Chapters concerned with citizenship from the Lex Flavia Municipalis (Flavian Municipal Law)

Typology (Honorific / Funerary / etc.): 
Municipal Charter
Original Location/Place: 
Salpensa; Malaca; Irni
Actual Location (Collection/Museum): 
Museo Arqueológico de Sevilla; Museo Arqueológico Nacional (Madrid); Museo Arqueológico Provincial in Huelva.
82 CE to 91 CE
Physical Characteristics: 
The lex Flavia Municipalis was originally recorded on ten bronze tablets, with three columns of text on each. Tablets I, II and IV have been lost entirely, with the remainder of the text known from a combination of the statutes that were put up in the towns of Irni, Malaca and Salpensa. The holes present along the tops and bottoms of each tablet indicate that they were originally displayed affixed to the wall of a building; chapter 95 of the lex Irnitana specified the height at which they should be fixed so as to make them easy to read. Displayed together the tablets must have stretched approximately nine meters in length (González and Crawford, “Lex Irnitana,” p. 147-8).
Height: 57.5 cm
Width: 91.5 cm

González, Julián and Crawford, Michael, “A New Copy of the Flavian Municipal Law” in Journal of Roman Studies, 76 (1986) p. 147-243

The extracts given here are taken from the lex Flavia municipalis, or the Flavian Municipal Law. Following Vespasian’s grant of ius Latii (Latin right) to “all Spain” in 73/4 CE (Pliny, Natural History, III.30), the municipia and colonia of the province could apply for the right to establish a local government, according to the precepts laid out in Roman law, through the institution of a town charter. Several versions of these statutes have been identified for communities in Baetica, in particular for Malaca (the Lex Malacitana) and Salpensa (Lex Salpensana) (Cooley, Flavians, p. 102). The most complete record, however was discovered in 1981 in an otherwise unknown Roman settlement called Irni; six tablets were excavated which, when combined with the fragments from Malaca and Salpensa, gives about two thirds of the entire statute. The complete statute was arranged in three columns over ten bronze tablets, of which tablets I, II and IV are completely unknown to us. One of the most significant feature of the tablets is that two thirds of the Lex Irnitana’s tablet III corresponds almost exactly to the fragment known from Salpensa, and the section found in Malaca duplicates entirely tablet VII from Irni, as well as providing text for the centre and right hand columns of tablet VI (see González, “Flavian Municipal Law”, p. 148-9 for a full description of the surviving tablets). The extraordinary similarity of the fragments from Malaca and Salpensa with the more substantial remains from Irni suggest that there was one ‘master’ municipal law that was granted to the entire area, but which could be modified in minor ways where necessary to the different local communities, according to political and social circumstances; at root however, these small towns all appear to have based their charters on a single, original text (Fears, Rome and Baetica, p. 132-3). Much attention has been focused on what status these Spanish towns had before the charters were formally instituted; Vespasian and Titus had granted ius Latii to the peninsula in 73/74 CE but the consular date given in the Letter at the end of the statute is 91 CE, meaning a hiatus of more than twenty years in which it is not clear whether or not the grant of ius Latii automatically conferred municipal status, or whether these privileges were only awarded later when the lex for each town was drawn up. The picture is further confused by inscriptional evidence that refers to towns such as Ibagrum as municipia as early as 75 CE, and which record that members of the local elite had received citizenship following the completion of the magistracies they held within the towns (Curchin, Supplement, p. 8). This citizenship was awarded by the beneficium of the emperor, but it nonetheless calls into question what kind of status the towns and its inhabitants had, legally, during that twenty year period. Patrick le Roux has suggested that the grant of municipal status must have been made shortly after 73/4 CE when the ius Latii was awarded, but that the different towns had to wait until the reign of Domitian to receive the official publication of the lex municipalis (Romains d'Espagne, p. 85). It is less clear how these municipalities functioned in the interim period, particularly with regards to citizenship, the household and bonds of patronage, of which further discussion will follow below.
