Roman Citizen Voting

Roman Citizenship

If someone introduced himself as Gaius Sempronius Rutilus in AD 118 but wasn’t wearing a toga, could you tell if he was a Roman citizen?

A senator in his toga, a sign of Roman citizenship

There were four classes of people in the Roman Empire: citizens of Rome (cives), Latins, noncitizens or peregrines (peregrini), and slaves. Latins enjoyed some but not all of the privileges of a civis. The privileges were many and ranged from the opportunity to participate in Roman politics to being exiled instead of fed to the beasts in an arena for the same crime. Perhaps nothing illustrates the advantage better than the different fates of the apostles Paul (a Roman citizen) and Peter (a Judaean peregrine). When executed by command of Nero, Paul was beheaded while Peter was crucified.

Proof of citizenship was provided by having your name appear on the census-list, which was updated every five years during the Republic. After AD 4, a policy of birth registration was established. A copy could be obtained for proving one’s age, very much like the birth certificates of today.

During the early Republic, a Roman citizen used two names: a given name (praenomen) and a clan name (nomen). During the time of Sulla (80’s BC) the three-part name (tria nomina) where a family name (cognomen) was added after the nomen became common. During the late Republic and the Empire until AD 212, the three-part name was a sign of Roman citizenship. It became a criminal offense in AD 24 to adopt the tria nomina if a man was not a citizen it was treated as a type of forgery.

The tri nomina was not the only obvious sign of citizenship. Although not all citizens wore a toga, only a citizen could legally wear one.

Who could be a Roman citizen?
Merely being born in Rome did not make you a Roman citizen (civis). The status of your parents decided the matter. If your parents were citizens, so were you, even if they decided to abandon you at birth (a common practice with unwanted children, especially girls).

In many ways, a freed slave enjoyed a relationship with the former master much like that of parent and child. If a male slave over the age of thirty was freed by a Roman citizen, he automatically became a citizen with some limitations on his rights to engage in politics. His children could be citizens with full rights if they were conceived in a legally recognized marriage. If freed while younger than thirty, special conditions or extra steps were necessary to obtain citizenship.

Adoption by a Roman citizen conferred all the rights of a child born in a legally recognized Roman marriage, but only if the adoptee was already a citizen. In Lew Wallace’s novel, Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, Quintus Arrius, the Roman admiral, would have had to first arrange for manumission (freeing) of Judah ben Hur by a Roman citizen (himself or another), which would give Judah his citizenship. Then Quintus could adopt and give Judah his own name. If Judah had been a free man, Arrias could not have adopted him because he was not already a citizen.

In the 1st century BC, the free inhabitants of Rome and Italy were Roman citizens. At various locations around the Empire, retired legionaries were given land in the provinces, establishing colonial towns (coloniae). Philippi in Greece is one example. Since Roman citizenship was a requirement to serve in a legion, the residents of a colonia were mostly Roman citizens. Residents of some other cities (municipia) were given citizenship by special grant of the emperor.

The emperor could grant citizenship in special cases. This might involve bribery of someone at court who would make the request, but this “selling” of citizenship was not reported to be common except during the rule of Claudius. One documented case in that time period is the tribune who told the apostle Paul that he had paid a lot of money to become a citizen.

Being the child of a Roman citizen was not necessarily enough to make you one. Your parents had to have a Roman law marriage (iustae nuptiae or iustum matrimonium) where both parents possessed conubium, the right to contract a legally recognized marriage. All Roman citizens had that, and some others were granted that right. An exception was the child of a citizen mother fathered by a slave or an unknown father. In that case, the child was a Roman citizen. It was very common for a child with a Roman citizen father not to be a citizen. Citizens often fathered children with their slaves, and having a slave mother made the child a slave. A father could make a male child a citizen by freeing him and adopting him. No provision was available in Roman law to make an illegitimate daughter into a citizen.

One certain (although not easy) way for a peregrine to become a citizen was to enlist in the Roman military. The auxiliaries (auxiliae) were infantry units of noncitizens that were organized like the legions. After serving an enlistment of 25 years, the retiring auxiliary soldier was granted Roman citizenship. Service for 26 years in the Roman navy earned citizenship as well. In addition to receiving citizenship themselves, their children born while they were in service (when an official marriage was forbidden) also became citizens.

During the later Empire, almost all free persons were granted citizenship through a decree by Caracalla.

