Roman citizenship

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In both the Greek and the Roman world in the Archaic period, it seems that communities were open to the arrival of people from elsewhere, at all social levels. Detailed rules for citizenship were developed in both civilizations, as the city evolved, in the 7th to 5th or 6th to 5th cents. bc. In the case of Rome, Roman citizenship clearly developed in dialogue with the citizenships of other Latin communities. It involved the observance of the Roman civil law; and the struggles of the plebeians gradually brought protection for citizens from magisterial imperium.

At all events, Roman citizenship came to possess two features which distinguished it from polis citizenship and which later surprised Greek observers: the automatic incorporation of freed slaves of Romans into the Roman citizen body; and the ease with which whole communities of outsiders could be admitted as citizens. By the time that Rome faced the invasion of Hannibal in 218, she had a long history of giving citizenship to Italian communities, either with the vote or without the vote (sine suffrāgio). (The latter communities were usually later granted the vote.) Apart from Roman communities of these two types and allies, socii, Italy also contained numerous Latin communities, whose members shared a number of rights with Romans and whose citizenships were interchangeable with that of Rome, and vice versa, if the person concerned changed domicile. One of the rights shared with Romans was conubium. A child born to two Romans was a Roman; but so was a child born to a Roman father and a mother from a people possessing conubium. (See ius latii; latins; municipium.)

All citizens, after the abolition of the ban on conubium between patricians and plebeians, had conubium; they were also liable to tributum and military service. If they had the vote, they were also eligible to stand for magistracies.

In the course of the 2nd cent., grants of citizenship dried up, except for a few communities sine suffragio granted the vote; and Rome sought also to restrict the access of Latins to Roman citizenship. Attempts were made to respond to the desire of Latins and Italians alike for citizenship, by Fulvius Flaccus in 125, by Gaius Sempronius Gracchus in 122, and by Livius Drusus in 91. The failure of Flaccus provoked the revolt of Fregellae; and when the last attempt failed, most of the allies went to war with Rome to achieve their end, the so‐called Social War; and in order to ensure the loyalty of the rest, as also of the Latins, who had for the most part remained loyal, Rome granted them citizenship by the lex Iulia of 90. Citizenship was in fact also extended to former rebels. By the time of Sulla, Italy south of the Po (Padus) and former Latin colonies north of the Po were Roman; actual registration in the Roman census, however, remained very incomplete.

The last generation of the Roman republic and the Civil War which followed witnessed demands for citizenship in those areas of Italy which still did not have it—demands which were satisfied by Caesar—and the increasing spread of citizenship overseas as a reward for service of one kind or another. In the established imperial system, Roman citizens enjoyed in theory and often in practice protection against the imperium of a provincial governor, and a relatively favourable tax status.


Subjects: Classical Studies.

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