Varga R. Constitutio Antoniniana. Law and individual in a time of change
This work was supported by a grant of the Romanian National Authority for Scientific Research,
The text is given in author’s edition.
Constitutio Antoniniana, an edict passed during Caracalla’s first year of reign, is one of the most important Roman documents and certainly one of the most discussed upon in historiography. Reinterpreting the Constitutio seems merely possible at this time – and it was never our purpose. The current article aims only at tracing the main historiographical trends in interpreting the document and at sketching an overview on how it was received by its contemporaries.
Caracalla’s reasons for passing this edict were interpreted as based on financial constraints: by raising the number of citizens the number of tax payers raised as well. Also it is believed that the legions were now recruited from a larger mass of people, though this argument is not entirely convincing. Even though this was not generally treated as a real or valid reason, one also has to mention that the edict evokes religious motifs, implying an increase in the number of the worshippers of the traditional Roman gods. It was said that this was the emperor’s way to thank the gods for helping him escape the conspiracies orchestrated by his brother Geta.
Unfortunately however, the contemporary sources are not as generous on the subject as 20th century historiography: Ulpian refers explicitly to the Constitutio, saying that due to the passing of this decree all free people in the Empire became Roman citizens (which seems to be a general conclusion; Dig. XV. 17), Cassius Dio (LXXVII. 9. 5) and St Augustine (De civ. Dei. V. 17) allude to the decree (the latter noting its humanitarian character). Echoes of Caracalla’s decision can be observed in Codex Iustiniani as well.
These brief paragraphs would be however insufficient for a detailed study of the document. Constitutio Antoniniana was recorded in historiography as a first hand instrument after the Giessen papyrus was published by P. Meyer1. The document edited by P. Meyer, badly deteriorated in its initial form but with the content largely deductible, is considered to be a translation of Caracalla’s edict. Essential for establishing the edict’s identity with Caracalla’s famous decree was the fact that through this normative act Roman citizenship was in theory expanded limitlessly, to each and every free inhabitant in the Empire2.
In order to establish the authenticity of the text and its identification with Constitutio Antoniniana multiple analyses were conducted, ranging from contents ones to linguistic researches. W. Williams gave us a full picture of the arguments that support P. Meyer’s interpretation3. He claimed that the papyrus holds the translation of at least three of Caracalla’s decisions, among them the one granting “universal citizenship” and mentioned by Ulpian, Cassius Dio and all of the other sources. W. Williams identified the personal style and the method of elaboration as being those of Caracalla. The second part of the papyrus refers to the legal status of people recalled from exile, being somewhat in agreement with what was known before about the Constitutio. The third document was a written letter ordering the expulsion of Jews from Alexandria, a decision whose usefulness in the 3rd century can be debated upon, but that must have been connected with the prior conflicts between Emperor Caracalla and the inhabitants of the Egyptian capital.
Even so, citizenship will not be absolutely universal even after the passing of this decree. P. Meyer came to this conclusion ever since he first read the papyrus. He believed that those who had been excluded from having citizenship rights were the dediticii. The ambiguity of the interpretation derives from the employed term (δεδειτικιων), a term without precedent in the Hellenic language, in reference to a non-Hellenic institution. The editor translated it with the Latin term dediticius, his translation being justifiable linguistically (in this case it is actually a transliteration), but, obviously, not without ambiguity4. The standard definition of the dediticii, given by Gaius (Inst. I. 14-17), is that of inhabitants of a community who had opposed Rome arms in hand and which, once conquered, surrendered unconditionally. This capitulation became a long-lasting juridical situation, the members of that community becoming dediticii, having no rights (nulla civitas) and remaining in this situation until a future review of their status. Gaius also defines them as the lowest juridical free individuals of the Empire and not being able to directly obtain Roman citizenship. But we must mention that this relation of total subordination towards Rome, involving the condition of dediticius, was not permanent, being only a temporary step towards peregrinus status.