Where you live and what you are
It was common for a Roman citizen to also be a citizen of the location where he or she lived. Such dual citizenship carried a price. A person could be required to fulfill the civic duties of either or both. The apostle Paul is one example, being both a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin and citizen of Rome.

Residing in a location, no matter how long, only made you a permanent resident (incola). Such persons had to obey the laws of both their place of residence and their city or country of citizenship.

Aldrete, Gregory S. Daily Life in the Roman City: Rome, Pompeii, and Ostia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004.

Crook, J. A. Law and Life of Rome, 90 BC.―A.D. 212. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967.

Image of the Roman senator is from the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD.

Your guide to the Roman Republic

Before the Roman Empire, there was the Republic. Philip Matyszak explains how it came about, how the Senate worked, and why the whole mighty edifice came crashing down.

This competition is now closed

Published: August 18, 2020 at 12:17 pm

Q: How and when did the Roman Republic first come about?

A: The Roman Republic actually went through a series of phases, which historians usually refer to as the early, mid and late Republic. The early Republic began in 509 BC, when a group of Roman aristocrats got together and overthrew the last king of Rome – Lucius Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud). These aristocrats needed the support of the people in order to maintain this new Republic, and so you ended up with a rather odd contrast of a democratic republic that was run by aristocrats. This basically set the tone for the Roman Republic from then on.

It’s hard to tell which Roman legends from the early Republic are actually based in fact, and which are essentially self-aggrandising stories made up by the Romans to convince themselves about their own history later on. But by the time we got to the mid Republic, which is basically about the time of the Punic Wars [a trio of wars fought between Rome and Carthage from 264 BC–146 BC], we started getting what you could call verifiable history. And, of course, in some parts of the late Republic, thanks to people like Cicero, we can actually almost follow events from day to day. This means we have a clear idea of how the Republic operated and what its constitutional functions were.

Q: How was the Republic structured?

A: Well, you had the Senate – in theory not a legislative, but a purely consultative body – which actually ran the show, and was comprised of men from the aristocratic (patrician) class. And you also had a lot of democratic forums that, as the Republic evolved, become more meaningless. The highest positions of government were held by two consuls who were themselves elected from the Senate, and it was the Senate that passed the laws.

But the early Republic experienced huge issues of social strife – known as the Conflict of the Orders – and a political struggle as ‘ordinary’ Romans (plebeians) struggled with the patricians for political equality. Reconciling the dual goals of these two sections of Roman society is probably the defining feature of the early Republic.

Q: What was the difference between plebeians and patricians?

A: Patricians were, if you like, the original aristocratic class of Rome, and had certain ranks in the Roman aristocracy that were reserved only for them. They got married by particular religious rites, which were separate from those of the general population, and they tended to represent the top families in Rome.

This is only really true of the early Republic, though. In the later Republic, the plebeians started to gain more rights.

Q: How did the Senate operate?

A: The Romans had something which they called the Cursus Honorum, meaning ‘course of honour’ – this meant you started at the bottom as a quaestor, the most junior member of the Senate.

A quaestor’s role tended to be looking after the financial affairs of a Roman general in the field, supervising the treasury, or some sort of administrative role in financial matters. After this, you could move up the ladder a bit, depending if you were a pleb or a patrician. The next step up was to become an aedile – these were the people who staged the Roman Games, looked after public buildings and the regulation of things like restaurants, taverns and brothels. By the 5th-century BC, the roles of tribuni plebis (tribunes of the plebeians) had been introduced their job was essentially to represent and protect the plebeian class – it was the first political position to be open to the plebeians.

Other roles included the praetors, whose job was partly legal – an urban praetor, for example, would have been in charge of keeping law and order in the city. Praetors could also take charge of military affairs if a consul was away fighting, which they often were. And then we get to the consuls themselves and this was, of course, the rank that every Roman patrician was gunning for.

Consuls were, by and large, war leaders a consul would come in, get elected, sort out legislative affairs in his first few months, and then take his army out and try to conquer somebody. Two consuls were elected each year with each able to veto the other – the rule of Roman government was that if people couldn’t get on then nothing could happen at all.

Then, every five years, two censors were elected. This was a job normally given to an older, experienced politician who had been through the mill. His job was firstly, as the name suggests, to keep a count of the number of Roman citizens. But secondly, he was also in charge of the morals of the state.

