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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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(πολιτεία, ciuitas)

The conception of citizenship among the ancient Greeks and Romans was deeper than among ourselves. We can think of human existence and life apart from citizenship, but to the ancient member of a πόλις or ciuitas citizenship was life and life was citizenship. This explains why St. Paul could use πολιτεύεσθαι practically in the sense of ‘to live’ (Acts 23:1, Philippians 1:27; cf. Philippians 3:20 πολίτευμα). The life of a city is a development out of the more primitive life of the village-community (κώμη, uicus). A πόλις in fact consists of a number of κῶμαι, each of which consists of a number of families (οἷκος, domus). The unity was generally based on blood-relationship. The regular πόλις in the Greek world was on the model of the constitution of Athens. This constitution had a council (βουλή, senatus) or advisory body, and a popular assembly (δῆμος, ἐκκλησία, Acts 19:32; Acts 19:39; Acts 19:41), for membership of both of which free citizens were eligible. For citizenship the requirement was free birth within the community, the father being a citizen. It could be conferred on foreigners by a decree of the people. Each community contained also those who were not full citizens, but had certain privileges, viz. resident aliens (μέτοικοι; cf. the scriptural πάροικοι, παρεπίδημοι, Ephesians 2:19, 1 Peter 2:11, etc.). There was also a third class, ξένοι, strangers with no privileges at all, and a fourth class, the slaves, who were mere chattels. In such a constitution each citizen had to be enrolled in a particular tribe (φυλή, tribus). St. Paul refers with pride to his citizenship of Tarsus in Cilicia, his native city (Acts 21:39). As a citizen of Tarsus he must have belonged to a particular tribe, and it has been plausibly conjectured by W. M. Ramsay that the ‘kinsmen’ of St. Paul referred to in Romans 16 were his fellow-tribesmen of Tarsus.

One kind of citizenship in the Apostolic Age swamped every other, and that was citizenship of Rome. This fact is well illustrated by a much earlier document-Cicero’s speech, pro Balbo (56 b.c.). In it the principle is affirmed that ‘no one could be a citizen of Rome and of other cities at the same time, while foreigners who were not Roman citizens could be on the burgess-rolls of any number of cities’ (ed. J. S. Reid, 1878, p. 18). The spread of the Roman citizenship kept pace with the growth of the Empire. At first only inhabitants of Rome could be Roman citizens, but the citizenship was gradually extended as a result of Rome’s conquests. It could be conferred both on communities and on individuals. Moreover, it was of two kinds or grades. In addition to the full citizenship, a limited citizenship existed till about 200 b.c.-ciuitas sine suffragio, implying that the persons who possessed it had all the privileges of a Roman citizen except the power to vote in the assemblies and to hold office. The constant conferment of this limited ciuitas added greatly to the Roman army and territory, and was not intended for the subjects’ good. By the end of the 2nd cent. b.c. there were many country towns of Italy (municipia) which possessed citizen rights, and, as the result of the Social War and the Lex Iulia (90 b.c.), the Lex Plautia Papiria (89 b.c.), a senatorial edict of 86 b.c., and a law of Julius Caesar (49 b.c.), all peoples in Italy south of the Alps obtained the Roman citizenship. Such communities were created also outside Italy by Julius Caesar, Claudius, Vespasian, and others, until in a.d. 212, under Caracalla, every free inhabitant of the Roman Empire obtained the full Roman franchise.

The inhabitants of coloniae required no grant of citizenship because they were of necessity Roman citizens from the first; a colonia was in origin simply a bit of Rome set down in a foreign country, to keep a subject people in check. It had complete self-government (see article Colony). The smaller fora and conciliabula had in Republican times incomplete self-government. The municipia, referred to above as incorporated bodily in the Roman State, had complete self-government, differing thus from the praefecturae, which were also communities of Roman citizens but without complete self-government.

The partial citizenship known as Latinitas or ius Latii deserves mention. It conferred commercium (the right to trade with Rome, and to acquire property by Roman methods, etc.), but not conubium (the right of intermarriage with Romans). It was thus a kind of intermediate condition between citizenship and peregrinity, and such rights were not infrequently conferred on communities as a kind of step towards the full citizenship. The name is explained by the origin of the practice. It began in Rome’s early days as the result of her relations with other towns in the Latin League, and in 172 b.c. was first extended beyond Latium. Magistrates in such towns became ipso facto full Roman citizens.

The conferment of citizenship on individuals has a special interest for students of the Apostolic Age. During the whole of the Republican period the extension of the body of burgesses was the right of the comitia tributa. This assembly conferred the citizenship from time to time on individual strangers (peregrini) as well as on communities. Commissioners for carrying out colonization or divisions of ager publicus could confer it on a very limited number of persons, and C. Marius received such a power. About the time of the civil wars, Roman commanders conferred the citizenship on individual foreigners who had aided the Roman military operations. This must often have been done without the authority of any statute, but no one was ever disfranchised in consequence. Pompey, however, obtained the right, by the Lex Gellia Cornelia of 72 b.c., to confer the citizenship on individuals after consulting with his body of advisers. It was probably either from him or from Julius Caesar that the father or grandfather of St. Paul obtained the Roman citizenship. Tarsus as a community had not received the Roman franchise, nor was it a colonia. The possession of this honour (Acts 16:37; Acts 22:25 ff.) shows that his family was one of distinction and wealth. Members of such provincial communities who possessed the Roman citizenship constituted the aristocracy of these communities. During the Empire the burgesses could be added to by the Emperor only, and every citizen had the right to a trial at Rome. Of this right St. Paul took advantage (Acts 25:10).

Literature.-On Greek citizenship: P. Gardner and F. B. Jevons, A Manual of Greek Antiquities, London, 1895, bk. vi.; G. Gilbert, Handbuch der griechischen Staatsalterthümer, i. 2 [Leipzig, 1893], ii. [1885] (Eng. translation of vol. i. 2 = The Constitutional Antiquities of Sparta and Athens, London, 1895); K. F. Hermann, Lehrbuch der griechischen Antiquitäten, i. 6 [Freiburg i. B., 1889-1892], ii. [1895].-On Roman citizenship: J. Muirhead, Historical Introduction to the Private Law of Rome, Edinburgh, 1886 (new ed. by H. Goudy, 1899); J. S. Reid, ‘On Some Questions of Roman Public Law,’ in Journal of Roman Studies, i. [1911] 68-99; J. E. Sandys, A Companion to Latin Studies2, Cambridge, 1913, vi. 1 (J. S. Reid), vi. 7, 8 (B. W. Henderson) and Literature cited there; Th. Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht3, Leipzig, 1887.-On St. Paul’s Roman citizenship: W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, London, 1895, pp. 30f., 225.

A. Souter.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Citizenship'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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