In addition to freedom status libertatis, Roman citizenship was an essential condition for the enjoyment of political rights, both private and public. The civis was originally one who lived with full rights intra muros, i.e., inside the city. Later the concept was broadened. Citizenship was acquired mainly by legitimate birth to citizen parents; the son of a peregrinus inherited his father’s legal status; a freed slave obtained with his freedom the status of citizen. Citizenship was sometimes granted to whole communities but more often to individuals, in connection with particular services to the state military services of special merit or with the political tendencies that dominated from time to time, more or less open to the reception of foreign elements.
Between 90 and 87 BC Social War, the whole population of Italy obtained citizenship; it was gradually extended until, with Caracalla’s Constitutio Antoniniana 212, it embraced all the subjects of the empire in orbe romano. The problem of conceding citizenship to all Italians exploded with particular violence in the age of the Gracchi: under the agrarian reform promoted by Tiberius Gracchus, Italians were subject to the confiscation of their surplus portions of ager publicus but were excluded as noncitizens from the redistribution. Roman citizenship included ius honorum right of access to magistrates, ius suffragii right to vote in assemblies, right of appeal to the people in criminal cases, right to contract legal marriage, the right not to be tortured and full legal competency.
These rights and duties underwent changes, even significant ones, through the centuries, esp. after Caracalla’s concession of Roman citizenship to all free inhabitants of the empire in 212. Also important was the distinction between a person’s legal status and social status: there could be poor Romans who possessed the privileges of citizenship and slaves or merchants who were not Roman citizens yet were very wealthy and influential. For his part, the Roman citizen was bound to military service and the payment of taxes. In Justinian’s legislation 6th c., the civis romanus was still the privileged subject. Being a civis conferred a strong social identity and a close bond of belonging; the peregrinus, the noncitizen, however, enjoyed no civil rights and human rights were linked to these. Christians made ample use of both concepts to speak of an identity and a belonging: they possessed heavenly citizenship, but on earth they were only peregrini, without a permanent home. This new citizenship was acquired with baptism. A.N. Sherwin-White, The Roman Citizenship, Oxford 2 1973; C.
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