It was the censor’s job, for instance, to throw out any senators who exhibited ‘unbecoming’ conduct. Cato the Elder, who was elected to the censorship in 184 BC, famously threw out a man for kissing his wife in front of his daughter. That’s perhaps a rather extreme example, but it’s from trying to prevent this kind of a lascivious behaviour that we get the modern word censorship. Censors also oversaw aspects of state financing, including major contracts.

Idealism to dictatorship

Five key dates in the five and a half centuries from the last king to first emperor…

Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the seventh and last king of Rome, is overthrown in an uprising led by his own nephew, Lucius Junius Brutus. The king goes into exile and a republic is established, with Brutus as one of its first consuls.

A struggle between the patricians (ruling class) and the plebeians (‘common’ people) results in the introduction of the Law of the Twelve Tables, designed to protect the legal, social, and civil rights of Roman citizens.

A series of three conflicts – known as the Punic Wars – are fought between the Roman Republic and the Carthaginian (Punic) Empire. The Third Punic War (fought between 149–146 BC) saw Carthage defeated, the city destroyed and its territory – about 5,000 square miles – become a Roman province under the name of Africa Proconsularis.

The Lex Licinia Mucia is passed, a law ordering the ‘investigation’ of Latin and Italian allies on Rome citizen rolls – and allowing the prosecution of anyone found to be falsely claiming Roman citizenship. The law is held as a major cause of the devastating Social War of 91-88 BC.

Roman dictator Julius Caesar is assassinated at the Theatre of Pompey, in a bid by more than 60 high-ranking Romans to restore the power of the Senate. His death triggers a series of civil wars that will eventually see Caesar’s great-nephew Octavian become Augustus, Rome’s first emperor.

Q: How did the actions of the Senate affect the average Roman citizen?

A: Roman law is the edifice upon which most European law has been built, and was based upon a very early set of laws known as The Twelve Tables. These were 12 statutes which formed the basis for the laws accumulated over the years.

Despite its bloody reputation, Roman society was in some ways very civilised – particularly in the city of Rome. There was a rule, for example, that stated a butcher was not to go more than three steps away from his stall while holding a knife. And an actor could sue his audience for injury to his feelings while booing. So plebeians did actually have a great deal of legal protection.

The problem was that Rome had what we might call a strong society and a weak state. Scythian philosopher Anacharsis summed it up nicely when he said: “Laws are spiderwebs, which catch the little flies, but cannot hold the big ones.” So, Roman laws were good at containing ordinary Roman citizens, but the rich and powerful could brush through them as though they didn’t exist.

Q: How did women fit into the Roman Republic?

A: When we look at the role of women, there are two things to bear in mind. The first is that Rome was an intensely patriarchal and militaristic society. The other, is that it’s evident from what we know of Roman history, that women bought into this pretty much 100 per cent there just wasn’t a feminist movement in Rome. Roman wives were meant to be virtuous, obedient and produce the next generation of Romans.

Although there are some signs that not all Roman woman fitted so neatly into that picture – Hortensia, daughter of the 1st-century BC Roman orator Quintus Hortensius, herself earned a reputation as a skilled orator – women generally had a very limited role in public life and could not hold any official position of political responsibility. The lives of working-class women in the Republic, however, were completely different to those of the aristocratic woman we know about, and lower-class women would have worked for a living.

Q: Why did the Republic ultimately fail and end?

A: If I could give you a definitive answer on why the Roman Republic failed, I could probably walk into a tenured professorship tomorrow – there are so many differences of opinion. But I can share my own theory.

The Comitia Centuriata – one of four separate peoples’ assemblies, which sat below the Senate – met annually to elect the consuls and praetors for the next year. In the early years of the Republic, this was a military assembly, which saw the Roman army vote for the consuls, essentially choosing their war leader for that year. Since the consul would be the person to lead the armies into battle, it’s quite reasonable in a democratic republic that the army should choose him.

But in the later Republic, we start to see a disconnect between the consuls and the army, because by that time, they had started fighting in places like Syria, Spain and North Africa, meaning that the peasant soldiery could not get back to Rome to vote. This meant that it was the Roman citizens who were voting for what the army was going to do and who would command it.

