military diploma that grants citizenship
Roman citizens generally could vote and had rights and responsibilities under a "well administered system of criminal and civil law.” Men of both the upper and lower classes could be citizens. Women were citizens but couldn’t vote or hold office and had few rights. Slaves were not allowed to be citizens. During the Roman Republic government officials were elected by Roman citizens. During the Roman Empire many local government officials were elected by Roman citizens but not the Emperor and high level officials. There were different kinds of citizens, each with their own collection of rights and responsibilities.

Dr Valerie Hope of the Open University wrote for the BBC: “All free inhabitants were either citizens or non-citizens. Only citizens could hold positions in the administration of Rome and the other towns and cities of the empire, only citizens could serve in the legions, and only citizens enjoyed certain legal privileges. From the end of the first century B.C., Rome and the Roman empire were ruled by a succession of emperors. Political and military power was concentrated in their hands, and they represented the pinnacle of the imperial status hierarchy. Under the emperors the citizen vote in Rome was curtailed, but citizenship expanded rapidly across the empire, and was given as a reward to individuals, families and whole settlements. In A.D. 212 the emperor Caracalla expanded the franchise to all free inhabitants of the empire. [Source: Dr Valerie Hope, BBC, March 29, 2011 |::|]

“Citizens can be further divided into the privileged and the non-privileged - with some Roman citizens being very clearly distinguished by their power and privilege. These were the senators, equestrians and the provincial elite. The senate was the traditional ruling body of Rome, and under the emperors the senate continued to represent the citizen upper crust. The senate was usually limited to 600 members, and entrance was dependent on property qualifications and election to key offices. |::|

“The equestrian order was traditionally limited to those who were entitled to a public horse. There were no limits to equestrian numbers, but property requirements had to be met. Senators were recognised by a toga with a broad purple stripe, while the equestrian wore a toga with a narrow purple stripe and a gold finger ring.” |::|

Every citizen between the ages of seventeen and forty-five was obliged to serve in the army, when the public service required it. In early times the wars lasted only for a short period, and consisted in ravaging the fields of the enemy; and the soldier’s reward was the booty which he was able to capture. But after the siege of Veii, the term of service became longer, and it became necessary to give to the soldiers regular pay. This pay, with the prospect of plunder and of a share in the allotment of conquered land; furnished a strong motive to render faithful service. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

How One Became a Roman Citizen

non-citizen Roman soldiers became citizens after their service was completed

Citizenship was generally passed down from father to son. The easiest way for non-citizens to become citizens was join the military. After being discharged for 20 years of service soldiers became citizens. The completion of military service provided citizenship not only to the soldier but to his entire family. Even barbarians were recruited with these promises.

Any male regarded as worthy, regardless of ethnic background, could become a Roman citizen. "E Pluibus Unum", the words featured on all American coins, meant that on any position in the empire was open to suitable candidates regardless of ethnic group or background. Within a fairly short time, the conquered people were made citizens of Rome and given all the rights and privileges that status entailed. Septimius Severus, a North African general became emperor of Rome and served for 18 years. Trajan, one of Rome's greatest emperors was from Spain.

Harold Whetstone Johnston wrote in “The Private Life of the Romans”: “When a foreigner received the right of citizenship, he took a new name, which was arranged on much the same principles as have been explained in the cases of freedmen. His original name was retained as a sort of cognomen, and before it were written the praenomen that suited his fancy and the nomen of the person, always a Roman citizen, to whom he owed his citizenship. [Source: “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932)]

“The most familiar example is that of the Greek poet Archias, whom Cicero, in the well-known oration, defended; his name was Aulus Licinius Archias, He had long been attached to the family of the Luculli, and, when he was made a citizen, he took as his nomen that of his distinguished patron Lucius Licinius Lucullus; we do not know why he selected the praenomen Aulus. Another example is that of the Gaul mentioned by Caesar (B.G., I, 47), Gaïus Valerius Caburus. He took his name from Caius Valerius Flaccus, the governor of Gaul at the time that he received his citizenship. To this custom of taking the names of governors and generals is due the frequent occurrence of the name “Julius” in Gaul, “Pompeius” in Spain, and “Cornelius” in Sicily.”

Plebeians, Patricians and Evolution of Roman Citizenship

The idea of citizenship first evolved in ancient Greece. Roman mythology claims that the Roman idea of citizenship was created by it legendary rulers but more likely the idea was imported at least in part from the Greeks. The Athenians had a form of citizenry that excluded a lot of people but did grant certain rights those who possessed citizenship.

