners (freedman) automatically received Roman citizenship.
  • The natives who lived in territories conquered by Rome, citizens of Roman client states and Roman allies could be given a limited form of Roman citizenship such as the Latin Right. This amounted essentially to a second-class citizenship within the Roman state. The Latin Right is the most widely known but there were many other of such Rights.
  • A Roman citizen enjoyed the full range of benefits that flowed from his status. A citizen could, under certain exceptional circumstances, be deprived of his citizenship.
  • Women were a class apart whose status in Roman society varied over time. Roman women could not vote or stand for civil or public office, and were, at least in theory, subject to the almost complete power of their paterfamilias, in many legal areas being just a bit better than slaves. Inside of Republican high society the marriages were used to cement political alliances and therefore combined by the paterfamilias. The paterfamilias could even force a divorce and then remarry his daughter to another politician.

[edit] Various methods to obtain Roman citizenship

The following are methods whereby people were granted citizenship in the Roman period:

  • Roman citizenship was granted automatically to every child born in a legal marriage of a Roman citizen.
  • People who were from the Latin states were gradually granted citizenship.
  • The children of freed slaves became citizens.
  • A Roman legionary could not legally marry, therefore all his children were denied citizenship, unless and until the legionary married their mother after his release from service.
  • Some individuals received citizenship because of their outstanding service to the Roman republic (later, the empire).
  • One could also buy citizenship, but at a very high price.
  • Auxilia were rewarded with Roman citizenship after their term of service. Their children also became citizens and could join the Roman legions.
  • Rome gradually granted citizenship to whole provinces; the third-century Constitutio Antoniniana granted it to all free male inhabitants of the Empire.

[edit] Rights given

While citizen rights varied over time, a partial list of them includes:

  • The right to vote, however this was only in the Republic.
  • The right to make legal contracts.
  • The right to have a lawful marriage.
  • The right to stand for civil or public office.
  • The right to sue (and be sued) in the courts.
  • The right to appeal from the decisions of magistrates.
  • The right to have a trial (to appear before a proper court and to defend oneself).
  • The right not to be subjected to torture or scourging.
  • The right of immunity from some taxes and other obligations, esp. local rules and regulations Catholic Resources

A Roman citizen could not be sentenced to death unless he was found guilty of treason. If accused of treason, a Roman citizen had the right to be tried in Rome. Even if sentenced to death, no Roman citizen could be sentenced to die at the cross. (Despite being found guilty of the same crime, St. Paul and St. Peter faced different fates. St. Paul was beheaded, while St. Peter, not being a Roman citizen, was crucified.)

Roman citizenship was required in order to join the Roman legions, but this was sometimes ignored.

[edit] Abrogation of citizenship rights

Further information: In Verrem

All these rights were (as everywhere down the ages, and even today) sometimes ignored. For example, the definition of the crime "treason" varied largely from time to time.

The governorship of Gaius Verres is perhaps the most blatant example how all these rights could simply be ignored by the State. Apparently, Verres (then governor of Sicilia) being informed that a local Roman citizen would travel to Rome in order to complain about the various abuses (high taxes, and systematic plunder of the entire province) ordered the arrest of the citizen. As the citizen demanded a trial (which he could later appeal and transfer to Rome), Verres denied it under the accusation of treason. Verres later ordered him flogged (torture), then crucified (death). The citizen repeated constantly: "I am a Roman citizen" but no one intervened. When (much later) Verres was prosecuted by Cicero, he simply fled Italy and his friends in the Senate never bothered themselves into ordering his arrest.

[edit] Citizenship as a tool of Romanization

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).

As a precursor to this, Alexander the Great had tried to "mingle" his Macedonians and other 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 to assimilate, to turn a defeated and potentially rebellious enemy (or his sons) into a Roman citizen. Instead having to wait for the unavoidable revolt of a conquered people (a tribe or a city-state) like Sparta and the conquered Helots, Rome made the "known" (conquered) world Roman.

The Social War (in which the Italian allies revolted against Rome) ended gradually as Rome granted citizenship to all Italian freemen (with the exception of Gallia Cisalpina). After 212 AD, all freemen in the Empire were granted citizenship by an imperial edict (the Constitutio Antoniniana) of Emperor Caracalla.

[edit] References

de:Römisches Bürgerrecht es:Ciudadano romano fr:Citoyenneté romaine it:Cittadinanza romana nl:Romeins burgerrecht ja:ローマ市民 pt:Cidadania romana zh:羅馬公民

Roman citizenship

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