Citizenship in ancient Rome was a privileged political and legal status afforded to freeborn individuals with respect to laws, property, and governance. In the Roman Republic and later in the Roman Empire, people residing within the Roman state could roughly be divided into several classes:
- A male Roman citizen enjoyed a wide range of privileges and protections defined in detail by the Roman state. A citizen could, under certain exceptional circumstances, be deprived of his citizenship.
- Roman women had a limited form of citizenship. Though held in high regard they were not allowed to vote or stand for civil or public office. The rich might participate in public life by funding building projects or sponsoring religious ceremonies and other events. Women had the right to own property, to engage in business, and to obtain a divorce, but their legal rights varied over time. Marriages were an important form of political alliance during the Republic.
- Client state citizens and allies (socii) of Rome could receive a limited form of Roman citizenship such as the Latin Right. While such citizens could vote in Roman elections, it was impractical.
- Slaves were considered property and lacked legal personhood. Over time, they acquired a few protections under Roman law. Some slaves were freed bymanumission for services rendered, or through a testamentary provision when their master died. Once free, they faced few barriers, beyond normal social snobbery, to participating in Roman society. The principle that a person could become a citizen by law rather than birth was enshrined in Roman mythology; when Romulus defeated the Sabines in battle, he promised the war captives that in Rome they could become citizens.
- Freedmen were former slaves who had gained their freedom. They were not automatically given citizenship and lacked some privileges such as running for executive magistracies. The children of freedmen and women were born as free citizens; for example, the father of the poet Horace was a freedman.