In the early days of Rome, patricians were the ruling class. Only certain families were members of the patrician class and members had to be born patricians. The patricians were a very small percentage of the Roman population, but they held all the power. All the other people were Plebeians.


Over time the separation between the patricians and the plebeians was gradually broken down, with old patrician aristocracy passing away, and Rome becoming in theory, a democratic republic. Everyone who was enrolled in the thirty-five tribes was a full Roman citizen, and had a share in the government. But we must remember that not all the persons who were under the Roman authority were full Roman citizens. The inhabitants of the Latin colonies were not full Roman citizens. They could not hold office, and only under certain conditions could they vote. The Italian allies were not citizens at all, and could neither vote nor hold office. And now the conquests had added millions of people to those who were not citizens. The Roman world was, in fact, governed by the comparatively few people who lived in and about the city of Rome. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

“But even within this class of citizens at Rome, there had gradually grown up a smaller body of persons, who became the real holders of political power. Later, this small body formed a new nobility—the optimates. All who had held the office of consul, praetor, or curule aedile—that is, a “curule office”—were regarded as nobles (nobiles), and their families were distinguished by the right of setting up the ancestral images in their homes (ius imaginis). Any citizen might, it is true, be elected to the curule offices; but the noble families were able, by their wealth, to influence the elections, so as practically to retain these offices in their own hands. \~\

Rise of the Plebeians in Rome

In early Rome, the plebeians had few rights. All of the government and religious positions were held by patricians. The patricians made the laws, owned the lands, and were the generals over the army. Plebeians couldn't hold public office and were not even allowed to marry patricians. Starting around 494 B.C., the plebeians began to fight against the rule of the patricians. This roughly 200-year struggle, called the "Conflict of the Orders", resulted in the plebeians gaining more rights, including the right to run for office and marry patricians. The Plebeians made their greatest gains by staging strikes: leaving the city for a while, refusing to work or fight in the army. The primary concessions that the plebeians obtained from the patricians was the Law of the Twelve Tables, which guaranteed basic rights of all Roman citizens regardless of their social class. [Source: Ducksters ^^]

According to Metropolitan Museum of Art: “During the early Republic, power rested in the hands of the patricians, a privileged class of Roman citizens whose status was a birthright. The patricians had exclusive control over all religious offices and issued final assent (patrum auctoritas) to decisions made by the Roman popular assemblies. “However, debts and an unfair distribution of public land prompted the poorer Roman citizens, known as the plebians, to withdraw from the city-state and form their own assembly, elect their own officers, and set up their own cults. Their principal demands were debt relief and a more equitable distribution of newly conquered territory in allotments to Roman citizens. Eventually, in 287 B.C., with the so-called Conflict of the Orders, wealthier, land-rich plebians achieved political equality with the patricians. The main political result was the birth of a noble ruling class consisting of both patricians and plebians, a unique power-sharing partnership that continued into the late first century B.C. [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000, \^/]

In the 5th century B.C., the tyranny of the decemvirs produced a more enlightened class of patricians, more sympathetic to Plebeian concerns. The passage new laws raised their hopes The Plebeians had already gained great successes, but there was still something else for them to obtain, in order to have full equality in the state, citizenship. At this time, plebeians already possessed the lowest right, the commercium; they could hold property and carry on trade just like any other Roman citizens. They had just just obtained the conubium, or the right of contracting a legal marriage with a patrician. They had also the suffragium, or the right of voting, in the assemblies of the centuries and of the tribes. As regards the honores, or the right of holding office, they could be elected to the lower offices, that is, could be chosen tribunes of the people and aediles; but could not be elected to the higher offices, that is, could not be chosen consuls and quaestors. What the plebeians now wanted was a share in the higher offices, especially in the consulship. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]


Plebeians Allowed to Elect Government Officials

Eventually the plebeians were allowed to elect their own government officials. They elected "tribunes" who represented the plebeians and fought for their rights. They had the power to veto new laws from the Roman senate. As time went on, the legal differences between the plebeians and the patricians diminished. The plebeians could be elected to the senate and even be consuls. Plebeians and patricians could also get married. Wealthy plebeians became part of the Roman nobility. However, despite changes in the laws, the patricians always held a majority of the wealth and power in Ancient Rome. [Source: Ducksters ^^]