The controversies related to P. Meyer’s interpretation have never ceased to appear. They reached their height through E. Bickermann’s papers5, revolutionary when it came to interpreting the Giessen papyrus – but ultimately remaining without many followers. E. Bickermann doesn’t consider this papyrus to be Caracalla’s initial decree but a “supplement”, passed long after Caracalla’s reign, that actually gave roman citizenship to the barbarian immigrants (on condition they were not dediticii) and not the peregrini in the Empire. He also distinguished three classes of dediticii, but the generalizations employed in this matter were also consistent. E. Bickermann stated that dediticii were mainly freed people, subject to the provisions of Lex Aelia Sentia. The other categories, according to E. Bickermann’s interpretation, were the barbarians who freely surrendered themselves and, last but not least, after the Gainaische Begriff all provincials were dediticii. Contrary to P. Meyer, he also stated that tributum capitis was not a mark of the dediticii. In conclusion, E. Bickermann’s theories offered a new interpretation on the Giessen papyrus, but they were too radical and insufficiently grounded in many aspects. In essence, the Giessen papyrus is still considered by most specialists to be a contemporary translation of the original text of the Constitutio.
One of the first advocates of E. Bickermann’s theory was H.I. Bell6. He considered the Giessen papyrus to be a late imitation and not the original Constitutio as well, but he analyzed the matter of the dediticii using the situation in Egypt and the poll tax raised here. Resuming his theory, the conclusions were that this individual Egyptian poll tax, inherited by the Roman provincial administration from the Ptolemaic dynasty, cannot be regarded as proof for the existence of a class of pariahs, instead of its Roman juridical sense. These autonomous Egyptians, who cannot receive Roman citizenship unless they first become citizens of Alexandria, receive citizenship anyway through the regulations of Constitutio Antoniniana7; the tax was only to disappear in the 3rd century, because of fiscal inefficiency. This is proof that this tax was just a sign of a fiscal status and not a political or social stigma.
No matter what theory regarding the status of a dediticius we rally ourselves to, it is clear that this concept is difficult to relate to specific circumstances. Almost all the inscriptions referring to dediticii talk about characters who had gained their freedom because of Lex Aelia Sentia; freedmen8, who had certain reduced rights, and former enemies of Rome, only by extension, fell under the incidence of this law. Thus it is hard to conclude if their situation and their lack of benefits were specific to all dediticii or only to those who had been freed. Their inability to inherit in accordance to the legal and customary conditions of the Roman law was typical of all peregrini. The persisting problem regarding the interpretation of the text of Caracalla’s edict derives from this exception not being mentioned in any of the writings of jurists and historians.
The discovery of Tabula Banasitana9 shed another light on the status of the peregrines after Caracalla’s decree; it now seems that the dediticii were not excluded from gaining citizenship but, from keeping certain local rights derived from the status of the community10. The document, a bronze tablet found at Banassa (Mauretania) resumes in 53 lines three official documents referring to a Berber family who obtained Roman citizenship11. The first document, dated 167, is the copy of a letter from M. Aurelius and L. Verus addressed to Coiedius Maximus, the procurator of Mauritania Tingitana, as answer to a request from Iulianus, a Berber from the Zegrenses tribe. The latter had requested Roman citizenship for himself, his wife and their four children. The imperial letter stated that only the gentiles from Mauretania gained citizenship and only for outstanding services; thus, not many local familiae benefited from this favor displayed towards Iulianus. The second document is another letter, addressed to the procurator V. Maximus Iulianus in 177, in which Marcus Aurelius and Commodus award the wife and children of Aurelius Iulianus (presumably the son of the first Iulianus) Roman citizenship. It is remarkable that he had asked for citizenship for his wife as well, aware of the fact that had he not done so the children of this mixed marriage could receive citizenship only through some special ratification, at a later date. The third text, dated 6th of July 177, is a commentarius de civitate Romana donatorum. It seems that the Iulianii mentioned in the Tabula Banasitana were not included in any Roman tribe, receiving along with the citizenship jurisdictional privileges: the right to live as Roman citizens in their previous tribe (dedimus civitatem romanam salo iure gentis, as mentioned in the first document). This document is very revealing, as it proves that not only civitates but also gentes were considered to be legal political entities of the Roman state.
