Who Were Considered Citizens In Ancient Rome

Who Were Considered Citizens in Ancient Rome

Roman citizenship was an important legal status among the inhabitants of the Roman Empire. It was originally granted to people native to the city of Rome but was later expanded to include all those descended from an Italian parent. Roman citizens had certain rights under the laws of the city, including the right to vote, to exercise legal claims, and to receive state coverage for medical bills. The benefits of Roman citizenship were well-recognized, and over time, more people obtained citizenship by raising their social status or being adopted into a Roman family. Here, we explore the various ways individuals could become citizens in Ancient Rome.

Birthright Roman Citizenship

Historically, much of the Italian peninsula was part of the Roman Republic and citizens of Rome could simply be born or naturalized by the state. This was the most straightforward way of obtaining Roman citizenship. People born to at least one Roman parent, or those granted the status of a Roman citizen by the state, were given birthright Roman citizenship. While this was an exciting prospect, it was only attainable by a select few who could prove their lineage and have their status recognized. Furthermore, birthright citizens were not without their obligations and burdens. They were expected to abide by a set of rules and regulations, such as military service and paying a census-assessed tax.

Social Status

Social status was another way to become a Roman citizen. Wealthy people could buy their way into Rome by paying a nominal fee and becoming a citizen. This practice was a method of welcoming outsiders into the Roman Empire, and those who were wealthy enough to purchase citizenship were often welcomed with open arms. Roman citizens who were descended from freed slaves, citizens of other cities, or aristocrats, could also benefit from this method. This inference was very beneficial, as it increased the workforce, encouraged economic growth, and gave political stability to Rome.


Adoption was also common in Ancient Rome. As was customary at the time, if a Roman citizen adopted someone, they became their legal guardian, and their social and economic status transferred to the adopted person. As a result, the adopted person would become a Roman citizen and enjoy the same rights, privileges, and benefits as those of natural-born citizens. It is important to note, however, that adoption was a lengthy process and could only be completed by those who had the money, power, and influence to do so.

Military Service/Honorary Citizenship

Given that military service was a requirement for Roman citizens, it is unsurprising that this was another route to obtaining Roman citizenship. Soldiers could obtain citizenship through military service, regardless of their social or financial status. From the second century BCE onward, Rome welcomed foreigners as soldiers, and Roman citizenship was granted to those who had served in the Roman Army. This meant that soldiers from all over the world had the chance to become Roman citizens provided they served for at least 25 years.

Honorary Citizenship

Honorary citizenship was yet another way to become a Roman citizen. People could achieve it not only through military service, but also through meritorious acts. Honorary citizens were considered to be the most prestigious type of Roman citizen and were granted a host of benefits such as the right to own land, the right to vote, and the right to hold Roman public office. Although these freedoms came with a set of burdens, honorary citizens still enjoyed the right to practice their own religion, which was not always guaranteed to other types of citizens.

The Extension of Roman Citizenship

In 212 AD, Roman citizenship was extended to all free people who resided in the province of Rome. This law, known as the Constitutio Antoniniana, granted Roman citizenship to all free people in the provinces. This expansion of Roman citizenship meant that people living in areas such as Northern Africa, Spain, and Britain could now enjoy the same privileges and benefits as those living in the Italian peninsula. This extension of Roman citizenship helped to place more people under the same legal system, making it easier for the Roman government to govern them.


Ancient Rome was a complex society where not everyone had access to the privileges of Roman citizenship. Birthright Roman citizenship was the most widespread method of obtaining Roman citizenship, but it was only accessible to select few. Other methods included social status, adoption, military service, and honorary citizenship. In 212 AD, a law was passed which extended Roman citizenship to all free people residing in the provinces. This helped to unify the state and bring people from all over the world under the same legal system.

The Legal Status of Roman Citizens

In the Roman Empire, citizenship was much sought after and provided certain legal rights and benefits. Roman citizens had the right to vote, hold public office, own land, and exercise legal claims. They were even exempt from certain taxes and were allowed to practice their own religion. In addition, citizens were expected to follow certain obligations as well, such as paying a census-assessed tax and completing military service. As a result, Roman citizens had to abide by the law or risk facing harsh punishments.

The Importance of Roman Citizenship

Roman citizenship was important throughout the Roman Empire, and it was often used as a marker of status and privilege. Those with citizenship were regarded as equals of the patrician class, the highest ranking social class. With Roman citizenship, people could gain access to better jobs, higher social standing, and legal protection. Roman citizenship was also important politically, as it unified the state and ensured that laws were followed.

The Challenges of Obtaining Roman Citizenship

Becoming a Roman citizen was a long and arduous process, and not everyone had the same access. Birthright Roman citizenship was the simplest and most straightforward way of obtaining citizenship, but it remained unattainable for many. Additionally, the process of obtaining citizenship through adoption, military service, and other methods could be lengthy and difficult. It was expensive, and those without the financial means or power to influence the process had little chance of becoming citizens.

The Decline of Roman Citizenship

Over time, with the expansion of the Roman Empire, the legal status of Roman citizenship changed. The Constitutio Antoniniana, passed in 212 AD, granted Roman citizenship to all people living in the provinces. This weakened the significance of Roman citizenship, as it was no longer linked only to upper-class patricians. As the Roman Empire declined, so did the value of Roman citizenship.

The Legacy of Roman Citizenship

Despite its decline, the legacy of Roman citizenship lives on today. Across the world, citizenships remain an integral part of many countries, and people of all backgrounds can enjoy the benefits and responsibilities that come with the status. It has been argued that the privileges associated with Roman citizenship today are largely due to the ancient Roman Empire, and its influence on the world will continue to be felt even today.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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