Roman Citizenship

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.It is very 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 RomanRepublic and later in the Roman Empire, people resident within the Roman state could very roughly 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 tremendously over time. While Roman citizen women would come to enjoy many of the rights accorded to male citizens, Roman women could not vote or stand for office, and were, at least in theory, subject to the almost complete power of their paterfamilias.

the various methods to obtain Roman citizenship:

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.

Rights given (please notice that all these rights varied over time)

The right to vote in the Republic.

The right to make legal contracts.

The right to have a lawful marriage.

The right to stand for 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).

Citizens could not be subjected to torture.

A Roman citizen couldn't 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.

All these rights were (as everywhere down the ages, and even today) sometimes ignored. 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.

The granting of citizenship to the conquered and the allies 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 had tried to "mix" his Macedonians and 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) only 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.


"The Complete Roman Army" by Adrian Goldsworthy edited by Thames & Hudson ISBN 0-500-05124-0

Roman citizenship

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