Civis Romanus Sum

What does it mean to be a citizen? The answer we give will depend on the nation we live in and on the age of the world in which we find ourselves. The French used to define citizenship not, as the English and Americans do, by the accident of birthplace, but by descent. Citizens were the children of citizens, and this ius sanguinis concept has been partially restored in France, and Governor Pete Wilson thinks it may be a partial answer to the United States' immigration crisis.

No people in the history of the world has ever wrestled so seriously with the concept of citizenship as the Romans. While most other ancient peoples (e.g., the Jews, the Athenians) were fiercely parochial in their eagerness to restrict citizenship rights, the Romans offered their allies and subject communities the possibility of incorporation into the Roman commonwealth. The process took time, usually involving the intermediate step of the Latin Right (the right to conduct commerce and intermarry with Roman citizens), and it was facilitated by the plantation of Roman colonies, but Rome's comparative generosity enabled her to create something like a universal empire whose subjects shared in the blessings, as well as the burdens, of citizenship.

The meaning of Roman citizenship has been investigated in detail by Claude Nicolet in a work translated into English as The World of the Citizen in Republican Rome (1980). Jane Gardner...

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