The municipal charter laid out the rules and regulations by which the community operated. The missing first tablets almost certainly dealt with how the citizen body was constituted (Galsterer, “Municipium Flavium Irnitanum,” p. 80) and the religious life of the town, and in particular municipal priesthoods (González, “Flavian Municipal Law,” p. 200). As chapter 19 – the first extant part of the charter – deals with the duties of the aediles and chapter 20 those of the quaestors, it is likely that chapter 18 contained the rubric for the responsibility of the duumviri (González, “Flavian Municipal Law,” p. 200. For discussion of the possible reconstruction of the missing tablets, see Galsterer, “Municipium Flavium Irnitanum,” p. 80-82). Later chapters go on to describe the regulations of popular assemblies (chapter 50), candidates standing for election (chapter 51), the manumission of public slaves (chapter 72), social provision (chapter 75) and the arrangement of spectators at games (chapter 81). These latter chapters were, as Julian González has noted, a particularly ‘Roman’ conception that ensured that the public life and order of Irni – and we assume Malaca and Salpensa too – were run in a highly Roman manner (González, “Flavian Municipal Law,” p. 149). All administrative and judicial aspects of life were ordered explicitly in accordance with Roman law; the ius civile of Rome was the only form of government now present in these small towns of Roman Spain (Fears, Rome and Baetica, p. 152).
The four chapters under consideration here all deal with issues of citizenship. The grant of ius Latii created a group of individuals – cives Latini (Latin citizens) – whose rights were stuck between those few extended to a ‘foreigner’, or peregrinus, and those of a fully-fledged Roman citizen (Fear, Rome and Baetica, p. 133). As John Crook noted, they were in a “half-way” position; not citizens, yet awarded some of the same rights (Law and Life, p. 43-4). Chapter 21 makes clear how citizenship might be acquired: through the holding of a public office or magistracy in the ordo, or town council,of the town. Citizenship was awarded post magistrate/ abierint (“when they have left that office”), and was also extended to their ‘parents and wives and any children who are born in legal marriages’ (cum parentibus coniugibusque hac liberi(s) qui legitumis nuptis quae/siti). The charter stipulates that the children will only acquire citizenship if they have been in the ‘power’ (potestas) of their parents; this potestas was the rule by which all legitimate children were subject to the paterfamilias, or the male head of their family line, no matter their own individual status or distinction. Potestas gave the head of the familia the right to raise those children in the way that he saw fit, and bound them legally to his decisions. Wives were also bound to the paterfamilias of the family that they married into (see Borkowski, Textbook, p. 114-122). Children could be emancipated, but they lost their rights to any inheritance unless they were especially added to the will by their male superior as an heir (Borkowski, Textbook, p. 118). Although the rights of the paterfamilias appear extreme in this sense, it is unlikely that potestas functioned so strictly in actual practice; as Paul du Plessis has noted, the Roman economy could not have survived if the paterfamilias was the only member of the family with legal right of decision making (Borkowski, Textbook, p. 119). Indeed, these rules may only have applied in practice to the upper classes, whose claims to succession depended more upon their strict exaction (see Crook, “Patria Potestas,” p. 113-22). What is clear from this chapter, however, is that the concession of ius Latii did not confer all of the legal benefits of Roman citizenship; Horst Braunert argued that Latin rights only affected personal status and that as a result everyone it affected received the equivalent benefits awarded to a Roman citizen living under ius civile (see Braunert, “lus Latii in den Stadtrechten von Salpensa und Malaca,” p. 68-83). He claimed that the grant of municipal status was a separate affair that did not confer more ‘Roman’ rights than those already enjoyed as a result of ius Latii. However, as Julián González stated in the definitive publication of the lex Irnitana, the text of chapter 21 clearly refers to individuals gaining citizenship at a point in the future, when their time in office was complete: abierint, or ‘they will have left’ (González, “Flavian Municipal Law,” p. 203). Chapters 22 and 23 also only refer to those who shall in the future acquire citizenship. Roman citizenship may well have been awarded to certain individuals by the emperor as a beneficium between the grant of the Latin right in 73/4 CE and the institution of the municipal charter in 91 CE, but generally speaking it would appear that political office was the legitimate route by which most households acquired it.