The three citizen assemblies of the Roman Republic (not including the Senate): 1) All 3 assemblies included the entire electorate, but each had a different internal organization (and therefore differences in the weight of an individual citizen's vote). 2) All 3 assemblies made up of voting units; the single vote of each voting unit determined by a majority of the voters in that unit; measures passed by a simple majority of the units. 3) They were -called comitia. specifically the comitia curiata, comitia centuriata, and comitia plebis tributa (also the concilium plebis or comitia populi tributa). [Source: University of Texas at Austin ==]

Curiate Assembly: oldest (early Rome); units of organization: the 30 curiae (sing: curia) of the early city (10 for each of the early, "Romulan" tribes), based on clan and family associations; became obsolete as a legislative body but preserved functions of endowing senior magistrates with imperium and witnessing religious affairs. The head of each curia ages at least 50 and elected for life; assembly effectively controled by patricians, partially through clientela). ==

Centuriate Assembly: most important; units of organization: 193 centuries, based on wealth and age; originally military units with membership based on capability to furnish armed men in groups of 100 (convened outside pomerium); elected censors and magistrates with imperium (consuls and praetors); proper body for declaring war; passed some laws (leges, sing. lex); served as highest court of appeal in cases involving capital punishment. 118 centuries controlled by top 3 of 9 "classes" (minimum property qualifications for third class in first cent. B.C.-HS 75,000); assembly controlled by landed aristocracy. ==

Timeline of major events: 353 B.C.: Caere granted civitas sine suffragio (citizenship w/o vote or eligibility for office)
340 B.C.: Latin allies demand full voting rights, Roman citizenship?
Livy makes the Latins demand full citizenship and voting rights — no more ius Latinum.
300 B.C.: Lex Valeria guarantees provocatio for citizen w/in pomerium. Lex Ogulnia opens some priesthoods to plebeians.

Roman Citizenship Given to Conquered Territories

Through military expansion, colonization, and the granting of citizenship to conquered tribesmen, Rome annexed all the territory south of the Po in present-day Italy during a hundred period before 268 B.C.. Latin and Italic tribes were absorbed first, followed by Etruscans and the Greek colonies in south.

The colonies of citizens sent out by Rome were allowed to retain all their rights of citizenship, being permitted even to come to Rome at any time to vote and help make the laws. These colonies of Roman citizens thus formed a part of the sovereign state; and their territory, wherever it might be situated, was regarded as a part of the ager Romanus. Such were the colonies along the seacoast, the most important of which were situated on the shores of Latium and of adjoining lands. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

After the great Latin war (340-338 B.C.), it was evident that newly conquered people should be granted rights but that all the cities and towns were not equally fit to exercise the right of Roman citizenship; and upon this was based the distinction between perfect and imperfect citizenship. The subject towns of Latium and those of Campania were thus treated in various ways.

Towns fully Incorporated: In the first place, many of the towns of Latium were fully adopted into the Roman state. Their inhabitants became full Roman citizens, with all the private and public rights, comprising the right to trade and intermarry with Romans, the right to vote in the assemblies at Rome, and the right to hold any public office. Their lands became a part of the Roman domain. The new territory was organized into two new tribes, making now the total number twenty-nine. \~\

Towns partly Incorporated: But most of the towns of Latium. received only a part of the rights of citizenship. To their inhabitants were given the right to trade and the right to intermarry with Roman citizens, but not the right to vote or to hold office. This imperfect, or qualified, citizenship (which had before been given to the town of Caere) now became known as the “Latin right.”

Roman Society in the 1st and 2nd Centuries B.C.

Divisions of the Roman People in the 1st and 2nd centuries: 1) the aristocratic class, made up of the senators and equites; 2) a poor citizen class, made up of poor urban dwellers and country farmers about Rome; and 3) then a disfranchised class, made up of the Latins, the Italians, and the provincials, besides the slaves. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

At top of Roman society was the senatorial order — men who kept control of the higher offices, who furnished the members of the senate, and who really ruled the state. Next was the equestrian order,—men who were called equites, or knights, on account of their great wealth, who formed the moneyed class, the capitalists of Rome, and who made their fortunes by all sorts of speculation, especially by gathering the taxes in the provinces. These two orders formed the aristocratic classes. \~\

Below these was the great mass of the city population—the poor artisans and paupers, who in some cases formed the materials of a mob and lived upon public charity and the bribes of office-seekers, and were amused by public shows given by the state or by rich citizens. Then came the poor country farmers living upon the Roman domain—the peasants, many of whom had been deprived of their lands by rich creditors or by the avaricious policy of the government. These two classes formed the mass of the poorer citizens of Rome. \~\