Fundamentally, it was the Roman army that held the most power in Rome, so it didn’t take long for politicians like Sulla and Julius Caesar to try and win the army over, offering it an alternative to what other politicians wanted it to do. And the result of this is the Roman Empire, which was basically a military dictatorship.

Q: How democratic was the Republic?

A: Again, this is fiercely debated. Some people argue that it was extremely democratic others point out that the democratic institutions of the Roman Republic had been captured by the aristocracy, and the result is that it wasn’t very democratic at all.

On this podcast, Asa Bennett explores the lessons that 21st-century politicians could learn from their Roman forebears:

Q: How did Roman citizenship work?

A: Citizenship was a major innovation of the Romans. Athenians believed that to be an Athenian, you had to be born an Athenian – you could no more become an Athenian than a cat could become a dog. The Romans, however, worked on the opposite principle.

Quite often, after conquering a city they’d get the locals together in the smoking ruins of their homes and say: “Congratulations and welcome to Rome, fellow citizens.” So, the Romans were not only inclusive, but at times forcibly inclusive.

They also came up with the interesting innovation that you could be a citizen of your own city and simultaneously a citizen of Rome this wasn’t an idea that hadn’t occurred to anyone before. Rome was actually built by conquering the peoples of Italy and later of Gaul and Asia Minor, making them part of the population and turning them into models of themselves until they became more Roman than the Romans themselves. The Italian Social War of 91-88 BC was triggered by Rome’s refusal to grant citizenship to its Italian allies. It’s the only recorded case in history of the opposite of a war of independence.

The Republic was also ruthlessly expansionist, far more so than the Roman Empire that followed. When the Republic was formed, Rome was fighting Veii, an Etruscan city so close it now sits in the suburbs of modern Rome. By the time the Republic ended, it stretched from the banks of the Euphrates all the way to the coast of modern-day Portugal.

This article was originally published in the September 2020 issue of BBC History Revealed magazine

Rome and America – Comparing to the Ancient Roman Empire

Kerby Anderson looks at the comparisons between modern America and ancient Rome, i.e. the Roman Empire. Do Americans have a worldview more like ancient Romans than the biblical worldview spelled out in the Bible? In some ways, yes, and in other ways, not so much.


The philosopher George Santayana once said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” To which I might add that those who remember Santayana’s maxim also seem condemned to repeat the phrase.

Ask anyone if they see similarities between Rome and America, and they are likely to respond with a resounding, “Yes!” But I have also found that people who see similarities between Rome and America see different similarities. Some see similarities in our moral decay. Others see similarities in pride, arrogance, and hubris. But all seem to agree that we are repeating the mistakes of the past and need to change our ways.

Let’s begin by looking at some of the political, geographical, and demographic similarities.

1. Dominant powers: “Rome and America are the most powerful actors in their world, by many orders of magnitude. Their power includes both military might and the ‘soft power’ of language, culture, commerce, technology, and ideas.”

2. Approximately equal in size: “Rome and America are comparable in physical size—the Roman Empire and its Mediterranean lake would fit inside the three million square miles of the Lower Forty-eight states, though without a lot to spare.”

3. Global influence: “Both Rome and America created global structures—administrative, economic, military, cultural—that the rest of the world and their own citizens came to take for granted, as gravity and photosynthesis are taken for granted.”

4. Open society: “Both are societies made up of many peoples—open to newcomers, willing to absorb the genes and lifestyles and gods of everyone else, and to grant citizenship to incoming tribes from all corners of the earth.”

5. Culturally similar: “Romans and Americans can’t get enough of laws and lawyers and lawsuits. . . . They relish the ritual humiliation of public figures: Americans through comedy and satire, talk radio and Court TV the Romans through vicious satire, to be sure, but also, during the republic, by means of the censorial nota, the public airing, name by name, of everything great men of the time should be ashamed of.”

6. Chosen people: “Both see themselves as chosen people, and both see their national character as exceptional.”

While there are many similarities, there are also profound differences between Rome and America. Before we look at the six major parallels that Murphy talks about, we need to remind ourselves that there are many distinct differences between Rome and America.


It is no real surprise that people from different political and religious perspectives see similarities between Rome and America. While some see similarities in moral decay, others see it in military might or political corruption. Although there are many similarities between Rome and America, there are some notable differences.

Cullen Murphy points out these significant differences.

