Roman Law & Government Mores


Roman Citizenship

Possession of citizenship was desired by Romans and barbari alike. Besides making one safe from the death penalty, a Roman citizen enjoyed:

Citizens did have responsibilities: they were taxed, and the men needed to complete a term of military service (in fact, only a citizen could become a Roman legionary). Only a citizen could use the praenomen-nomen-cognomen set of names.

A complex set of rules determined who was or was not a Roman citizen. One could be a citizen by virtue of one's birth if certain circumstances applied. If both mother and father had conubium, the child was deemed a citizen and held the social class of its father (e.g., eques, patrician, plebeian). If a Roman citizen had a child outside of conubium, the child took the status of its mother. If the mother was not a citizen, the child was not a Roman citizen and could even be a slave.

Children born to Roman legionaries during their military service were NOT citizens. it was illegal for legionaries to wed while serving their 20-year tour of duty and, thus, there could be no conubium. Since the mothers of legionaries' children generally were not Roman citizens themselves, in the eyes of Roman law the children simply received the status and nationality of the mother.

Factors other than birthright arose over time to determine citizenship:

In AD 212, all free inhabitants of the empire were finally granted citizenship.

Joan Jahnige, May 2002

Sources for these Law and Government pages:

Justinian: The Digest of Roman Law, translated by C.F. Kilbert, Penquin Classics, 1979.
Legal Latin, Dr. R. Masciantonio, American Classical League.
Life and Law of Rome, A.J. Crook, Cornell University Press 1967.
As the Romans Did, Jo Ann Shelton, Oxford University Press 1988, pp. 242-8, 277.
Children of Romulus, G.B. Cobbold, Longman Press 1995 pp. 137-8.
The Romans, Karl Christ, University of California Press 1984 pp. 121-132.
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