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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.


Elena Isayev and George Baroud

There is no one discrete term in the ancient world that is equivalent to modern conceptions of “migration” today. Although the English term “migration” is derived from the Latin migratio, English usage, meaning a move across a national border for the purpose of permanent residence, dates to 18th-century North America. In ancient Greece and Rome, there was a wide-ranging vocabulary that referred to a variety of practices relevant to human mobility, and this reflects the cultural, legal, political, and other assumptions and practices surrounding movement idiosyncratic to each society and time period. How migration is conceptualized and practiced is therefore historically specific rather than universal, and we must be careful not to retroject contemporary, anachronistic attitudes, prejudices, and assumptions about migration and migrants onto the past. In the Classical world, for example, there was no equivalent to the national border and its sophisticated apparatus used to control civilian movement. This does not mean that ancient society was necessarily more inclusive, or disinterested in managing populations, but rather that there were different modes of understanding inclusivity, methods of control, and the way that geopolitical space related to these. This signals a different spatial perception from our own, and with it a particular relationship between community and land. As an object of study, migration poses unique challenges: evidence for migration is complex, spread over literary, archaeological, and epigraphic sources, and sometimes based on speculative demographic models. Further, what “counts” as migration is itself a theoretical question subject to interpretation. Realizing this affects how we investigate contingent questions about the agency of the mobile, displacement, or journey endings, not only in relation to antiquity, but in general.