1. Technological advancement: “Rome in all its long history never left the Iron Age, whereas America in its short history has already leapt through the Industrial Age to the Information Age and the Biotech Age.”

2. Abundance: “Wealthy as it was, Rome lived close to the edge many regions were one dry spell away from famine. America enjoys an economy of abundance, ever surfeit it must beware the diseases of overindulgence.”

3. Slavery: “Rome was always a slaveholding polity with the profound moral and social retardation that this implies America started out as a slaveholding polity and decisively cast slavery aside.”

4. Government: “Rome emerged out of a city-state and took centuries to let go of a city-state’s method of governance America from early on began to administer itself as a continental power.”

5. Social classes: “Rome had no middle class as we understand the term, whereas for America the middle class is the core social fact.”

6. Democracy: “Rome had a powerful but tiny aristocracy and entrenched ideas about the social pecking order even at its most democratic, Rome was not remotely as democratic as America at its least democratic, under a British monarch.”

7. Entrepreneurship: “Romans looked down upon entrepreneurship, which Americans hold in the highest esteem.”

8. Economic dynamism: “Rome was economically static America is economically transformative.”

9. Technological development: “For all it engineering skills, Rome generated few original ideas in science and technology America is a hothouse of innovation and creativity.”

10. Social equality: “On basic matters such as gender roles and the equality of all people, Romans and Americans would behold one another with disbelief and distaste.”

While it is true that Rome and America have a vast number of similarities, we can also see there are significant differences between the two. We therefore need a nuanced view of the parallels between the two civilizations and recognize that these differences may be an important key in understanding the future of the United States.

Six Parallels

Murphy sees many parallels between the Roman Empire and America in addition to the above. The following are larger, more extensive, parallels.

The first parallel is perspective. It actually involves “the way Americans see America and more to the point, the way the tiny, elite subset of Americans who live in the nation’s capital see America—and see Washington itself.”

Like the Romans, Americans tend to see themselves as more important than they are. They tend to have an exaggerated sense of their own presence in the world and its ability to act alone.

A second parallel involves military power. Although there are differences, some similarities stand out. Both Rome and America start to run short of people to sustain their militaries and began to find recruits through outside sources. This is not a good long-run solution.

A third parallel can be lumped under the term privatization. “Rome had trouble maintaining a distinction between public and private responsibilities.” America is currently in the midst of privatizing functions that used to be public tasks.

A fourth parallel concerns the way Rome and America view the outside world. In a sense, this is merely the flip side of the first parallel. If you believe your country is exceptional, you tend to devalue others. And more importantly, you tend to underestimate another nation’s capabilities. Rome learned this in A.D. 9 when three legions were ambushed by a smaller German force and annihilated. The repercussions were significant.

The question of borders is a fifth parallel. The boundary of Rome “was less a fence and more a threshold—not so much a firm line fortified with ‘Keep Out’ signs as a permeable zone of continual interaction.” Compare that description to our border with Mexico, and so can see many similarities.

A final parallel has to do with size and complexity. The Roman Empire got too big physically and too complex to manage effectively. The larger a country or civilization, the more “it touches, and the more susceptible it is to forces beyond its control.” To use a phrase by Murphy: “Bureaucracy is the new geography.”

Cullen Murphy concludes his book by calling for greater citizen engagement and for us to promote a sense of community and mutual obligation. The Roman historian Livy wrote, “An empire remains powerful so long as its subjects rejoice in it.” America is not beyond repair, but it needs to learn the lessons from the Roman Empire.

Decline of the Family

What about the moral decline of Rome? Do we see parallels in America? I have addressed this in previous articles such as “The Decline of a Nation” and “When Nations Die.” Let’s focus on the area of sexuality, marriage, and family.

In his 1934 book, Sex and Culture, British anthropologist Joseph Daniel Unwin chronicled the historical decline of numerous cultures, including the Roman Empire. He found that cultures that held to a strong sexual ethic thrived and were more productive than cultures that were “sexually free.”

In his book Our Dance Has Turned to Death, Carl Wilson identifies the common pattern of family decline in civilizations like the Roman Empire. It is significant how these seven stages parallel what is happening in America.

In the first stage, men ceased to lead their families in worship. Spiritual and moral development became secondary. Their view of God became naturalistic, mathematical, and mechanical.

In the second stage, men selfishly neglected care of their wives and children to pursue material wealth, political and military power, and cultural development. Material values began to dominate thought.

