For millions of years, humans lived without borders. Before we think about citizenship, a state which issues ‘citizen’ status must exist.

A citizenship not possible without existence of a state to confer it. For most of human prehistory, the concept of state did not exist. The history of the state is only less than 6,000 years old, evidence found in ancient Mesopotamia from around 3700 BC. Evidence also suggests a state emerged from stateless communities of large population.

Citizenship comes from the Latin word for ‘city’, because in the earlier days, people identified themselves as belonging to cities more than countries. Since ancient times, citizenship was a bond between a person and the city/state. a legal status defined by civil, political and social rights.


The concept of citizenship first arose in towns and city-states of ancient Greece during 9th-12th century BC, where it generally applied to property owners but not to women, slaves, or the poorer members of the community. A citizen in a Greek city-state was entitled to vote and was liable to taxation and military service. To Aristotle, one had to be an active citizen to the community

The Beginning of Citizenship is also linked to ancient Israelites (1200 BCE), who preserved their identity as a people, despite moving to different lands or enslaved by neighboring civilizations and this preservation of ethnic identity has been linked to the development of citizenship.

After this, Romans expanded the use of citizenship rights effectively. The Romans used citizenship as a device to distinguish the residents of the city of Rome from those peoples whose territories Rome had conquered and incorporated.

As their empire continued to grow, the Romans granted citizenship to their allies throughout Italy proper and then to peoples in other Roman provinces, until in 212 CE citizenship was extended to all free inhabitants of the empire.

Aristotle once said, taking part in the politics and society, is one of the most important rights of a citizen

To take no part in the running of the community’s affairs is to be either a beast or a god


In Rome, citizenship was a privileged political and legal status afforded to free individuals who had full rights to vote, own property, lawful marriage, 

Women had limited form of citizenship. They were not allowed to vote or stand for civil or public office, fair legal trials and preserve citizenship upon migration.

The granting of citizenship to allies and the conquered territories was done through Romanization. It was one of the most effective political tool for the success of Rome.

First Constitution of Citizenship

The Edict of Caracalla, a proclamation issued in AD 212 by the Roman Emperor Caracalla, which declared that all free men in the Roman Empire were to be given full Roman citizenship and all free women in the Empire were given the same rights as Roman women.


Experts argue citizenship originated in ancient Sparta, as Spartan citizenship was based on the principle of equality among a ruling military elite called ‘Spartiates’, who were spartan citizens. Each Spartan citizen owned at least a minimum portion of the public land which was sufficient to provide food for a family, although the size of these plots varied. In Sparta, women had the right to own property.

Roman Military Diplomas

Acquiring citizenship through military service much like today in Roman times. Roman military diplomas issued to conscripts inscribed in bronze certifying that the holder was honourably discharged from the Roman armed forces and/or had received the grant of Roman citizenship from the emperor as reward for service.

The first known diploma dates from AD 52, under emperor Claudius (r. 41-54), who appears to have regularised the practice of granting Roman citizenship to non-citizen auxiliaries after 25 years’ service (26 in the navy).

Freedom of Movement

When Augustus established the Roman Empire in 27 BC, he assumed monarchical powers over the new Roman province of Egypt and was able to prohibit senators from traveling there without his permission. However, Augustus would also allow more liberty to travel at times. During a famine in 6 AD, he attempted to relieve strain on the food supply by granting senators the liberty to leave Rome and to travel to wherever they wished. Later on, Roman citizens were free to travel throughout the Empire throughout the empire.

Romans did not travel much although it was common to travel between cities. The most common document identifying a person in Ancient Rome was diplomas, which was proof of citizenship. These diplomas certifying citizenship were issued to ordinary people who earned citizenship as well,

In England, in 1215, the right to travel was enshrined in Article 42 of the Magna Carta:

“It shall be lawful to any person, for the future, to go out of our kingdom, and to return, safely and securely, by land or by water, saving his allegiance to us, unless it be in time of war, for some short space, for the common good of the kingdom: excepting prisoners and outlaws, according to the laws of the land, and of the people of the nation at war against us, and Merchants who shall be treated as it is said above.”

In the Holy Roman Empire, a measure instituted by Joseph II in 1781 permitted serfs (peasants under feudalism) freedom of movement.

Alexander II’s Edict of Emancipation of 1861 in Russia allowed peasants, merchants and townsmen to travel freely without.

It was not until WW1 post 1918 gave rise to boom in travel due to new rail travel. Before that passports or visas were not required to travel.

Later, Freedom of movement and residence for persons in the EU is the cornerstone of Union citizenship, established by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992.