Roman citizenship

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The Roman citizenship ( Latin civitas Romana ) was in ancient times, first the civil rights of the male inhabitants of the city of Rome . As the latter expanded its domain more and more, citizenship in the Roman Empire was also granted to other people (groups).

Citizenship was a prerequisite for the active and passive right to vote for free men in popular assemblies . Every male Roman from the age of 16 had the right to vote. Women, slaves and foreigners were excluded, the latter being treated as peregrini .

Also, only the citizen could participate in private and political legal life, which meant that only the civis romanus could acquire property, conclude contracts, draw up wills and marry. At least during the time of the republic , citizenship was in principle linked to the obligation to do military service , allowed the toga to be worn and included a number of other privileges.


In the course of the establishment of coloniae during the conquest of Italy, a new civil right was created in addition to Roman citizenship, the so-called Latin citizenship . The question of equal civil rights for allies sparked the alliance war (91-88 BC) towards the end of the republic , which was ended by the Lex Plautia Papiria , which granted Roman citizenship to all free residents of Italy south of the Po . Gaius Iulius Caesar then expanded the Roman civil rights area four decades later to the edge of the Alps.

In contrast, personally free residents of the Roman provinces ( provincial ) remained - from a legal point of view - “foreigners” (peregrini) or “allies” (socii) even after the alliance war and at the beginning of the Roman Empire ; they only had the citizenship of their respective home parish, not that of the city of Rome. This gave them a significantly worse legal status than a Roman citizen. They were subject to much tougher jurisdiction, had to pay (more) taxes, were not allowed to enter the legionary service, had no right to vote in Rome (although this soon lost all practical importance in the imperial era anyway) and could not rise to the rank of knight or senator . It is remarkable that it was not until the 2nd century that "registry offices" were set up in the provincial capitals that kept official lists of the holders of Roman citizenship. Those places could consider themselves lucky that, like for example the later Cologne , were raised to the rank of colonia , whereby all free citizens were granted the citizenship of the city of Rome at the same time.

In the course of the Roman Empire, more and more people and groups of people received Roman citizenship (see above), until it was granted to almost all free residents of the Empire by the Constitutio Antoniniana of the year 212 and in the following period largely lost its importance as a social and legal characteristic of demarcation.

Rights and obligations

The rights and duties of a citizen varied over time, but also differed in terms of origin and career within the state. The following rights and duties can be summarized: Part of civil rights was the ius suffragiorum , the right to vote in popular assemblies ( active right to vote ). With him corresponded the ius honorum , which guaranteed the eligibility to the state offices ( passive right to vote ). For legal transactions , the ius commercii meant that legal transactions, both obligatory and in rem (law of obligations and property law) could be made, inherited and inherited . Legal transactions with foreigners were covered by the ius gentium . In the Roman legal context, the patria potestas ("paternal power)" was of great importance . In order to obtain it, and head of the family to be, it took the ius conubii . Because of this right, Roman citizens were allowed to marry. In addition, all children who emerged from the marriage received guaranteed Roman citizenship. Roman law granted spatial freedom in the empire. The ius migrationis stipulated that the level of citizenship already obtained was retained even when moving. This is explained by the fact that different cities in the empire had different civil rights. A Roman citizen retained Roman citizenship even when moving to a city with fewer civil rights.

In addition to the rights mentioned, there were privileges and conveniences. Roman citizens did not have to pay any local taxes and were granted immunity from various local laws . Only they were competent to stand trial and a party to , could therefore before the magistrates complaining and suing be. They were allowed to defend themselves in court within the framework of ordinary court proceedings . Moreover, Roman citizens were not exposed to certain types of punishment. They were not allowed to be tortured or feared the death penalty . There was an exception when high treason ( perduellio ) had to be negotiated. Even in this case they were allowed to assert rights of intervention before the emperor . Since it was mostly seen as a matter of honor to serve in the legion , the Roman citizen could refer to the military service.


Civil rights in the empire were usually granted by birth (namely as the descendant of a Roman mother, as the lawyer Gaius explains) or by bestowal.

During the Roman Republic, when new territories were conquered , there were various ways of dealing with defeated communities: For example, the enemy territories were allowed to be incorporated, with the population either being driven out or enslaved. Efforts were made to conclude a contract between the winners and the vanquished, with Rome in fact reserving dominance even if the contractual partner was theoretically equal. Formally, however, the defeated community remained independent. Defeated communities received limited civil rights without the right to vote ( civitates sine suffragio ). This was nonetheless equipped with compulsory military service, which was paid in return with a share in the spoils of war. The upper class of these communities fared better, because they not only received full Roman citizenship, but were also accepted into the Roman state and were considered a full component of Roman society, which was expressed in the fact that they were granted active and passive suffrage and military service performed.