The third stage involved a change in men’s sexual values. Men who were preoccupied with business or war either neglected their wives sexually or became involved with lower-class women or with homosexuality. Ultimately, a double standard of morality developed.

The fourth stage affected women. The role of women at home and with children lost value and status. Women were neglected and their roles devalued. Soon they revolted to gain access to material wealth and also freedom for sex outside marriage. Women also began to minimize having sex relations to conceive children, and the emphasis became sex for pleasure.

In the fifth stage, husbands and wives competed against each other for money, home leadership, and the affection of their children. This resulted in hostility and frustration and possible homosexuality in the children. Many marriages ended in separation and divorce.

In the sixth stage, selfish individualism grew and carried over into society, fragmenting it into smaller and smaller group loyalties. The nation was thus weakened by internal conflict. The decrease in the birthrate produced an older population that had less ability to defend itself and less will to do so, making the nation more vulnerable to its enemies.

Finally, unbelief in God became more complete, parental authority diminished, and ethical and moral principles disappeared, affecting the economy and government. Because of internal weakness and fragmentation, the society came apart.

We can see these stages play out in the decline of the Roman Empire. But we can also see them happening before our eyes in America.

Spiritual Decline

What about the spiritual decline in Rome and America? We can actually read about the spiritual decline in Rome in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. In the opening chapter he traces a progression of spiritual decline that was evident in the Hellenistic world of his time.

The first stage is when people turn from God to idolatry. Although God has revealed Himself in nature to all men so that they are without excuse, they nevertheless worship the creation instead of the Creator. This is idolatry. In the past, this took the form of actual idol worship. In our day, it takes the form of the worship of money or the worship of self. In either case, it is idolatry. A further example of this is a general lack of thankfulness. Although they were prospered by God, they were ungrateful. And when they are no longer looking to God for wisdom and guidance, they become vain and futile and empty in their imaginations. They no longer honor God, so their foolish hearts become darkened. In professing to be wise, they have become fools.

The second stage is when men and women exchange their natural use of sex for unnatural uses. Here Paul says those four sobering words, “God gave them over.” In a society where lust-driven sensuality and sexual perversion dominate, God gives them over to their degrading passions and unnatural desires.

The third stage is anarchy. Once a society has rejected God’s revelation, it is on its own. Moral and social anarchy is the natural result. At this point God has given the sinners over to a depraved mind and so they do things which are not proper. This results in a society which is without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful.

The final stage is judgment. God’s judgment rightly falls upon those who practice idolatry and immorality. Certainly an eternal judgment awaits those who are guilty, but a social judgment occurs when God gives a nation over to its sinful practices.

Notice that this progression is not unique to the Hellenistic world the apostle Paul was living in. The progression from idolatry to sexual perversion to anarchy to judgment is found throughout history.

In the times of Noah and Lot, there was the idolatry of greed, there was sexual perversion and promiscuity, there was anarchy and violence, and finally there was judgment. Throughout the history of the nation of Israel there was idolatry, sexual perversion, anarchy (in which each person did what was right in his own eyes), and finally judgment.

Are there parallels between Rome and America? I have quoted from secular authors, Christian authors, and a writer of much of the New Testament. All seem to point to parallels between Rome and America.

1. Cullen Murphy, Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007).
2. Ibid., 14-15.
3. Ibid., 16-17.
4. Ibid., 18-20.
5. Ibid., 122.
6. Ibid., 135.
7. Kerby Anderson, “The Decline of a Nation,” Probe Ministries, 1991, and “When Nations Die,” 2002 both available on Probe’s Web site,
8. J.D. Unwin, Sex and Culture (London: Oxford University, 1934).
9. Carl Wilson, Our Dance Has Turned to Death (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1981), 84-85.

