Citizenship in pre-modern city states


Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
Most pre-modern states that cared about citizenship rights were quite small and there were people who could vouch for or against citizenship which was the basic premise of those states as they existed to serve their citizens and no one else even if they were living in that state.

Rome, as seems to be a common example being used, is difficult because its laws evolved so much over time. Citizenship was seen as something sacred by most city-states as it was the foundation of the state- the larger an Empire grew from a smaller city-state then the reason for being was much less tied to citizenship and we see almost every larger city-state expanding citizenship in some ways.


Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
Las Vegas, NV USA
Citizenship in 5th century BC Athens was a guarded privilege. Three classes of people lived in Athens: citizens, non citizen residents and slaves. Apparently one could be born and live one's entire life as a resident in Athens and never become a citizen.

"To be classed as a citizen in fifth-century Athens you had to be male, born from two Athenian parents and over eighteen years old, and complete your military service. Women, slaves, metics and children were not allowed to become citizens." google.

"Metics" were residents who had some privileges of citizenship but were not citizens.
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Forum Staff
Apr 2010
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Every Roman citizen had to register the birth of his child within 30 days after birth. The child would receive a wooden diptych which served as proof of citizenship for that child for the rest of his or her life. If you were not born as a citizen but instead received the citizenship through other means, you would obtain something that you could prove your citizenship with. For example, people given citizenship by Augustus received a copy of a decree that explained their new status. Starting from the time of Claudius, soldiers that were given citizenship would receive a military diploma called diploma civitatis that would prove their citizenship. Civilians would receive a copy of a warrant authorizing their registration as citizens in the archives at Rome. This copy was then used as proof of citizenship.

Source: A. N. Sherwin-White, The Roman Citizenship, 2nd edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973, pg. 315-16.
Thank you, this is the answer I was looking for.


Ad Honoris
May 2014
For Roman citizenship as a result of being in the military, in the first century anyway, proof was in the form of a metal ID showing citizenship.
And if one lost one's metal ID?

The Romans took a census to determine who was a citizen or not and therefore who paid taxes or not.
And what if their census entries got destroyed? Hold a new census?

Also, what kind of other questions did their census ask?
Oct 2015
In the Roman Republic all citizens belonged to one of the (eventually) 35 tribes. The tribes had officials who maintained lists of their members. Every 5 years (or so) the censors (or their representatives) used the tribal lists to call citizens (the pater familias) to appear before them (in person) to identify members of their family and account for their property under oath. This data was used to make up the lists of the centuries, and the list of senators (Tabulae censorum) and was kept in the temple of Saturn. If there was any controversy censors could refer to previous lists and question relatives and fellow tribesmen.
The registration of births and issue of tablets, diptych and diplomas began under Augustus, as citizenship expanded beyond Italy.
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Ad Honorem
Aug 2013
And if one lost one's metal ID?
I don't know. There were no photo ID's and fingerprints weren't a thing yet. I suppose you would have someone vouch for you, that you were you, so you could get a new one. Aside from the three main cities, other cities were really just, by today's standards, average size towns where most people where known by everyone else.
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