The most important fact proven by this tabula is the possibility of equivalence between the Latin and Greek versions of the Constitutio. Thus the expression δίδωμι [...] πολιτείαν Ῥωμαίων μένοντος [...] πολιτευμάτων might be translated by civitatem Romanam salvo iure gentis dare and indicates a Roman citizenship that, besides explicit cases, does not infringe upon local citizenship – and implicitly local autonomies12. It seems that the obtaining of citizenship due to the Constitutio did not affect the status quo of communities: most likely, it remained unchanged. This hypothesis is supported by the indirect evidence presented here but also by the silence of the sources regarding a change in the legal status of cities. Starting mainly from the nuances brought by Tabula Banasitana regarding Caracalla’s edict, A. Suceveanu also formulated an interesting and well-grounded hypothesis: he suggested that the dediticii could be the inhabitants of communities that still followed the ius gentium as a way of life alongside libertini ex lege Aelia Sentia and barbarians in numero dediticiorum13.
Dediticius will be used until the late period as a usual term. Its exact meaning is still questionable but it is mostly tied to immigrants. An interesting hypothesis is suggested by the votive inscription from Walldürn (CIL XVI 6592) that proves the existence of some dediticii Alexandriani in an auxiliary troop. Their presence there seems to be the result of some form of punishment: the members of the respective group were deprived of their citizen rights (interdictio aquae et igni) and were reduced to the status of dediticii14. Probably once their military term was over, their punishment would have been lifted and they would have regained the full legal status as Roman citizens. Thus, in the period post-Constitutio Antoniniana the dediticii can end up in this situation as the result of a punishment as well.
C. Sasse said that the term dediticius did not seem to change its meaning from republican times to the Antonine and respectively Severian dynasties: it referred to a member of a population defeated in an armed conflict who surrendered unconditionally15. The result of frontier wars in the Severian epoch must have been a lot of populi dediticii who overlapped socially and juridically over the peregrini dediticii existing since the republican age16. It is reasonable to believe that after Constitutio Antoniniana, dediticius becomes generally a synonymous of the old peregrinus and refers to those who were somehow strangers to the Empire and its society17.
The way in which the Constitutio was received by its contemporaries is very debatable and it probably varied a lot, in relation to the general level of education and to how each province interacted with the politics of the era. Such an analysis for Dacia is, unfortunately, impossible. Even if, for example, in Alexandria or the other already Romanized areas of Africa18 the implications of the decree, both positive and negative, were, probably, generally understood, in other regions the situation was completely different. The papyri from Dura Europos offer us an example. Here, after Caracalla’s edict was passed, some soldiers added Aurelius to their name – even if they already had a gentilicium (we have cases where Aurelius Iulius form together the nomen19). We can imagine such a state of affairs for Dacia, Germania or other provinces of the northern limes. Even if the lack of sources prevents us from coming to clear conclusions, we can assume that, especially in the rural areas where most of the soldiers from Dura Europos hailed from, the meaning of the new imperial edict was not fully understood. Thus, at the scale of the Empire, the cognomen becomes for the next period the individual name. This evolution is due to the fact that the tria nomina system did not have sense or relevance anymore for a large part of the citizens of the Empire. In the next centuries, as Christian names spread, we can see a social bipartition in the choosing of the names. Thus the lower classes use more and more a single name, while the aristocracy tends to prefer composed, very long name with social and personal significations20 – but that had too little in common to typical Roman names.
The impact of Caracalla’s edict on the contemporary society and its immediate effects are hard to determine. Of course, for us it seems like an act of major importance and profound resonance. In its contemporaneousness it might have been received differently. Probably the decree was interesting for those who, upon receiving their citizenship, suffered a change in their life and social status. The others most likely were not very interested or impressed by the new imperial decision.
To conclude, we must state that although Constitutio Antoniniana brought major changes in the life of Roman peregrini – this whole category ceased to exist de iure – it did not lead to the immediate dissipation of solidarities stated and formed previously. Thus, if before 212 certain ties inside collegia or communities were strengthened by belonging to the same juridical category, they were still there, even after the juridical categories no longer existed as before. The fact is generally undoubtable, as the juridical class in which one belonged was certainly too vague at that time in most provinces to form a real and solid base. It had probably always been doubled by other types of convictions or common interests, by other things that created solidarity and which survived unaffected by the formal changes brought about by the year 212.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
* Rada Varga, PhD., Research Assistant at the Centre for Roman Studies, Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca (Romania).