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Kerby Anderson

Kerby Anderson is president of Probe Ministries International. He holds masters degrees from Yale University (science) and from Georgetown University (government). He is the author of several books, including Christian Ethics in Plain Language, Genetic Engineering, Origin Science, Signs of Warning, Signs of Hope and Making the Most of Your Money in Tough Times. His new series with Harvest House Publishers includes: A Biblical Point of View on Islam, A Biblical Point of View on Homosexuality, A Biblical Point of View on Intelligent Design and A Biblical Point of View on Spiritual Warfare. He is the host of "Point of View" (USA Radio Network) heard on 360 radio outlets nationwide as well as on the Internet ( and shortwave. He is also a regular guest on "Prime Time America" (Moody Broadcasting Network) and "Fire Away" (American Family Radio). He produces a daily syndicated radio commentary and writes editorials that have appeared in papers such as the Dallas Morning News, the Miami Herald, the San Jose Mercury, and the Houston Post.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at

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Roman Citizen Voting - History

"Remember, Roman, to guide the nations with authority. Let these be your arts: impose the laws of peace, And spare the humbled and lay low the proud." -Vergil

Citizenship was extremely important in Rome's attempt to preserve her unity. When Rome conquered a city they would offer it alliance and would write up various terms of the treaty.

When Rome conquered a city the defeated people would fall into one of four classes. Citizens, Municipia, Latin Allies, and Italian Allies. Other areas maintained their domestic independence but Rome dictated their foreign policies.

Citizens had full rights and full privileges.

Municipia received Roman citizenship without the right to vote. They were allowed a local self-government and the rights of trade. They also served in the army and paid taxes.

Latin Allies had no citizenship but were allowed the rights of trade, they also equipped Rome with foreign legions and were self-governed.

Italian Allies were Roman protectorates. They sent troop levies to Rome, and they shared in the spoils of war.

Advantages and Disadvantages For the Italian Tribes

There were many advantages for the Italians being under the protection of Rome even though they had lost their independence:

a) The Pax Romana (Roman peace),

b) Protection from many foreigners and multiple tribal wars ceasing,

c) Partial freedom and the possibility of full citizenship,

e) The use of Rome's architecture: (bridges, aqueducts, roads, etc.)

f) Sharing in the glory of Rome

b) Required military service

d) The eventual loss of any former identity, culture or language

Gradually the Latin language and the Roman way of life permeated the entire Italian Peninsula and Rome was becoming quickly unified as they had hoped. (see Rome's Methods of Domination)

Who was Augustus? Augustus (also known as Octavian) was the first emperor of ancient Rome. Augustus came to power after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. In 27 BCE Augustus “restored” the republic of Rome, though he himself retained all real power as the princeps, or “first citizen,” of Rome.

Citizenship in ancient Rome (Latin: civitas) was a privileged political and legal status afforded to free individuals with respect to laws, property, and governance. Such citizens could not vote or be elected in Roman elections. Freedmen were former slaves who had gained their freedom.

The Conflict of the Orders Ends (367-287 BCE)

In the decades following the passage of the Licinio-Sextian law, further legislation was enacted that granted political equality to the plebeians. Nonetheless, it remained difficult for a plebeian from an unknown family to enter the Senate. In fact, the very presence of a long-standing nobility, and the Roman population’s deep respect for it, made it very difficult for individuals from unknown families to be elected to high office. Additionally, elections could be expensive, neither senators nor magistrates were paid for their services, and the Senate usually did not reimburse magistrates for expenses incurred during their official duties, providing many barriers to the entry of high political office by the non-affluent.

Ultimately, a new patricio-plebeian aristocracy emerged and replaced the old patrician nobility. Whereas the old patrician nobility existed simply on the basis of being able to run for office, the new aristocracy existed on the basis of affluence. Although a small number of plebeians had achieved the same standing as the patrician families of the past, new plebeian aristocrats were less interested in the plight of the average plebeian than were the old patrician aristocrats. For a time, the plebeian plight was mitigated, due higher employment, income, and patriotism that was wrought by a series of wars in which Rome was engaged these things eliminated the threat of plebeian unrest. But by 287 BCE, the economic conditions of the plebeians deteriorated as a result of widespread indebtedness, and the plebeians sought relief. Roman senators, most of whom were also creditors, refused to give in to the plebeians’ demands, resulting in the first plebeian secession to Janiculum Hill.

In order to end the plebeian secession, a dictator, Quintus Hortensius, was appointed. Hortensius, who was himself a plebeian, passed a law known as the “Hortensian Law.” This law ended the requirement that an auctoritas patrum be passed before a bill could be considered by either the plebeian council or the tribal assembly, thus removing the final patrician senatorial check on the plebeian council. The requirement was not changed, however, in the centuriate assembly. This provided a loophole through which the patrician senate could still deter plebeian legislative influence.