Outside of the Roman domain proper (ager Romanus) were the Latin colonists, who were settled upon conquered lands in Italy, who had practically no political rights, and who were very much in the same social condition as the Roman peasants. Besides these were the Italian allies, who had been subdued by Rome in early times, and had been given none of the rights of citizenship. These two classes formed the subject population of Italy. Now if we go outside of Italy we find the great body of provincials, some of them favored by being left free from taxation, but the mass of them subject to the Roman tribute; and all of them excluded from the rights and privileges of citizens. \~\

Finally, if we go to the very bottom of the Roman population, we find the slaves, having none of the rights of citizens or of men. A part of them, the house slaves, were treated with some consideration; but the field slaves were treated wretchedly, chained in gangs by day and confined in dungeons by night. \~\

Gaius Gracchus (154-121 B.C.), the leader of Rome for a brief but significant period, tried to reform the system. David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “A free male resident of Italy at this time, who was not a full Roman citizen (most of Latium had full citizenship; local magistrates of Italian cities seem to have had full citizenship or at least the right of provocatio), might hope to enjoy one of two lesser degrees of citizenship or special rights. The better of these was the ius Latinum or 'Latin Rights', which entitled one to marry Roman citizens (connubium), to be treated by the courts as a Roman citizen, to own land at Rome (commercium), and to vote (if present at Rome during an election) in one of the 35 tribes. The less desirable status was civitas sine suffragio, which comprised only the private rights of connubium, commercium, and provocatio but not the right to vote or hold a magistracy. Gaius Gracchus proposed to grant full Roman citizenship (civitas optimo iure) to all of those currently holding Latin rights (not a group geographically limited to Latium), and to jump the rest of the Italians up to Latin rights; thus the number of those with the right to run for office would increase, while the number of those with the right to vote would increase drastically. He was vigorously opposed in this, both by his former supporter in the senate and the current consul C. Fannius, and also by the other populist tribune M. Livius Drusus (who, according to the pro-Gracchan tradition, was suborned by the senate to try to outdo Gracchus in pandering to the masses).”[Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

Social Wars (91-88 B.C.): A Struggle to Obtain Citizenship

As 1st century B.C. began, Rome’s Italian allies were clamoring for their rights, and threatening war if their demands were not granted. We remember that when Rome had conquered Italy, she did not give the Italian people the rights of citizenship. They were made subject allies, but received no share in the government. The Italian allies had furnished soldiers for the Roman armies, and had helped to make Rome the mistress of the Mediterranean. They believed, therefore, that they were entitled to all the rights of Roman citizens; and some of the patriotic leaders of Rome believed so too. But it seemed as difficult to break down the distinction between Romans and Italians as it had been many years before to remove the barriers between the patricians and the plebeians. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

ancient citizenship versus modern citizenship

The death of Drusus drove the Italians to revolt. The war which followed is known in history as the “social war,” or the war of the allies (socii). It was, in fact, a war of secession. The purpose of the allies was now, not to obtain the Roman franchise, but to create a new Italian nation, where all might be equal. They accordingly organized a new republic with the central government at Corfinium, a town in the Apennines. The new state was modeled after the government at Rome, with a senate of five hundred members, two consuls, and other magistrates. Nearly all the peoples of central and southern Italy joined in this revolt. Rome was now threatened with destruction, not by a foreign enemy like the Cimbri and Teutones, but by her own subjects. The spirit of patriotism revived; and the parties ceased for a brief time from their quarrels. Even Marius returned to serve as a legate in the Roman army. A hundred thousand men took the field against an equal number raised by the allies. In the first year the war was unfavorable to Rome. \~\

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “In 91 B.C. began the Social War; as Scullard points out, the name is in some sense a misnomer, since most of the privileged allies (the socii ) remained loyal or at least neutral. There is some debate about why the Italians were willing to press the matter to the point of war. In the annalistic tradition, as we have seen, their desire for enfranchisement gets retrojected to various high points in the history of the peninsula. But was it really citizenship they were after? [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“As far as the common people were concerned, even with citizenship they would have little chance to vote (as no votes could be cast en absentia, but physical presence in Rome was required) and even less to join the ruling class. The local aristocracy, on the other hand, could easily cope with the journey to the city, and might also hope for a share of the real pie, membership in the Senate and the chance to climb the cursus honorum. It is tempting to think that the impetus for the Social War came from the local aristocracies rather than from the rank and file. In any case the Social War was a conflict on a grand scale, with 100,000 men in arms against Rome. Its object was not to obliterate Rome but to reinvent the political landscape of Italy, to form a new state called Italia in which the position of Rome would be as equal of other large cities. ^*^