Chapter 22 is concerned with the legal status of families, and particularly those individuals who were in subordinate relationships to the paterfamilias. It sought to ensure that if someone was in the potestas, manus (legal marriage), or mancipium (civil bondage) of another, their acquisition of citizenship did not change these legal relationships. It was built to protect the existing family structure and to “transfer it intact to the citizen body” (González, “Flavian Municipal Law,” p. 204). The reference to tutoris optio here is similar to the reference in chapter 97 of the lex that discusses the rights of patrons over freedmen; in both chapters the formula describes the rights of new citizens, but it does not say anything about their rights within the subordinate relationship before they acquired citizenship (González, “Flavian Municipal Law”, p. 204). It is perhaps worthy of note that these chapters assumed an extensive knowledge of Roman law from those the charter was intended to govern; it is impossible to know whether or not the ordinary inhabitant of the municipia in which these legal texts have been found had any understanding of the technicalities of these terms (Fear, Rome and Baetica, p. 163). The fact that they appeared inscribed on bronze tablets that were affixed to a public building was an open display of the ‘Roman-ness’ of the town’s legal system, and this alone may have served the interests of the community, without a thorough understanding of their meaning being necessary. As Andrew Fear has noted, as long as the rules and regulations concerning elections, the town council and succession to its offices were well-understood, the specific nature of many of the legal terms given in the text may have been subject to more local interpretation (Rome and Baetica, p. 162). These terms probably needed to be understood fully only by the local magistrates… And I suppose that many people were unable to read to start with.
The rights a patron held over his freedmen also form the subject of chapter 23 which, when combined with the addendum in chapter 97, attempts to provide a response to all possible situations in which the relationship between patron and freedman might be challenged by Roman citizenship. Whether the patron acquired citizenship and the freedman did not, the freedman acquired it and the patron did not, or both acquired citizenship together, chapters 23 and 97 both ensure that rights over one’s freedman and their goods or services were preserved, irrespective of who acquired what (González, “Flavian Municipal Law,” p. 204). The addendum in chapter 97 even goes so far as to ensure that the patron-freedman relationship would remain intact in the event that they acquired citizenship through the offices of their offspring (ciuitatem Romanam consecu/tos consecutas per honores liberorum suorum), indicating the fluid nature of municipal society (González, “Flavian Municipal Law,” p. 237). The future mobility of the freedman class is openly discussed, nor is it limited by Roman law; as long as the rights of the patron were protected, social improvement was an assumed factor of provincial society, and one recognised in the legal charter.
These chapters therefore reveal that the balanced state of the Roman familia was considered integral to the successful governance of a Roman town. They assume that communities outside of Rome would be governed by the same legal concepts of potestas, manus and mancipium as the capital itself, and sought to enshrine in law the permanence of the relationships that such concepts created (Fears, Rome and Baetica, p. 134). The perceived social benefit of Roman citizenship was therefore of value to the individuals to whom it was awarded, but it did not change the legal status or framework of their places in society, at least in respect to family relationships and patron-client relationships. Further arguments shall surely continue to be made regarding what kind of legal status was conferred upon the inhabitants of the towns of the Spanish provinces in 73/74 CE and how this changed or was affected by the formal municipal charters that were made sometimes two decades later, but it is important to note the broader theory of citizenship made in these chapters; although Roman citizenship was clearly prestigious and desirable across the Roman world, the Flavian Municipal Charters demonstrate that it was not essential in the construction and maintenance of community networks. Citizenship was a personal bonus, but not one that had the power to change or dissolve existing social relationships, nor to override the Roman legal concepts upon which such relationships were based.
Bibliographical references: 


Alföldy, Gézaarticle-in-a-bookCambridge Ancient History. Vol. 11, The High Empire, A.D. 70-192444-461SpainCambridgeCambridge University Press2000

Textbook on Roman Law

Borkowski, AndrewbookPaul du PlessisTextbook on Roman Law, 5th editionOxfordOxford University Press2015

The Flavians

Griffin, Miriamarticle-in-a-bookCambridge Ancient History. Vol. 11, The High Empire, A.D. 70-192A.K. Bowman, P. Garnsey, D. Rathbone1-83The FlaviansCambridgeCambridge University Press2000

Patria Potestas

Crook, John A.article-in-a-journal113-12217Patria PotestasClassical Quarterly1967

Sources and Evidence

Hurlet, Frédéricarticle-in-a-bookA Companion to the Flavian Age of Imperial RomeA. Zissos17-40Sources and EvidenceOxfordJohn Wiley and Sons2016

Ancient Roman Statutes

Johnson, Allen C., Coleman-Norton, Paul R., Bourne, Frank C.bookAncient Roman StatutesAustinUniversity of Texas Press1961
Realized by: