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Roman Citizenship

The official designation of the Roman people was Populus Romanus Quirites or Quiritium, or simply Populus Romanus. All inhabitants of Italy (excluding women, children and slaves) were citizens (cives) of Rome, but their rights and privileges differed. The full rights of citizenship, enjoyed by cives ptimo iure only, were as follows:

  • a. Private Rights (privata iura): (1) lus Commercii, right of holding property; (2) lus Conubii, right of contracting a legal marriage.
  • b. Public Rights (publica iura): (1) lus Suffragii, right of voting; (2) lus Provocationis, right of appeal to the whole people on a criminal charge; (3) ius Honorum, right of holding office.
These iura had belonged at first to the Patricians exclusively, and were obtained by the Plebs only after a long and bitter struggle, the details of which belong to Roman history. The ius commercii was the first to be granted them; the Servian organization, date uncertain, in its later development gave them the suffragium in its systematic form; the lex Valeria (509), supplemented by certain later statutes, gave them the ius provocations; the lex Canuleia (445) the ius conubii; and the lex Licinia (367) gave them the right to hold the consulship, and paved the way to unrestricted ius honorum by the year 300.

Below the cives ptimo iure came a numerous body, who had either never enjoyed full citizenship, or had lost it in whole or in part. Of the former the most important class were the freed slaves (Libertini), who stood to their former masters much as in earlier times the clients had stood to the patricians. They were enrolled as cives, held property and voted, but were practically denied the ius honorum until the taint of their origin had been removed by several generations.

There were several ways in which a citizen might lose some or all of his civitas. Conviction for certain offenses (infamia), or going into exile to avoid condemnation on a capital charge, involved the loss of certain iura for life; while the censure of the Censors (ignominia) took away certain rights during their term of office. Citizenship was altogether lost by the citizen's transferring his allegiance to another state, or by his being taken captive in war and sold by the enemy into slavery; though in the latter case he recovered his rights (by what was called postliminium) on the recovery of his freedom by escape or release.

From the standpoint of a magistrate each citizen was a caput, a political unit, and the loss of citizenship to a less or greater extent was called Deminutio Capitis. Hence such expressions as crimen capitale, iudicium capitis, poena capitis, do not mean a charge, trial or punishment in which the life of a citizen was at stake, but such a one as involved the whole or partial loss of his civitas.

Citizenship was acquired by birth in lawful wedlock of parents having the ius conubii, or was conferred by law, or was (rarely) given by some duly authorized magistrate. A citizen born was enrolled as such on reaching his seventeenth year, taking at once the class his father had, and thenceforth enjoyed all his rights. These rights were in force wherever in Roman territory he might take up his abode, except that he must be in the city to vote.

There were practically no burdens imposed by citizenship. The citizen was theoretically liable for military duty from his seventeenth to his sixtieth year, and to pay a tax if such was found necessary in time of war. Since the time of Marius, however, citizens no longer served in the army against their will, and the rich revenues from the provinces made taxation unnecessary even in time of war.

Entirely outside the pale of citizenship, and forming, of course, no part of the Populus Romanus, were two numerous elements in the population of the city, foreigners (Peregrini) and slaves (Servi). The persons and property of the former were secured by law, though they might at any time be removed from the city by vote of the people. Slaves were looked upon as mere property, and had no rights of any sort.




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