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Unlearn Series: Italy’s History With Race
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Citizenship in ancient Rome (Latin: civitas) was a privileged political and legal status afforded to free individuals with respect to laws, property, and governance. Citizenship in Ancient Rome was complex and based upon many different laws, traditions, and cultural practices. There existed several different types of citizenship, determined by one’s gender, class, and political affiliations, and the exact duties or expectations of a citizen varied throughout the history of the Roman Empire.

Citizenship in Rome could be acquired through various means. To be born as a citizen required that both parents be free citizens of Rome. Another method was via the completion of a public service, such as serving in the non-Roman auxiliary forces. Cities could acquire citizenship through the implementation of the Latin law, wherein people of a provincial city of the empire could elect people to public office and therefore give the elected official citizenship.

The legal classes varied over time, however the following classes of legal status existed at various times within the Roman state:

Cives Romani
The cives Romani were full Roman citizens, who enjoyed full legal protection under Roman law. Cives Romani were sub-divided into two classes:

The non optimo iure who held the ius commercii and ius connubii (rights of property and marriage)
The optimo iure, who held these rights as well as the ius suffragii and ius honorum (the additional rights to vote and to hold office).

The Latini were a class of citizens who held the Latin rights (ius Latii), or the rights of ius commercii and ius migrationis (the right to migrate), but not the ius connubii. The term Latini originally referred to the Latins, citizens of the Latin League who came under Roman control at the close of the Latin War, but eventually became a legal description rather than a national or ethnic one. The Latin rights status could be assigned to different classes of citizens, such as freedmen, cives Romani convicted of crime, or colonial settlers.

Under Roman law, citizens of another state that was allied to Rome via treaty were assigned the status of socii. Socii (also known as foederati) could obtain certain legal rights of under Roman law in exchange for agreed upon levels of military service, i.e., the Roman magistrates had the right to levy soldier from such states into the Roman legions. However, foederati states that had at one time been conquered by Rome were exempt from payment of tribute to Rome due to their treaty status.

Growing dissatisfaction with the rights afforded to the socii and with the growing manpower demands of the legions (due to the protracted Jugurthine War and the Cimbrian War) led eventually to the Social War of 91–87 BC in which the Italian allies revolted against Rome.

The Lex Julia (in full the Lex Iulia de Civitate Latinis Danda), passed in 90 BC, granted the rights of the cives Romani to all Latini and socii states that had not participated in the Social War, or who were willing to cease hostilities immediately. This was extended to all the Italian socii states when the war ended (except for Gallia Cisalpina), effectively eliminating socii and Latini as legal and citizenship definitions.

Provinciales were those people who fell under Roman influence, or control, but who lacked even the rights of the foederati, essentially having only the rights of the ius gentium (rules and laws common to nations under Rome’s rule).

A peregrinus (plural peregrini) was originally any person who was not a full Roman citizen, that is someone who was not a member of the cives Romani. With the expansion of Roman law to include more gradations of legal status, this term became less used, but the term peregrini included those of the Latini, socii, and provinciales, as well as those subjects of foreign states.

Citizenship for different social classes
Individuals belonging to a specific social class in Rome had modified versions of citizenship.

Roman women had a limited form of citizenship. They were not allowed to vote or stand for civil or public office. The rich might participate in public life by funding building projects or sponsoring religious ceremonies and other events. Women had the right to own property, to engage in business, and to obtain a divorce, but their legal rights varied over time. Marriages were an important form of political alliance during the Republic. Roman women mostly remained under the guardianship of their father (pater familias) or their closest male agnate.
Client state citizens and allies (socii) of Rome could receive a limited form of Roman citizenship such as the Latin rights. Such citizens could not vote or be elected in Roman elections.
Freedmen were former slaves who had gained their freedom. They were not automatically given citizenship and lacked some privileges such as running for executive magistracies. The children of freedmen and women were born as free citizens; for example, the father of the poet Horace was a freedman.
Slaves were considered property and lacked legal personhood. Over time, they acquired a few protections under Roman law. Some slaves were freed by manumission for services rendered, or through a testamentary provision when their master died. Once free, they faced few barriers, beyond normal social stigma, to participating in Roman society. The principle that a person could become a citizen by law rather than birth was enshrined in Roman mythology; when Romulus defeated the Sabines in battle, he promised the war captives that were in Rome they could become citizens.

Roman citizenship

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