“The end of the social war was hastened by a concession embodied in the Lex Iulia, propogated by the consul of 90 BC, L. Iulius Caesar. The law offered the desired citizenship to all Italians (except the inhabitants of Cisalpine Gaul) who ceased hostilities immediately; possibly a separate law also allowed those individuals whose cities remained at war with Rome to gain citizenship on a separate basis ( Lex Papiria-Plautia ). The question is why any of the Italians would have continued to fight after the passage of the Lex Iulia. Possible answers: (a) the law merely restored the status quo ante bellum, whereas the objective of a new nation of Italia without Rome at its head was not met, or (b) the law stipulated that the new citizens could be enrolled only in two (or eight or ten) newly created tribes, which would limit the extent to which the weight of their numbers would be felt in the voting. If (b) is correct, as Salmon believes following Appian BC 1.49, then dissatisfaction over the half-measure explains the continuation of the fighting after its passage.” ^*^

Although Rome was victorious in the field, the Italians obtained what they had demanded before the war began, that is, the rights of Roman citizenship. The Romans granted the franchise (1) to all Latins and Italians who had remained loyal during the war (lex Iulia, B.C. 90); and (2) to every Italian who should be enrolled by the praetor within sixty days of the passage of the law (lex Plautia Papiria, B.C. 89). Every person to whom these provisions applied was now a Roman citizen. The policy of incorporation, which had been discontinued for so long a time, was thus revived. The distinction between Romans, Latins, and Italians was now broken down, at least so far as the Italian peninsula was concerned. The greater part of Italy was joined to the ager Romanus, and Italy and Rome became practically one nation. \~\

Augustus and Roman Citizenship

Under Augustus (ruled 27 B.C. - B.C. 14) the rights of citizenship was granted to a large number of people that had previously been excluded. At the beginning of this period only the inhabitants of a comparatively small part of the Italian peninsula were citizens of Rome. The franchise was restricted chiefly to those who dwelt upon the lands in the vicinity of the capital. But during the civil wars the rights of citizenship had been extended to all parts of Italy and to many cities in Gaul and Spain.

Part of the Res Gestae — a list of Augustus’s accomplishments likely penned by Augustus himself — reads: “I undertook civil and foreign wars both by land and by sea; as victor therein I showed mercy to all surviving [Roman] citizens. Foreign nations, that I could safely pardon, I preferred to spare rather than to destroy. About 500,000 Roman citizens took the military oath of allegiance to me. Rather over 300,000 of these have I settled in colonies, or sent back to their home towns (municipia) when their term of service ran out; and to all of these I have given lands bought by me, or the money for farms — and this out of my private means. I have taken 600 ships, besides those smaller than triremes.

“In my fifth consulship, by order of the People and the Senate, I increased the number of patricians. Three times I revised the Senate list. In my sixth consulship, with my colleague, Marcus Agrippa, I made a census of the People. [By it] the number of Roman citizens was 4,063,000. Again in the consulship of Gaius Censorinus and Gaius Asinus [8 B.C.] I [took the census, when] the number of Roman citizens was 4,230,000. A third time . . . in the consulship of Sextus Pompeius and Sextus Appuleius [14 A.D.], with Tiberius Caesar as colleague, I [took the census when] the number of Roman citizens was 4,937,000. By new legislation I have restored many customs of our ancestors which had begun to fall into disuse, and I have myself also set many examples worthy of imitation by those to follow me.

