The Rights of Citizens and Non-Citizens in the Roman World

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The Rights of Citizens and Non-Citizens in the Roman World

Postby Publius Nonius Severus on Thu Jan 18, 2007 10:06 pm

Salvete Omnes!

I would like to present to all of you my first article submission to the Societas. The topic I have chosen is one which I often wondered about: What distinguished Roman citizens from holders of latin rights and outright foreigners? If this topic interests you, please read on and feel free to post comments or questions.

-Severus


The Rights of Roman Citizens, Latins, and Foreigners in the Roman Republic

Introduction

The terms Roman citizens, Latin rights, and foreigners (cives, latini, and peregrini) are often encountered in ancient Roman historical accounts and literature. Yet, there are rarely any substantive definitions of these terms. What rights and privileges, separate these three classes of persons in the Roman world? Was it possible to change classes and if so how? What limitations were imposed upon the interactions of persons in the different classes? This essay aims to answer these questions and more as each class is defined and categorized.

Definition of Legal Rights under Roman Law

Before addressing each of the classes individually, it would be ideal to first determine what differentiates one class from another. The best way to do that is to break down and explain the different bodies of civil and political rights that a person in the Roman world possessed.

Jus Publicum (Public Law)

The right to be elected as a magistratus (called jus honorum or honores), and the right to vote in the comitia (called jus sufragii or sufragium) were parts of the jus publicum and were the highest level of rights one could possess in the Roman world. Only cives could possess jus publicum.

Jus Privatum (Private Law)

The right to be legally married under Roman law (jus connubii or connubium) and the right to quiritarian ownership, that is, the right to absolutely own something, not just possess; the right to make a will or inherit; and to make legally binding obligations (collectively called jus commercii or commercium) were called the jus privatum. Only cives could possess both connbium and commercium. However, latini could possess commercium as well. Peregrini could possess neither.

Jus Gentium (Universal Law)

The rights common to all mankind and nations were the only rights that peregrini enjoyed in the Roman world (cives and latini also possessed jus gentium). This could allow them to interact with cives (diplomatic relations, contracts, etc.) but otherwise they had no other rights under Roman law. It should be noted that slaves (servi) did not even possess jus gentium, In fact, their servitude was under the jus gentium of the servus’ master.

Comparison of the Legal Rights of Cives, Latini, and Peregrini

With the different levels of legal rights under Roman law defined, we can now proceed to distinguish one class of persons from another.

Peregrini

Based on the description of rights above, the following persons would have been considered peregrini (Before the Social War of 91–88 BC)

1. Citizens of Foreign Nations or States (including Latini, Socii, and Provinciales
2. Romans who had lost their citizenship
3. Libertini (Freedmen) who were not eligible to be latini or cives

Latini / Latin Rights

After the Social War, an additional class of person was established, the latini (holders of Latin Rights). The original latini were the citizens of old Latium and thus considered foreigners) and the Latin colonies.

After the passing of the Lex Julia de Civitate, The existing latini and socii were made cives and the new class of latini was created. Latini were defined as a hybrid between a peregrinus and a civis. They did not have connubium, but, they did have comercium. Being a Latinus was considered a necessary step for peregrini to acquire full citizenship.

Cives

Although not often referenced, there were two different classes of Roman citizen. A non optimo jure civis possessed only jus privatum, that is, connubium and comercium but could not vote or be elected to public office (suffragium and honores). An optimo jure civis held jus privatum and jus publicum and was considered a higher class of citizen .

A person could become a civis in the following manners:

1) By Birth (if born to two parents that were both cives or other similar conditions
2) Born to a Roman civis mother
2) Freeing of a slave without legal impediments and under specific circumstances
3) Conferred by a law

Loss of Citizenship

A Civis could lose citizenship by a couple of different means. Certain types of exile as a result of judicial punishment could result in loss of citizenship. Exile “denied water and fire” was one such type. If a civis voluntarily joined a Latin colony before the Lex Julia, citizenship was forfeited.

Conclusion

If you lived in the Roman world, it was obviously of great benefit to be a Roman citizen. Non-citizens enjoyed few if any political rights under Roman law which had a profound effect on their daily lives. The capacity to be legally married, or sell a possession, or legally force someone to comply with a specific requirement all depended on the level of legal rights you possessed. Perhaps the old adage “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” should be modified to “When in Rome, do as the Romans do (if you are legally entitled).”

Sources

Pliny (The Younger). Epistolarum, x.4.22

Livy, Ab Urbe Condita, xxxviii.36, ix .4

Gaius, Institutionum, i.12

Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities
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Postby Primus Aurelius Timavus on Thu Jan 18, 2007 10:23 pm

Thanks Severe, I enjoyed reading it. Tell me, under what legal basis were citizens married to non-citizens (whether Latins or foreigners?) If a Roman citizen woman married a Latin, would she be subject to his paterfamilia powers? Would it be that she would be the owner of the household and he would merely possess it? There are lots of interesting questions...

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Postby Publius Nonius Severus on Fri Jan 19, 2007 1:45 am

Mi Tergeste,

Thank you and I am glad you enjoyed the article. You have posed some excellent questions. I've had to do further research but I believe I can answer them.

Tell me, under what legal basis were citizens married to non-citizens (whether Latins or foreigners?)


A citizen could marry a latin or a foreigner under two bases:

1) If there was connubium (apparently connubium could exist between a citizen and non-citizen but I do not have exact details how) then the marriage was recognized as legitimum matrimonium. This was a legal Roman marriage and was party to Roman law. The consequences of such a marriage could affect the children of the marriage and the wife differently. The children of such a marriage would be under the patria Potestas of the father as paterfamilias. The woman would become filiaefamilias loco and also under the patria potestas of her husband (or her father-in-law if the husband was under the power of his father) if the marriage was cum conventione in manum, that is, the wife passed into her husband's family. If not, she remained in her current family or independent as determined by circumstance (I cannot comment on why a marriage might be cum conventione or not, perhaps someone else might be able to shed some light on this)


2) If there was no connubium, then the marriage was Matrimonium Juris Gentium and though recognized as marriage it was not party to Roman law. The consequences of this type of marriage were much more simple. if their were children, they merely had a father, but there was no patria potestas. In regards to the wife, there appeared to be no legal effects on their marriage.


If a Roman citizen woman married a Latin, would she be subject to his paterfamilia powers? Would it be that she would be the owner of the household and he would merely possess it?


I imagine this situation would be extremely rare in that if a woman was still in her father's family that he would allow her to marry a non-citizen. I also think it would be a risky undertaking for an independent woman to do so because as well since she would have no protection under Roman law.

But, to answer you question, I am fairly certain she would not be under his patria potestas and her property would remain her own and his property would remain his. My logic for this is as follows. In order for a woman to come into the patria potestas of her husband and all her property become his property then the marriage would have to be cum conventione. In order for a marriage to be cum conventione, it had to be a legitimum matrimonium under Roman civil law. In order for a marriage to be legitimum matrimonium, connubium had to exist between the man and the woman. Now, yes, it is possible for connubium to exist between a citizen and non-citizen, I believe the circumstances for this would be very rare in the case of a woman citizen and a male non-citizen based on the sexual bias of legal rights in the Roman world.

The logic of this last contention is the weakest of course. I need to do further research on the conditions for connubium to exist between citizens and non-citizens, specifically, if a connubium could exist between a woman citizen and a man not citizen.

-Severus
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