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As citizens ( Latin civis ) members are a state or a municipality referred.

In terms of constitutional law , citizens are “ citizens ”; at the communal level, what is usually meant are the “ residents ” of a city or municipality. Citizenship gives rise to “ civil rights ” ( rights and powers ) such as active and passive voting rights . In individual states such as Switzerland , the designated persons also have the right to vote in addition to the right to vote : Swiss municipal law differentiates the “community citizen”, who as a citizen is entitled to political participation, from the “Inhabitants of a municipality : people living there , but not exercising their political rights .

In political discussions, the term is usually used for all residents of a local authority . The Baden-Württemberg municipal code in its version of July 24, 2007, however, speaks z. B. recently no longer of " citizens ", but of " residents ' assembly ".


In the European Middle Ages citizen within the meaning of were class order residents of a fixed (they sheltering, protecting) town with its own city charter . They differed from ordinary residents by special civil rights, that is, privileges and property.

“Expatriates”, mostly nobles, who did not have a fully valid place of residence with tax liability and the right to co-determination in the city, but because of their immunity rights only had a right of residence without participation in the city government, had a lower legal status. “Stake citizens” also lived with limited rights within the wall or in the suburbs, but only paid reduced taxes and were able to obtain full citizenship after acquiring the necessary real estate. Both groups of people were also referred to as “fellow citizens”.

Triggered by the French Revolution , the rights of the citizens (fr. Citoyen ) were finally extended to every male member of a state with full rights through constitutions.

When modern state power emerged during the period of absolutism , citizens who were subject to a regime that could not be legally removed  - such as a monarchy  - were referred to as subjects. In this sense the subject stands in opposition to the free citizen of a republic .

Etymology of the word "citizen"

The word citizen is derived from burga ( ahd. 'Protection'). The late Latin bŭrgus is a loan word (Got. Baúrgs ) for small fortifications ( Latin castrum ). Fortified places, i.e. villages secured with palisades , were also referred to as castles in the broader sense ( Latin oppidum ), and later walled market towns in which traders and traders settled - in contrast to the municipium . Citizens in this sense were the conscript residents of such places. Etymologically, the word castle contains the verb bergen , from which the security is derived, which in early history meant the escape to the mountain (where the refuges were often located). Citizens are to be distinguished from castle men who belonged to the salaried guards of a castle.

In Celtic, bona stands for "foundation", "city". In Old High German, burgari appears “for the first time in the Mondsee fragments written at the end of the 8th century with the phrase 'alle dhea burgera fuorum ingegin Ihesuse', which reproduces the Latin 'tota civitas exiit obviam Jesu' (Mt 8:34) and thus all burgari with an unspecified civitas (with Luther: stad) equates. ”In English borough (and especially in Scotland in the form burgh ) is still used as a name for a city with city rights, ie for a free city. With the Norman conquest in the 11th century, the Anglo-Saxon burh became bŭrgus ( bury , borough , burgh ) and residents of these places can be proven in documents as "town residents". “The word 'citizen' ( Latin burgensis ), apparently a coinage from the same period, was created to denote people who enjoyed the new legal status of full members of a community with city rights. […] The first evidence can be found in Lorraine, northern France and Flanders in the 11th century. In the town charter for Huy from 1066 burgenses are mentioned. In the British Isles the word is found in the Domesday Book in 1086 with reference to England and the North Welsh Rhuddlan; in the first half of the 12th century the term also appeared in Scotland, and finally also in Ireland under the privilege of King Henry II in Dublin in the 1170s. To the east, this term penetrated Slavic Europe; it is first mentioned in Bohemia in 1223. "



The term citizen has its historical roots in ancient Greece. According to Aristotle 's famous definition ( Politics  III, 1275a22ff.), The citizen ( Greek πολίτης  - polites = 'who belongs to the city (πόλις - Polis )') is due to his "participation in judging ( Greek κρίσις  - krisis ) and in rule ( Greek ἀρχή  - arche ) “.

