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While migration and mobility have become crucial themes in the study of the Roman world, their relationship with citizenship has been underestimated and understudied. Yet, migrants were not only foreigners who came to Rome voluntarily or by force. Citizens moved too: those, peasants or new citizens, who had come to settle in the city, or those who emigrated from Rome to a colony in Italy and, later, to a provincial city. What was the impact of this mobility on the conception and practice of citizenship? What did the Romans think of these citizens who travelled or lived abroad?

Such questions make it necessary to distinguish between the period when Rome was still one city among others (6th–3rd centuries) and the period of its conquests, when Rome extended its hegemony through the Mediterranean and became a so-called imperial republic (3rd–1st centuries) before becoming an Empire (27 bce–476 ce). In the first period, apart from the double movement of immigration and emigration of citizens, various measures concerning mobility shed light on the very close link between citizenship, property, and territory (loss of citizenship by emigration, recall of citizens every five years for the census, right to return, privileges granted to the Latins who settled in Rome, expulsions of non-citizens, etc.). In the second period, new practices (like the end of civic exclusivism) led, on the one hand, to limits on the immigration of new citizens to Rome, and, on the other hand, to efforts to facilitate emigration to the provinces (these included, in particular, the recognition of legal domicile outside of Italy, and the development of controls and protections for absentees). All these practices suggest the image of a rather fluid world, one which did not end in Late Antiquity. However, this freedom of movement has to be considered alongside the multiple rules aimed at controlling certain categories of people. Over time, mobility and migration progressively became a significant topic within Roman law, as is shown by the semantic evolutions of the main terms designating migrants.