‘…I grant, therefore, to all foreigners throughout the Empire the Roman citizenship…’
In 212, shortly after becoming sole emperor, Caracalla proclaimed his Edict extending the rights and privileges of the Roman citizen to all free inhabitants of the Empire.
By this Edict, what rights were being extended? Here are is a list of a few of those rights:
- Ius honorum: The right to stand for civil or public office.
- Ius commercii: The right to make legal contracts and to hold property as a Roman citizen.
- The right to have a legal trial (i.e. to appear before a Roman magistrate and to defend oneself).
- The right to appeal from the decisions of magistrates and to appeal the lower court decisions – including the right to appeal directly to the emperor for redress.
- Freedom from torture or whipping; freedom from the death penalty unless the individual was found guilty of treason.
A citizen was exempt from certain taxes – a poll tax and a land tax. But only a citizen had to pay a tax when he freed a slave or when he inherited property.
But the Edict did not deliver a bed of roses for everyone. Ultimately, it replaced one form of social stratification with another. Instead of a social division based on being a citizen or a provincial – a new division arose between two new social grades: honestiores and humiliores. Honestiores had greater legal rights and privileges, while humiliores had less legal protection and were subject to harsher punishments.
In Part 5, I will discuss a historical cold case – the assassination of Caracalla in 217.