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Roman Citizenship from Hadrian to Alexander Severus

Principal Investigators: Myles Lavan (University of St Andrews) and Clifford Ando (University of Chicago)

This project will explore the significance of Roman citizenship before and after Caracalla’s universal grant of 212/213 CE in the light of recent work which indicates that citizenship was much less widespread in the late second century CE than many have believed. Lavan 2016 argues that Caracalla’s grant must have at least tripled the citizen population at a stroke. This project will re-evaluate the impact of this massive discontinuity in the process of enfranchisement by bringing together researchers with a diverse array of technical and regional expertise to re-examine the significance of citizenship and enfranchisement in different areas of the empire. The project is made possible by a BA/Leverhulme Research Grant which will fund a series of workshops in 2017 and 2018.

The first stage of the project will revisit the conventional narrative that Roman citizenship had already been evacuated of most of its significance before Caracalla’s grant by exploring the social and legal implications of the regime of exclusive citizenship that persisted up to 212/13. The conventional narrative holds that a range of legal and fiscal privileges that were originally conveyed by citizen status were progressively eroded. It also assumes that social and commercial relations between citizens and aliens that were formerly forbidden were now allowed, such that the plurality of citizenships no longer significantly distorted social and commercial networks. Both hypotheses can, and should, be questioned. So too can a related body of narratives about the relaxation of exclusive regimes of citizenship at the local level – especially in Roman coloniae and Greek poleis – in the course of the early Principate.  We wonder whether Caracalla’s grant might have represented a greater discontinuity on all three counts than is conventionally assumed.

Portrait of the emperor Caracalla from a statue reworked as a bust; picture derived from original by Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011, Wikimedia Commons)

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