Roman citizenship  

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Citizenship in ancient Rome was a privileged social status afforded to certain individuals with respect to laws, property, and governance.

It is hard 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:

  • A Roman citizen (described below) enjoyed the full range of benefits that flowed from his status. A citizen could, under certain exceptional circumstances, be deprived of his citizenship.
  • The native peoples 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 such rights.
  • Women were a class apart whose status and rights in Roman society varied over time. They were, however, never accorded all the rights of citizenship: they were not allowed to vote, or stand for civil or public office, although they did have the right to own property. Like men they were, at least in theory, subject to the almost complete power of their pater familias, in many legal areas having rights barely more than those of slaves while under their fathers' power. In Republican high society, the marriages were used to cement political alliances and controlled by the pater familias. The pater familias could even force his daughter to divorce before the reign of Marcus Aurelius.
  • 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. The killing of a slave was a matter of property rather than a crime against a human being. Despite this, a freed slave, a freedman, was granted a form of full Roman citizenship.<ref>Fagan, Garrett G. (Lecturer/Professor) (2003). History of Ancient Rome, "Lecture 38: Roman Slavery" [CD Lecture series].</ref> It was the exceptional feature of ancient Rome that all slaves freed by Roman owners automatically received a limited Roman citizenship.

Methods to obtain Roman citizenship

  • Roman citizenship was granted automatically to every male child born in a legal marriage of a Roman citizen.
  • Freed slaves were given a limited form of Roman citizenship; they were still obliged in some aspects to their former owner who automatically became their patron.
  • The sons of freed slaves became full citizens.
  • Auxilia were rewarded with Roman citizenship after their term of service. Their children also became citizens.
  • Only Roman citizens could enlist in the Roman Legion. However an enlisted Roman legionary was deprived of many of his rights. He could not legally marry, and therefore all his children born during his military service were denied citizenship, unless and until he married their mother after his discharge.
  • Some individuals received Roman citizenship as a reward for outstanding service to Rome.
  • One could also buy citizenship, but at a very high price.
  • People who were from the Latin states were gradually granted citizenship.
  • Rome gradually granted citizenship to whole provinces; the third-century Constitutio Antoniniana granted it to all free male inhabitants of the Empire.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Roman citizenship" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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