1 Answer 1

Not only were they not mutually exclusive, but the Centuriate Assembly and Tribal Assembly had precisely the same members (all adult male Roman citizens), just organized into groups differently (the 35 tribes vs the 193 centuries, to give their eventual counts), with one vote to each tribe or to each century. These included both patricians and plebeians, so the Plebeian Council was a subset.

The Curiate Assembly fell into disuse early and featured yet another way of assembling citizens. In this assembly, all citizens could attend, but only patricians could vote, and each of the 30 patrician families (curiae) got one vote.

There's a cute story that makes it clear that the Centuriate and Tribal Assemblies were all the same people. On 31 December 45 BC (incidentally the first 31 December in history since in previous years December had had only 29 days), while the people were on the Campus Martius organized by tribes to elect the quaestors for 44 BC (the consuls for 44 BC had been elected by the Centuriate Assembly some time previously. usually it would have been during the preceding summer, but 45 BC was not a usual year, so I don't know exactly when), word came that one of the consuls, Quintus Fabius Maximus, whose term would have ended that night, had died. Seeing the opportunity to reward a loyal follower, Julius Caesar had the people reassemble into centuries to elect Gaius Caninius Rebilus as suffect consul to serve out Fabius's term. Cicero comments ". in the consulship of Caninius no one breakfasted. However, while he was consul there was no harm done, for he was so astonishingly vigilant that throughout his consulship he never once closed his eyes".

Ancient Rome

The senate was a major political body throughout the history of Ancient Rome. It was typically made up of important and wealthy men from powerful families.

Was the Roman senate powerful?

The role of the senate changed over time. In the early ages of Rome, the senate was there to advise the king. During the Roman Republic the senate became more powerful. Although the senate could only make "decrees" and not laws, its decrees were generally obeyed. The senate also controlled the spending of the state money, making it very powerful. Later, during the Roman Empire, the senate had less power and the real power was held by the emperor.

A Roman Senate Meeting by Cesare Maccari

Who could become a senator?

Unlike senators of the United States, senators of Rome were not elected, they were appointed. Through much of the Roman Republic, an elected official called the censor appointed new senators. Later, the emperor controlled who could become senator.

In the early history of Rome, only men from the patrician class could become senators. Later, men from the common class, or plebeians, could also become a senator. Senators were men who had previously been an elected official (called a magistrate).

During the rule of Emperor Augustus, senators were required to have over 1 million sesterces in wealth. If they came into misfortune and lost their wealth, they were expected to resign.

How many senators were there?

Throughout most of the Roman Republic there were 300 senators. This number was increased to 600 and then 900 under Julius Caesar.

Requirements of a Senator

Senators were required to be of high moral character. They needed to be wealthy because they were not paid for their jobs and were expected to spend their wealth on helping the Roman state. They were also not allowed to be bankers, participate in foreign trade, or have committed a crime.

Did senators have any special privileges?

Although senators didn't get paid, it was still considered a lifelong goal of many Romans to become a member of the senate. With membership came great prestige and respect throughout Rome. Only senators could wear a purple striped toga and special shoes. They also got special seating at public events and could become high ranking judges.

The senate would meet to debate current issues and then to issue decrees (advice) to the current consuls. Before issuing a decree, each senator present would speak about the subject (in order of seniority).

Once every senator had the chance to speak on an issue, a vote was taken. In some cases, the senators moved to the side of the speaker or the chamber that they supported. The side with the most senators won the vote.

Poor Roman citizens had the same rights as wealthy Roman citizens, except that they . A. were not allowed to vote B. were not allowed to own land C. were not allowed to join the Senate D. were confined to certain areas

The Senate of ancient Rome was a major political sphere of Roman government. Its members were wealthy and influential men from powerful families. Their role included advising the King, making decrees, having debates about state affairs and they had significant control over finances of the state.

Poor Roman citizens or ordinary men were not allowed to join the Senate because they were an elite group and its members were usually rich and had great influence. The members of the Senate were appointed rather than elected.

During the reign of Emperor Augustus, senators were expected to own at least 1 million sesterces in wealth, men without this type of money were not considered for Senate.

A Senator was expected to be wealthy because no member of Senate was paid and was expected to serve the Roman Empire with their wealth and wisdom.

Watch the video: What Was The Life Of A Roman Citizen Like? Meet The Romans. Odyssey (January 2022).