“Rome prospered during the succeeding reign of Claudius (Caligula's uncle), who achieved administrative efficiency by centralizing the government, taking control of the treasury, and expanding the civil service. He engaged in a vast program of public works, including new aqueducts, canals, and the development of Ostia as the port of Rome. To the Roman empire, he added Britain (43 A.D.) and the provinces of Mauritania, Thrace, Lycia, and Pamphylia. Imperial expansion brought about colonization, urbanization, and the extension of Roman citizenship in the provinces, a process begun by Julius Caesar, continued by Augustus, slowed by Tiberius, and resumed on a large scale by Claudius. \^/

On matters related to this, Suetonius wrote: “After having thus set the city and its affairs in order, he added to the population of Italy by personally establishing twenty-eight colonies; furnished many parts of it with public buildings and revenues; and even gave it, at least to some degree, equal rights and dignity with the city of Rome, by devising a kind of votes which the members of the local Senate were to cast in each colony for candidates for the city offices and send under seal to Rome against the day of the elections. To keep up the supply of men of rank and induce the commons to increase and multiply, he admitted to the equestrian military careera those who were recommended by any town, while to those of the commons who could lay claim to legitimate sons or daughters when he made his rounds of the districts he distributed a thousand sesterces for each child. [Source: Suetonius (c.69-after 122 A.D.): “De Vita Caesarum — Divus Augustus” (“The Lives of the Caesars — The Deified Augustus”), written A.D. c. 110, “Suetonius, De Vita Caesarum,” 2 Vols., trans. J. C. Rolfe (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1920), pp. 123-287]

“Certain of the cities which had treaties with Rome, but were on the road to ruin through their lawlessness, he deprived of their independence; he relieved others that were overwhelmed with debt, rebuilt some which had been destroyed by earthquakes, and gave Latin rights or full citizenship to such as could point to services rendered the Roman people. I believe there is no province, excepting only Africa and Sardinia, which he did not visit; and he was planning to cross to these from Sicily after his defeat of Sextus Pompeius, but was prevented by a series of violent storms, and later had neither opportunity nor occasion to make the voyage.”

Claudius (ruled A.D. 41- 54): Admitting Provincials to the Senate

Claudius being proclaimed emperor by his soldiers

The process was continued by Claudius I (ruled A.D. 41- 54). He made Thrace, Lycia in Asia Minor and Mauretania in Africa provinces and gave the right of citizenship to residents of the provinces. The civitas was granted to a large part of Gaul, thus carrying out the policy which had been begun by Julius Caesar. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

In a speech on admitting provincials to the Senate by Claudius (41–54 A.D.), Tacitus (b.56/57-after 117 A.D.) wrote in “Annals” (A.D. 48): “In the consulship of Aulus Vitellius and Lucius Vipstanus the question of filling up the Senate was discussed, and the chief men of Gallia Comata, as it was called, who had long possessed the rights of allies and of Roman citizens, sought the privilege of obtaining public offices at Rome. There was much talk of every kind on the subject, and it was argued before the emperor with vehement opposition. "Italy," it was asserted, "is not so feeble as to be unable to furnish its own capital with a senate. Once our native-born citizens sufficed for peoples of our own kin, and we are by no means dissatisfied with the Rome of the past. To this day we cite examples, which under our old customs the Roman character exhibited as to valour and renown. Is it a small thing that Veneti and Insubres have already burst into the Senate-house, unless a mob of foreigners, a troop of captives, so to say, is now forced upon us? What distinctions will be left for the remnants of our noble houses, or for any impoverished senators from Latium? Every place will be crowded with these millionaires, whose ancestors of the second and third generations at the head of hostile tribes destroyed our armies with fire and sword, and actually besieged the divine Julius at Alesia. These are recent memories. What if there were to rise up the remembrance of those who fell in Rome's citadel and at her altar by the hands of these same barbarians! Let them enjoy indeed the title of citizens, but let them not vulgarise the distinctions of the Senate and the honours of office." [Source: Tacitus, The Annales 11.23-25]

“These and like arguments failed to impress the emperor. He at once addressed himself to answer them, and thus harangued the assembled Senate. "My ancestors, the most ancient of whom was made at once a citizen and a noble of Rome, encourage me to govern by the same policy of transferring to this city all conspicuous merit, wherever found. And indeed I know, as facts, that the Julii came from Alba, the Coruncanii from Camerium, the Porcii from Tusculum, and not to inquire too minutely into the past, that new members have been brought into the Senate from Etruria and Lucania and the whole of Italy, that Italy itself was at last extended to the Alps, to the end that not only single persons but entire countries and tribes might be united under our name. We had unshaken peace at home; we prospered in all our foreign relations, in the days when Italy beyond the Po was admitted to share our citizenship, and when, enrolling in our ranks the most vigorous of the provincials, under colour of settling our legions throughout the world, we recruited our exhausted empire. Are we sorry that the Balbi came to us from Spain, and other men not less illustrious from Narbon Gaul? Their descendants are still among us, and do not yield to us in patriotism.