Fragment of a military diploma around 160 AD and the granting of Roman citizenship as a former soldier of cohort V Bracaraugustanorum . From the Quintana Museum ( Künzing )

Those polities in the sphere of influence of Rome that did not have full Roman citizenship usually made an early effort to maintain it; in the case of the Allied War they even attempted this goal by force. In the course of time, the number of places with Roman citizenship also increased outside of Italy.

Individuals could also acquire citizenship; in particular through the intercession of an influential Roman, which was often bought with large sums, or through service in the Roman auxiliary troops (see military diploma ). During the late Republic, but especially in the empire then among all was a feature of Roman civil law for the circle of citizens that expanded rapidly: Each slave who belonged to a Roman citizen, and this released was received automatically by this act a restricted citizenship; his freeborn children already had unrestricted citizenship. Since the number of slaves in the Imperium Romanum went into the millions, but at the same time it was customary to give freedom to private slaves on the death of their master or on their 30th birthday, this led to a considerable expansion, especially during the first two centuries after Christ of the Roman citizenship.

Assignment to the patronymic

The Roman name was used to identify the Roman citizen . It consisted of a first name and a surname , sometimes supplemented by one or two surnames ( cognomen and agnomen ). In official inscriptions and documents, the tribe and the father's name were added, e.g. B. Marci filius (= son of Marcus) added. This distinguished him from a freedman, who carried the first name of his former master with the addition of libertus , and the other imperial residents, who had their own naming system and, when they received Roman citizenship, took a name based on the model of the freedman, with the name of the incumbent ruler instead of that of a former gentleman.

The Roman father's name was placed after the family name and in front of the surname (e.g. Marcus Tullius Marci libertus Tiro ).

The Roman father's name system, which was only used incidentally, disappeared in AD 212 when Emperor Caracalla with the Constitutio Antoniniana granted Roman citizenship to almost all imperial residents. Its function of distinguishing Roman citizens from freedmen and other imperial residents had now become superfluous.

Certification in the Roman Empire, certification of civil rights

In the Imperium Romanum, in addition to the documents of the state authorities, documents from public scribes ( tabellations ) and documents that were recorded in the roles of the communities ( gesta municipalia ) enjoyed public credibility.

A typical form of the design of private documents in Roman antiquity were double-written document texts: One version of the text was written on the inside on wax tablets or papyrus sealed behind a seal , another - usually more concise - on the outside of the script. As long as the seals were not destroyed, the correctness of the outer text could be checked at any time using the inner text.

In ancient Roman society, the written form and the signature under the document text was generally valued as highly.

Birth registers have been kept since the time of Emperor Augustus ; every legitimate child must be recorded here. Since Marcus Aurelius , this also applies to children from non-marital relationships; A deadline of 30 days was required to record them. The registration took place in front of a magistrate in a tabularium . From this register, professio liberorum , the testationes are now created as ID cards. They contain the name of the child, gender and parents, the tribe, the date and place of birth and a statement about the status as a Roman citizen.


  • Altay Coşkun : Generous practice of granting citizenship in Rome? Between myth and reality (= Academy of Sciences and Literature, Mainz. Treatises of the humanities and social science class. 2009, 1). Steiner et al. a., Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-515-09350-7 .
  • Ralph W. Mathisen: Peregrini, Barbari, and Cives Romani: Concepts of Citizenship and the Legal Identity of Barbarians in the Late Roman Empire. In: American Historical Review. Vol. 111, No. 4, 2006, pp. 1011-1040, doi: 10.1086 / ahr.111.4.1011 .
  • AN Sherwin-White : The Roman citizenship. 2nd Edition. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1973, ISBN 0-19-814813-5 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Herbert Hausmaninger , Walter Selb : Roman private law. 9th edition 2001. Böhlau, Vienna 1981, ISBN 3-205-07171-9 , p. 74 ff.
  2. ^ Roman electoral system. In: archaeologos. April 24, 2016, accessed October 31, 2019 .
  3. The Historia Augusta , which is not without problems as a source, attributes this measure to Emperor Mark Aurel (161 to 180); see. Historia Augusta, Marcus 9, 7 .
  4. Cf. Géza Alföldy : The Roman Society. Selected contributions (= Heidelberg ancient history contributions and epigraphic studies . Volume 1). Steiner-Verlag-Wiesbaden-GmbH, Stuttgart 1986, ISBN 3-515-04610-0 , p. 282.
  5. Cf. Gaius inst. 1.81f.
  6. Martin Hengel, Ulrich Heckel: Paulus and ancient Judaism: Tübingen-Durham-Symposium in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Adolf Schlatter's death (May 19, 1938). (= Scientific studies on the New Testament. Volume 58). Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen 1991, ISBN 3-16-145795-1 , footnote p. 194-195.
  7. ^ Max Kaser: The Roman private law: section. Ancient Roman, Pre-Classical and Classical Law. Handbook of Classical Studies: Department 10, Legal History of Antiquity, CH Beck, Munich 1971, ISBN 3-406-01406-2 , p. 273.