In the Athenian democracy of the fifth century BC, when this term was developed (and, strictly speaking, it only applied to these or to the similarly or similarly constituted, democratic poles of ancient Greece) this meant: citizen (in the full sense of the word ) was the one who acted as judge in the numerous courts of justice and was able to take part in the popular assemblies, which take place at least four times a month, in which all important questions of the polis were decided. This term was the result of a long and complex process during which the understanding of community belonging changed profoundly; it took place at the same time as the emergence of the polis and democracy (roughly from the middle of the 8th to the middle of the 5th century BC) and was an essential part of this process.

Our current word politics is derived from the Greek πολίτης  - polites ( Greek πολιτικά - politiká : that which concerns the citizen and the city ').


The Roman franchise was initially restricted as in the Greek polis only to the inhabitants of a city of Rome and the farmers of the surrounding regions. In addition, the city rights of other cities existed. It was a birthright given to young men along with the toga virilis .

The Civis , the long-established resident, was allowed to take part in the legislative people's assembly and in the election , in contrast to the newcomer ( Latin Peregrinus ), guest ( Latin Hostis , Hospes ) and ally ( Latin Socius ), whereby the individual vote depends on assets and electoral district ( Latin tribe ) had different weights, or even take on offices if he had enough money for it. His dealings, even with non-Romans, were protected by Roman law, and should he get into trouble or be charged with a crime, he could invoke privileges ( Latin civis romanus sum ). He was obliged to do military service; His property census decided on the type of service because he had to provide his own equipment. The Roman Civis was only allowed citizens to marry (one reason why the marriage between Mark Antony and Cleopatra was regarded as scandalous).

On the other hand, it was quite possible for Peregrini and Socii to be granted citizenship for personal merit, especially during war. Even freedmen could obtain citizenship, usually in conjunction with the release. With the citizenship the new citizen received the name of the one who had given it to him and became his client .

With the expansion of the Roman sphere of influence, Roman citizenship received a higher status than the civil rights of the incorporated cities (see municipium ). These Socii (allies) or foederati (allies) were obliged to take part in the Roman wars as auxiliaries, but they had neither participation rights nor the privileges that Roman citizens enjoyed, such as B. some immunity from court and the possibility of joining the better paid legions . This condition led to the Social War (91-88 v. Chr.), The all Italian tribes between Po and Gulf of Taranto brought the full Roman citizenship.

Non-Italians could acquire citizenship for themselves and their descendants if they were honorably discharged from the army after completing their full time as auxiliary workers. The leaders of conquered territories were also given citizenship in order to bind them to the Roman Empire.

With the end of the Roman Republic, the civil rights of participation also ended, although the Senate and the offices officially continued to exist. Being civis now only meant a more secure legal status and the opportunity to join the legions. The former was soon softened in favor of preferring the rich over the poor.

In 212 Caracalla with the Constitutio Antoniniana granted citizenship to all inhabitants of the Roman Empire , on the one hand to promote the identification of the different peoples with the empire, on the other hand to be able to recruit new legionnaires more easily.

Middle Ages and early modern times

In the medieval constitution of a city, a citizen was a full member of the community who enjoyed all rights and duties. The other inhabitants of the village were called Inwohner or sojourners . In the early Middle Ages, only the members of the urban upper class who came from families capable of advising had citizenship. Later the citizenship expanded until residents without real estate were increasingly able to obtain citizenship or beisassen were granted their own "beisassen" rights, which differed only slightly from the rights of citizens.

Most important and indispensable, at least in the early and high Middle Ages requirement for citizenship was the property ownership , specifically the possession of a basic taxable property within the municipality or city. Owners of small houses that were built on the land of the citizens were initially excluded from citizenship . The number of citizens was comparatively small compared to the number of residents. Other prerequisites were an honest birth, that is, that one had to be born in wedlock and not descended from executioners, grave diggers and other “dishonest” professions , a minimum wealth and the fact that one was not involved in any legal disputes at the time of admission.