"What was the ruin of Sparta and Athens, but this, that mighty as they were in war, they spurned from them as aliens those whom they had conquered? Our founder Romulus, on the other hand, was so wise that he fought as enemies and then hailed as fellow-citizens several nations on the very same day. Strangers have reigned over us. That freedmen's sons should be intrusted with public offices is not, as many wrongly think, a sudden innovation, but was a common practice in the old commonwealth. But, it will be said, we have fought with the Senones. I suppose then that the Volsci and Aequi never stood in array against us. Our city was taken by the Gauls. Well, we also gave hostages to the Etruscans, and passed under the yoke of the Samnites. On the whole, if you review all our wars, never has one been finished in a shorter time than that with the Gauls. Thenceforth they have preserved an unbroken and loyal peace. United as they now are with us by manners, education, and intermarriage, let them bring us their gold and their wealth rather than enjoy it in isolation. Everything, Senators, which we now hold to be of the highest antiquity, was once new. Plebeian magistrates came after patrician; Latin magistrates after plebeian; magistrates of other Italian peoples after Latin. This practice too will establish itself, and what we are this day justifying by precedents, will be itself a precedent."

“The emperor's speech was followed by a decree of the Senate, and the Aedui were the first to obtain the right of becoming senators at Rome. This compliment was paid to their ancient alliance, and to the fact that they alone of the Gauls cling to the name of brothers of the Roman people.”

Edict of Caraculla: Granting Citizenship to All Member of the Roman Empire


The Afro-Syrian warrior Caraculla (ruled A.D. 198 - 217 ) left behind a "trail or massacre and murder" and made some noteworthy reforms, namely granting citizenship to all free (non-slave) members of the empire's population. He did this mainly to generate income. By requiring all these new citizens to pay taxes, he was able to strengthen the army's financial base.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, nicknamed Caracalla, obliterated all distinctions between Italians and provincials, and enacted the Constitutio Antoniniana in 212 A.D., which extended Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire. [Source: Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Severan Dynasty (193–235)", The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2000, \^/]

The Edict of Caracalla (officially the Constitutio Antoniniana (Latin: "Constitution [or Edict] of Antoninus") was an edict issued in B.C. 212 by the Roman Emperor Caracalla, which declared that all free men in the Roman Empire were to be given full Roman citizenship and all free women in the Empire were given the same rights as Roman women. 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 a few local nobles (such as kings of client countries) also held full citizenship. Provincials, on the other hand, were usually non-citizens, although some held the Latin Right. However, by the previous century Roman citizenship had already lost much of its exclusiveness and become more available. [Source: Wikipedia]

Barbarians Become Citizens in the 3rd Century

With the Constitutio Antoniniana, or Edict of Caracalla (A.D. 212), the Roman franchise, which had been gradually extended by the previous emperors, was now conferred to all the free inhabitants of the Roman world. The edict was issued primarily to increase tax revenue. Even so, the edict was in the line of earlier reforms and effaced the last distinction between Romans and provincials. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

In the A.D. 3rd century a conciliatory policy toward the tribal people (“barbarians”) was adopted, by granting to them peaceful settlements in the frontier provinces. Not only the Roman territory, but the army and the offices of the state, military and civil, were gradually opened to Germans and other tribe members who were willing to become Roman subjects.

portrai bust of a barbarian, AD 3rd century

It became a serious question what to do with all the newcomers who were now admitted into the provinces. The most able of the barbarian chiefs were sometimes made Roman generals. Many persons were admitted to the ranks of the army. Sometimes whole tribes were allowed to settle upon lands assigned to them. But a great many persons, especially those who had been captured in war, were treated in a somewhat novel manner. Instead of being sold as slaves they were given over to the large landed proprietors, and attached to the estates as permanent tenants. They could not be sold off from these estates like slaves; but if the land was sold they were sold with it. This class of persons came to be called coloni. They were really serfs bound to the soil. The colonus had a little plot of ground which he could cultivate for himself, and for which he paid a rent to his landlord. But the class of coloni came to be made up not only of barbarian captives, but of manumitted slaves, and even of Roman freemen, who were not able to support themselves and who gave themselves up to become the serfs of some landlord. The coloni thus came to form a large part of the population in the provinces. \~\

This new class of persons, which held such a peculiar position in the Roman empire, has a special interest to the general historical student; because from them were descended, in great part, the class of serfs which formed a large element of European society after the fall of Rome, during the middle ages. \~\

Collaboration, Resistance, Civilisation or Enslavement?

