Roman citizenship
Citizenship in ancient Rome
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 was a privileged political and legal status afforded to certain free-born individuals with respect to laws, property, and governance.

In the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 and later in the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

, people resident within the Roman state could roughly be divided into several classes:
  • 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 citizenship.
  • 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
    Client state
    Client state is one of several terms used to describe the economic, political and/or military subordination of one state to a more powerful state in international affairs...

    citizens and allies (socii) of Rome could receive a limited form of Roman citizenship such as the Latin Right
    Latin Right
    Latin Rights was a civic status given by the Romans, intermediate between full Roman citizenship and non-citizen status , and extended originally to the people of Latium . The most important Latin Rights were commercium, connubium, and ius migrationis...

    . While such citizens could vote in Roman elections, it was impractical.
  • Slaves
    Slavery in ancient Rome
    The institution of slavery in ancient Rome played an important role in society and the Roman economy. Besides manual labor on farms and in mines, slaves performed many domestic services and a variety of other tasks, such as accounting...

    were considered property and had only very limited rights as granted by statute after the establishment of the Principate
    The Principate is the first period of the Roman Empire, extending from the beginning of the reign of Caesar Augustus to the Crisis of the Third Century, after which it was replaced with the Dominate. The Principate is characterized by a concerted effort on the part of the Emperors to preserve the...

    . Under the Republic, a master could dispose of his slaves as he did any other property, and while excessive cruelty toward slaves was considered a sign of bad character, killing one's own slave was not a crime. While many and perhaps most slaves were subjected to lives of extreme hardship working as field or mine labourers, a significant number of slaves were highly skilled or educated, and treated as part of the extended familia. These slaves were often given a degree of independence to work for themselves and could keep some of their own earnings, sometimes accumulating enough to buy their freedom. Others were freed by manumission
    Manumission is the act of a slave owner freeing his or her slaves. In the United States before the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished most slavery, this often happened upon the death of the owner, under conditions in his will.-Motivations:The...

     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
    Roman mythology
    Roman mythology is the body of traditional stories pertaining to ancient Rome's legendary origins and religious system, as represented in the literature and visual arts of the Romans...

    ; when Romulus
    - People:* Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome* Romulus Augustulus, the last Western Roman Emperor* Valerius Romulus , deified son of the Roman emperor Maxentius* Romulus , son of the Western Roman emperor Anthemius...

     defeated the Sabines in battle, he promised the war captives that in Rome they could become citizens.
  • Freedmen, freed slaves, were granted a limited form of Roman citizenship. Freedmen could later attain full Roman citizenship. The children of freedmen and women were legally free-born; for example, the father of the poet Horace
    Quintus Horatius Flaccus , known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus.-Life:...

     was a freedman.

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.

Rights given

The rights available to individual citizen 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 individual legal rights that they enjoyed. However, the possible rights available to citizens with whom Roman law addressed are:
  • Jus suffragiorum: The right to vote in the Roman assemblies
    Roman assemblies
    The Legislative Assemblies of the Roman Republic were political institutions in the ancient Roman Republic. According to the contemporary historian Polybius, it was the people who had the final say regarding the election of magistrates, the enactment of new statutes, the carrying out of capital...

  • Jus honorum: The right to stand for civil or public office.
  • Jus commercii: The right to make legal contract
    A contract is an agreement entered into by two parties or more with the intention of creating a legal obligation, which may have elements in writing. Contracts can be made orally. The remedy for breach of contract can be "damages" or compensation of money. In equity, the remedy can be specific...

    s and to hold property as a Roman citizen.
  • Jus gentium
    Jus gentium
    Ius gentium, Latin for "law of nations", was originally the part of Roman law that the Roman Empire applied to its dealings with foreigners, especially provincial subjects...

    : 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 jus gentium was therefore a Roman legal codification of the widely accepted international law
    International law
    Public international law concerns the structure and conduct of sovereign states; analogous entities, such as the Holy See; and intergovernmental organizations. To a lesser degree, international law also may affect multinational corporations and individuals, an impact increasingly evolving beyond...

     of the time, and was based on highly developed commercial law of the Greek city-states and of other maritime powers. The rights afforded by the jus gentium were considered to be held by all persons, regardless of citizenship.
  • Jus connubii: The right to have a lawful marriage
    Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...

     with a Roman citizen, to have the legal rights of the paterfamilias over the family, and to have the children of any such marriage be counted as Roman citizens.
  • Jus migrationis: The right to preserve one's level of citizenship upon relocation to a polis
    Polis , plural poleis , literally means city in Greek. It could also mean citizenship and body of citizens. In modern historiography "polis" is normally used to indicate the ancient Greek city-states, like Classical Athens and its contemporaries, so polis is often translated as "city-state."The...

     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 civium Romanorum. Latins also had this right, and maintained their jus Latii if they relocated to a different Latin state or Latin colony (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 jus 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.
  • A Roman citizen could not be torture
    Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

    d or whipped
    Flagellation or flogging is the act of methodically beating or whipping the human body. Specialised implements for it include rods, switches, the cat o' nine tails and the sjambok...

    , nor could he receive the death penalty, unless he was found guilty of treason
    In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

  • 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
    Crucifixion is an ancient method of painful execution in which the condemned person is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead...


Roman citizenship was required in order to enlist in the Roman legions, but this was sometimes ignored. Non-citizens joined the Auxilia and gained citizenship through service.

Classes of citizenship

The legal classes varied over time, however the following classes of legal status existed at various times within the Roman state:

Cives Romani

The Cives Romani were full Roman citizens, who enjoyed full legal protection under Roman law. Cives Romani were sub-divided into two classes:

The non optimo jure who held the rights of jus commercii and jus connubii (rights of property and marriage), and

The optimo jure, who also held these rights as well as the additional rights of jus suffragiorum and jus honorum (the rights to vote and to hold office).


The Latini were a class of citizens who held the Latin Right
Latin Right
Latin Rights was a civic status given by the Romans, intermediate between full Roman citizenship and non-citizen status , and extended originally to the people of Latium . The most important Latin Rights were commercium, connubium, and ius migrationis...

s (jus Latii), or the rights of jus commercii and ius migrationis, but not the jus connubii. The term Latini originally referred to the Latins
"Latins" refers to different groups of people and the meaning of the word changes for where and when it is used.The original Latins were an Italian tribe inhabiting central and south-central Italy. Through conquest by their most populous city-state, Rome, the original Latins culturally "Romanized"...

, citizens of the Latin League
Latin league
The Latin League was a confederation of about 30 villages and tribes in the region of Latium near ancient Rome, organized for mutual defense...

 who came under Roman control at the close of the Latin War
Latin War
The Latin War was a conflict between the Roman Republic and its neighbors the Latin peoples of ancient Italy. It ended in the dissolution of the Latin League, and incorporation of its territory into the Roman sphere of influence, with the Latins gaining partial rights and varying levels of...

, but eventually became a legal description rather than a nationalistic 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.


Socii or Foederati were citizens of states which had treaty obligations with Rome, typically agreements under which certain legal rights of the state's citizens under Roman law were exchanged for agreed upon levels of military service, i.e. the Roman magistrates had the right to levy soldiers for the Roman legion
Roman legion
A Roman legion normally indicates the basic ancient Roman army unit recruited specifically from Roman citizens. The organization of legions varied greatly over time but they were typically composed of perhaps 5,000 soldiers, divided into maniples and later into "cohorts"...

s 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 protracted Jugurthine War
Jugurthine War
The Jugurthine War takes its name from the Berber king Jugurtha , nephew and later adopted son of Micipsa, King of Numidia.-Jugurtha and Numidia:...

 and the Cimbrian War
Cimbrian War
The Cimbrian War was fought between the Roman Republic and the Proto-Germanic tribes of the Cimbri and the Teutons , who migrated from northern Europe into Roman controlled territory, and clashed with Rome and her allies...

) led eventually to the Social War of 91–88 BC in which the Italian allies revolted against Rome.

The passing of the Lex Julia
Lex Julia
Lex Julia are ancient Roman laws, introduced by any member of the Julian family....

 (more specifically the Lex Iulia de Civitate Latinis Danda) 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 eventually extended to all of the Italian Socii states following the conclusion of the war (with the exception of Gallia Cisalpina), effectively eliminating socii and latini as legal and citizenship definitions.


Provinciales were those persons who fell under Roman influence, or control, but who lacked even the rights of the Foederati, essentially having only the rights of the jus gentium.


A Peregrinus
Peregrinus (Roman)
Peregrinus was the term used during the early Roman empire, from 30 BC to 212 AD, to denote a free provincial subject of the Empire who was not a Roman citizen. Peregrini constituted the vast majority of the Empire's inhabitants in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD...

 (plural Peregrini) was originally the term used to describe 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 the those of the latini, socii, and provinciales, as well as those subjects of foreign states.

Citizenship as a tool of Romanization

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
Latin Right
Latin Rights was a civic status given by the Romans, intermediate between full Roman citizenship and non-citizen status , and extended originally to the people of Latium . The most important Latin Rights were commercium, connubium, and ius migrationis...

 was one of them). The promise of improved standing within the Roman "sphere of influence", and the rivalry for standing with one's neighbours, 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
Romanization (cultural)
Romanization or latinization indicate different historical processes, such as acculturation, integration and assimilation of newly incorporated and peripheral populations by the Roman Republic and the later Roman Empire...

. 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 Diadochi were the rival generals, family and friends of Alexander the Great who fought for the control of Alexander's empire after his death in 323 BC...

. The idea was to assimilate
Cultural assimilation
Cultural assimilation is a socio-political response to demographic multi-ethnicity that supports or promotes the assimilation of ethnic minorities into the dominant culture. The term assimilation is often used with regard to immigrants and various ethnic groups who have settled in a new land. New...

, to turn a defeated and potentially rebellious enemy (or his sons) into a Roman citizen. Instead of having to wait for the unavoidable revolt of a conquered people (a tribe or a city-state) like Sparta
Sparta or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece, situated on the banks of the River Eurotas in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. From c...

 and the conquered Helots
The helots: / Heílôtes) were an unfree population group that formed the main population of Laconia and the whole of Messenia . Their exact status was already disputed in antiquity: according to Critias, they were "especially slaves" whereas to Pollux, they occupied a status "between free men and...

, Rome made the "known" (conquered) world Roman.

The Edict of Caracalla

The Edict of Caracalla (officially the Constitutio Antoniniana
Constitutio Antoniniana
The Constitutio Antoniniana was an edict issued in 212 AD, by the Roman Emperor Caracalla...

 (Latin: "Constitution [or Edict] of Antoninus") was an edict
An edict is an announcement of a law, often associated with monarchism. The Pope and various micronational leaders are currently the only persons who still issue edicts.-Notable edicts:...

 issued in 212, by the Roman Emperor Caracalla
Caracalla , was Roman emperor from 198 to 217. The eldest son of Septimius Severus, he ruled jointly with his younger brother Geta until he murdered the latter in 211...

 which law declared that all free men in the Roman Empire were to be given full Roman citizenship and all free women in Empire were given the same rights as Roman women were. 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 small numbers of local nobles (such as kings of client countries) held full citizenship also. Provincials, on the other hand, were usually non-citizens, although some held the Latin Right.

See also

  • Constitution of the Roman Republic
    Constitution of the Roman Republic
    The Constitution of the Roman Republic was a set of guidelines and principles passed down mainly through precedent. The constitution was largely unwritten, uncodified, and constantly evolving...

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