The title of citizen, often called the Latin civis in old records such as matriculation , was not a title that one inherited or received for life. Rather, it had to be applied for and was granted if the relevant requirements were met. This acceptance into the citizenry was documented in the so-called citizen role , whereby a corresponding fee , the "citizen's money", was due. This citizen's money could also be deferred - a measure that cities took when they wanted to recruit new residents. The admission only became legally binding when the new citizen took part in the overall oath , which was usually taken by the entire citizenry when a newly formed city council met.

If the prerequisite was no longer applicable, in particular the sale or handover of the house, which established citizenship, the citizenship lapsed again and the citizen returned to the status of a resident.

So if the son of an arable citizen took over his father's property, he could apply for citizenship, which his father lost. Many craftsmen without a successor within the family leased their business to a resident, but remained citizens as owners. They often later sold the property to the lessee , granting them a right of residence. This reversed the status: the new owner received civil rights, the old one lived as a resident on the property.

Admission to the citizenship was accompanied by various obligations that did not affect the residents or affected them to a lesser extent. They included various taxes, guard and military service, compulsory work in public construction work, and binding to the municipal jurisdiction. In addition to political participation, which is often graded according to income, and freedom from landlords, civil rights included other privileges. The city guaranteed the legal protection of the citizen against external demands, for example against creditors, bought citizens from captivity or led feuds for their citizens .

Special forms were the stake bourgeoisie , which granted people who lived outside the city part of their civil rights, and the expatriate, with which foreign nobles who owned land in the city could acquire citizenship. Both forms disappeared in the late Middle Ages. The clergy had a special status in most cities, which excluded them from citizenship, but granted them some privileges. In the course of the Middle Ages, many cities sought the naturalization of clergy in order to dissolve the privileges of the church.

The Jews had in most cities since the Kammerknechtschaft 1236 a limited civil rights, which is often only the right to vote excluded the City Council and a special "Jew envy", similar to the oath of citizenship , included. After the Jewish pogroms around 1350 , this right was usually only granted for a year.



State level

With the implementation of general and free elections in the Weimar Constitution of 1919, all German residents of the German Reich received full (state) citizenship.

To this day, citizenship is linked to the ius sanguinis , i.e. the full scope of all civil rights (in particular the right to vote, freedom of establishment, consular support abroad), with a few exceptions to the naturalization right, are primarily linked to the descent of German parents. Due to the extended form of citizenship law for minors of non-German origin, however, they acquire a legal status up to the age of 18 that is similar to that of underage Germans, who do not enjoy full civil rights either.

Municipal level

The definition of the citizen is a clearly defined term at the municipal level. Even if it is described in different ways in the individual municipal ordinances, there are essentially no essential differences. Citizen is

  • Who German within the meaning of Article 116 of the Basic Law is
  • or is a citizen of another member state of the European Union ,
  • has reached the age of 18 (in some countries 16 years of age) and
  • has lived in the parish for at least three months.

Those who live in more than one municipality are only citizens of the municipality in which they have their main residence .

Thus, there are the last elements of the old class structure: Citizens have all the rights and obligations of a resident, but also the active and passive right to vote in municipal council elections and other municipal matters (referendums, referendums, hearings in the case of changes in the municipality) and the duty to do voluntary work in the municipality to accept and exercise for a certain time if there are no obstacles.


The term “citizen” is a clearly defined legal term in Switzerland. It includes not only the right to vote , but also the right to vote . Citizenship is a right granted by a municipality that can be inherited - see also Swiss citizenship . The terms resident and citizen are therefore not identical. Basically, the Swiss have a community citizenship and from this follows the canton citizen or Swiss citizen. The civic communities , which are often separate from the resident community , as well as the civic communities are independent corporations with authorities, assets and accounting.

These civil and civic communities are the successors of the medieval communities; they had to surrender parts of their competences by the Federal Constitution of 1848 at the latest. The regulations diverge from canton to canton.