Dr Neil Faulkner wrote for the BBC: “How did the Romans maintain control of such a huge empire for so long? Partly, of course, it was a matter of using military power to threaten those who resisted. But partly, too, it was a matter of positive incentives to collaborate. |::| In their conquests, the Romans rarely faced united opposition. Usually they made alliances with native rulers who were willing either to fight alongside them or at least provide logistical support. [Source: Dr Neil Faulkner, BBC, February 17, 2011. Dr Faulkner is an honorary lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. |::|]

“Once Roman military superiority was clear, other native rulers frequently gave up the unequal struggle and made terms. Die-hards who fought on to the bitter end were often a minority. The difference between collaboration and resistance can be seen in comparing two cases: Pergamum in Western Turkey, which was bequeathed to the Romans by its last independent ruler in 133 BC; and Dacia, the ancient Romania, whose king resisted fiercely in three hard-fought wars between 85 and 106 AD. The result was that whereas the long-established Hellenistic culture of Pergamum survived and flourished under the Romans, Dacia appears to have been laid waste, ethnically cleansed, and re-settled by foreign colonists. |::|

captives in Rome

“Another aspect of Roman policy was explained - rather cynically - by the historian Tacitus in a biography of his father-in-law, Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the governor of Britain from 78 - 84 AD: [Agricola] wanted to accustom them [the Britons] to peace and leisure by providing delightful distractions. He gave personal encouragement and assistance to the building of temples, piazzas and town-houses, he gave the sons of the aristocracy a liberal education, they became eager to speak Latin effectively and the toga was everywhere to be seen. 'And so they were gradually led into the demoralising vices of porticoes, baths and grand dinner parties. The naïve Britons described these things as 'civilisation', when in fact they were simply part of their enslavement.' |::|

“Tacitus was a senator as well as an historian - one of the small class of super-rich politicians and administrators who effectively ran the Roman empire. His testimony reveals that when native aristocrats adopted a Roman lifestyle and acquired a taste for Mediterranean luxury and refinement, the rulers of the empire were delighted. Instead of jealously guarding their privileges, they were eager to share them. They understood that if the empire was to be stable and to endure, it required wide foundations. |::|

“Rome's rulers were happy to welcome native aristocrats as fellow citizens. This was possible because citizenship in the ancient world was not defined by nationality. Anyone could, in theory, be granted citizenship of the city-state of Rome, even if they had never been there and had no intention of going. Place of residence, language, religion, parentage - none of these was decisive. If you had standing in your own community and supported the new order, you were likely to attract attention as someone to be cultivated.” |::|

St. Paul: a Christianized Jew, a Good Roman Citizen?

Dr Neil Faulkner wrote for the BBC: “For over a century, Palestine was ruled by Herod the Great and his successors. This dynasty of pro-Roman 'client-kings' were puppet rulers who referred all important decisions, especially regarding foreign policy, to Rome. The Herodian kings were granted Roman citizenship in return for their loyalty. They in turn attempted to Romanise their territories by building classical-style temples, sponsoring new games festivals and decorating their palaces with frescoes and mosaics. [Source: Dr Neil Faulkner, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]

Conversion of Paul

“But it was not only kings who acquired Roman citizenship. The empire was controlled through a network of several thousand provincial towns. Each town dominated the countryside around it and functioned as a centre of local government. The country gentry were organised into a class of town councillors or 'decurions'. Most continued to draw most of their income from estates, but they took up urban residence, joined the political fray, contributed to the cost of public buildings, and became patrons of the arts. |::|

“St Paul probably belonged to this group (he is described to us as a 'tent-maker', but this may well mean a merchant who owned workshops, perhaps even a contractor supplying the army). We know that he was born a Roman citizen. It was this that saved him from trial in a hostile local court, since Roman citizens were entitled to demand the emperor's justice - which is why, after his arrest in 58 AD, he was dispatched to Rome. |::|

“His case shows that in the early first century A.D. a well-to-do Jew from Tarsus in Southern Turkey could be a Roman. Paul's case illustrates one of the advantages of Roman citizenship - legal protection. But there were many others. Roman society was meshed together by networks of patronage. Citizenship gave one access to the most important of these networks and the opportunities for economic, social and political advancement they offered. |Consequently, most men of rank within the empire were eager to become Roman citizens - and the Romanisation we see represented by archaeological discoveries is evidence of both their striving and their success.” |::|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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