Latin Rights

This article is about Roman citizenship. For the Western Catholic Church, see Latin liturgical rites.

Latin Rights (Latin: ius Latii, Latinitas[1] or ius latinum) was a civic status given by the Romans, intermediate between full Roman citizenship and non-citizen status (known as peregrinus), and extended originally to the people of Latium (the Latini). The most important Latin Rights were commercium, connubium, and ius migrationis.

People with Latin Rights were protected under Roman law.

Origin of Latin Rights

The Latin War (340-338 BC) was a conflict between the Roman Republic and the people of Latium. The war ended with a Roman victory and the dissolution of the Latin League, a confederation of about 30 villages in the province of Latium. With this victory, some city-states were fully incorporated into the Roman Republic, while others were given limited rights and privileges which could be exercised in dealings with Roman citizens, which came to be known as the Latin right. The Latin right subsequently was extended to other Latin colonies in the 3rd century BC, and later to cities which had no connection with the ancient Latins: in 171 BC, the city of Carteia (now San Roque, Spain) was founded as the first Latin colony outside of Italy.

The Latin Rights under the Empire

Following the great spate of colonial settlements under Julius Caesar and Augustus, the Latin right was used more as a political instrument that aimed at integration of provincial communities via local leadership. The core right imparted by Latin status was the acquisition of Roman citizenship upon the holding of municipal office (ius adipiscendae civitatis per magistratum), which presumed a trajectory of development that would carry at least the local elites along the path to the creation of a Roman-style community. In 123 AD, the emperor Hadrian made a key modification to the Latin right. This so-called "greater" Latin right (Latium maius), made all of the councilors in communities Roman citizens.

The Latin right was an acquisition that relied solely on an imperial gift. This beneficence could span the whole range from grants to individuals, to awards made to whole towns, and could even be applied to an entire population, as when the emperor Vespasian gave the Latin right to all of Spain in 74 AD. Although this decree could encompass whole cities, it is important to note that it did not necessarily entail the establishment of a municipium. Often, as in Spain, the constitution of formal municipalities might have followed some years after the initial grant.

Latin Rights and citizenship

The Latin right was an intermediate step in obtaining full-fledged Roman citizenship. In the days of the Republic, those holding the Latin right had most of the liberties of citizens except the right to vote. Furthermore, only citizens could run for office in Rome and serve in the Roman army. For the mass of the population, though, the formal meaning of citizenship symbolized being part of the empire. This was instrumental in foreign policy, allowing rulers to incorporate new territories into the empire under the incentive of improved standing. Citizenship was granted to Italy after the Social War (91-88 BC) and was then extended to some of its Western provinces under the leadership of Julius Caesar and Augustus. Finally in 212 AD, emperor Caracalla issued the Constitutio Antoniniana, which gave full citizenship to any free-born man in the Roman Empire. With this edict, the Latin right became more of a formality than a political standing.


  1. Latinitas also means "purity of language," that is, the use of "good Latin" or "correct Latin," equivalent to hellenismos; see for instance Laurent Pernot, Rhetoric in Antiquity (Catholic University of America Press, 2005), p. 103 online; Richard Leo Enos, "Rhetorica ad Herennium," in Classical Rhetorics and Rhetoricians (Greenwood, 2005), p. 332 online; John Richard Dugan, Making a New Man: Ciceronian Self-Fashioning in the Rhetorical Works (Oxford University Press, 2005), passim; Brian A. Krostenko, Cicero, Catullus, and the Language of Social Performance (University of Chicago Press, 2001), p. 123 online.


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