A court in Jerusalem ruled in October 2013 that citizens of the State of Israel are not allowed to register as “Israelis” with the residents' registry; they are only allowed to register as Jews , Arabs or Druze . Critics received this as evidence of the discrimination against non-Jewish residents of the country.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Citizens  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. , § 20a residents' assembly ; residents' meeting (May 3, 2020)
  2. Cf. Publius Flavius ​​Vegetius Renatus: Abriß des Militärwesens. Latin and German. Stuttgart 1997; Paulus Orosius: Historiarum adversum paganos.
  3. ^ Giovanni Alessio, Carlo Battisti: Dizionario etimologico italiano. Volume 2, Firenze 1950, p. 1204: Borgo
  4. ^ William Foerste : The Germanic tribal names on -varii. In: Frühmittelalterliche Studien 3 (1969), pp. 60-69.
  5. The explanation of the supposedly original meaning of "citizens" as " Burgmannen ", "residents of a castle ... 'castle defenders'" (so still in the digital dictionary of the German language . [1] ) is related to the romantic misinterpretation of the Middle Ages in the 19th century Century and probably goes back to Johann Daniel Schöpflin Alsatia illustrata (vol. II, Colmar 1752, p. 356), whereupon André Marcel Burg ( patrician and other ruling classes in Hagenau . In: Hellmuth Rössler (ed.): Deutsches Patriziat 1430- 1740. Limburg 1968, p. 354f) (references to the misinterpretations, ibid. Note 4, p. 369). "In the oldest Hagenau town charter, which Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa granted the city in 1164, the 'burgenses' are mentioned twice [...] In two other documents we come across the 'burgenses'. - 1) In 1215 (no day) there is talk of the 'sigillum burgensium de Hagenowe' […] - 2) Then in 1220 (no day), as reported in a document by Frederick II, a judgment is pronounced 'coram burgensibus nostris'; Who these 'burgenses' are, says a similar document from 1231 (September 10th), in which it says 'secundam justam sententiam discretorum virorum, tam ministerialium quam civium domini regis', that is, the court that is made up of both castle men and representatives the citizenship and was later called Grätegericht. From all this it follows that the expression 'burgenses' has to be translated as 'citizen' for Hagenau as well, which also applies to other cities. ”(Lc p. 353f; cf. also the three passages in the Nibelungenlied , where burgaere only and clearly occurs in the sense of “city dweller”.) “The word still common today for city dwellers is citizen , and it can be shown with the help of the Old High German gloss collections that ahd. burgari and burgliut already had this meaning in the 8th and 9th centuries At a time when there was no question of city walling and the city could therefore not have been viewed as a castle. The interpretations are civis and municeps ; Nor can it be about professional defenders of the castles as mere fortifications, about Burgmannen […] The townspeople are called buruhwaru or also burhmanni , from which the burhwitan stand out . ”( Walter Schlesinger : About Central European Urban Landscapes of the Early Period . In: Sheets for German National History 93/1957 pp. 26, 32 [2] )
  6. Cf. Xavier Delamarre: Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. Paris 2008.
  7. ^ Gerhard Köbler : Citizens. Section B. Germany. In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages. Volume 2, Munich / Zurich 1983, Sp. 1008.
  8. cf. Henry Royston Loyn: Anglo-Saxon England and the Norman Conquest . Harlow 2nd edition 1991, p. 138.
  9. Robert Bartlett: The birth of Europe from the spirit of violence. Munich 1996, p. 217; References p. 419.
  10. see e.g. B. Explanation in: Combining invoices of the city of Hamburg. Volume 1, 1869, from p. 52 below
  11. ^ Alfons Gern: Saxon municipal law. CH Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-45501-8 , p. 250 f.
  12. SPIEGEL ONLINE of October 4, 2013, residents of Israel are not allowed to call themselves “Israelis”
  13. ^ Judgment in Jerusalem: residents of Israel are not allowed to call themselves "Israelis"