In a World Without Technology, How Did a Roman Citizen Identify Himself?

In a World Without Technology, How Did a Roman Citizen Identify Himself?

In ancient Rome, ID-cards, passports and other modern forms of identification did not exist. How could a Roman citizen identify himself in a world without pictures, computers or biometrics? Ancient Rome being a slave-owned society, proving who you were could mean the difference between being free and being put up for sale at a slave market.

Roman senator and a guest at leisure with slaves attending. Painting by Henryk Siemiradzki (1881) (Public Domain)

Roman senator and a guest at leisure with slaves attending. Painting by Henryk Siemiradzki (1881) (Public Domain)

Rights of the Roman Citizen

Roman citizens were generally held in higher esteem than non-citizens, even if they were of slave descent. The rules governing Roman citizenship were way more complicated than the rules related to citizenship today, which are usually based on one’s place of birth and the parents’ citizenship. Furthermore, a Roman citizen had rights that a non-citizen did not have: he had the right to vote, he was exempt from certain taxes and he had the full protection of Roman law when making contracts, purchasing property, or even getting married. Furthermore, a Roman citizen could not be beaten without the benefit of a trial. He could not be tortured or crucified in any circumstances. The Roman state would investigate the murder of a Roman citizen, but not that of a non-citizen.


Become a member to read more OR login here