1 Meyer P.M. Griechische Papyri im Museum des oberhessischen Geschichtsverein zu Giessen, Berlin, 1910; for a detailed presentation of the text of the papyrus see also: Wolff H. Die Constitutio Antoniniana und Papyrus Gissensis 40 I. Köln, 1976.
2 […] in Orbe Romano qui sunt ex constitutione imperatoris Antonini cives Romani effect sunt.
3 Williams W. Caracalla and the Authorship of Imperial Edicts and Epistles // Latomus. 1979. № 38. P. 67-89.
4 Jones A.H.M. Another interpretation of the Constitutio Antoniniana // JRS. 1936. № 26. P. 224.
5 Bickermann E. Das Edikt des Kaisers Caracalla in P. Giss. 40. Berlin, 1926.
6 Bell H.I. The Constitutio Antoniniana and the Egyptean poll-tax // JRS. 1947. № 37. P. 17-23.
7 Ibid. P. 18.
8 Benario H.W. The dediticii of the Constitutio Antoniniana // Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. 1954. № 85. P. 195.
9 Seston W., Euzennat M. La citoyenneté romaine au temps de Marc-Aurèle et de Commode d’après la Tabula Banasitana // CRAI. 1961. № 2. P. 317-324; Sherwin-White A.N. The Tabula of Banasa and the Costitutio Antoniniana // JRS. 1973. № 63. P. 86-87.
10 Sherwin-White A.N. The Tabula... P. 97.
11 Jacques F., Scheid J. Rome et l’intégration de l’Émpire. Paris, 1990. P. 210.
12 For a broad discussion regarding the dediticii in Constitutio Antoniniana, see also: Sasse C. Constitutio Antoniniana. Wiesbaden, 1958.
13 Suceveanu A. Une nouvelle hypothèse de restitution de la 9e ligne du Pap. Giss., 40 I // Dacia. 1990. № 34. P. 256.
14 Lemosse M. L’inscription de Walldürn et le problème des déditices // Ktèma. 1981. № 6. P. 356.
15 Sasse C. Op. cit. P. 117.
16 Sherwin-White A.N. The Roman citizenship. Oxford, 1973. P. 385.
17 Whittaker C.R. Rome and its frontiers: The dynamics of Empire. London, New York, 2004. P. 206.
18 Lassère J. -M. Ubique Populus. Peuplement et mouvements de population dans l’Afrique romain de la chute de Cartage à la fin de la dynastie des Sévères (146 a.C. – 235 p.C.). Paris, 1977. P. 661.
19 Gilliam J.F. Dura rosters and the Constitution Antoniniana // Historia. 1965. Bd. 14. S. 88.
20 Salway B. What’s in a name? A survey of Roman onomastic practice from c. 700 BC to AD 700 // JRS. 1994. № 84. P. 141.
Bell H.I. The Constitutio Antoniniana and the Egyptean poll-tax // JRS. 1947. № 37. P. 17-23.
LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
CIL – Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum
CONSTITUTIO ANTONINIANA. LAW AND INDIVIDUAL IN A TIME OF CHANGE
The paper resumes an old historiographic line of discussion, namely the one concerning Constitutio Antoniniana. The aim of the author is to place, as far as it is possible, the document and the emperor’s act in the context of its time. The stake is understanding the position of non-citizens, before and after the law was passed. That non-citizens still inhabited the Empire in the centuries to come is beyond doubt; what remains to be cleared is who exactly they were and which was their connection to the ante 212 peregrini. The author considers the main literature on the Constitutio important, as it offers a variety of interpretations, each of them worthy of notice. The other matter that is discussed in the paper is the impact of Caracalla’s edict on the contemporary society and its immediate effects. It is possible to speculate towards reasonable conclusions based on the epigraphic documents. What can be certainly said is that the edict changed Roman society and annihilated one of the most important existent types of stratification – the one based on citizenship rights. It so roused the Roman world into a new stage of evolution, which was based on social differences and anticipated the society of the Late Empire.
For citation use: [Varga, R. 2012, 25 March. “Constitutio Antoniniana. Law and Individual in a Time of Change.” Yaroslavl State University, Centre for Classical Studies. http://antik-yar.ru/events-2/ancient-civilization-political-institutions-and-legal-regulation/vargar?lang=en].
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