4

There is a difference between a citizen and a subject. Roughly, a citizen holds some power in the state (through voting or otherwise), whereas a subject is subordinate to their leader and has no say. (I hope I'm using the standard terminology here. I mean the Finnish words "kansalainen" and "alamainen".) My dictionary indicates that the terms "citizen" and "subject" are civis and subiectus in Latin. This sounds legitimate, but I failed to find any classical comparisons of the two terms.

I would like to know how these words compared to each other in classical Latin — or later Latin if the distinction was not clear in antiquity. Are there any classical comparisons of the two terms? Or should the opposing pair corresponding to "citizen" and "subject" be something other than civis and subiectus? If there is nothing classical, how about later ones? I would prefer if the two were explicitly compared, but separate clear definitions are also fine if found somewhere.

  • 2
    Another Latin word for 'subjects' is parentes (always plural). In Bellum Iugurthinum 3.2, Sallust uses the phrase vi quidem regere patriam aut parentis, and so contrasts one's homeland and one's subjects – not exactly citizens and subjects, but pretty close. I've only really seen parentes in this sense in Sallust (in BI 102.7, Sulla contrasts parentes and amici) – and of course it's a nightmare to sift through search results to find other instances, because it's identical to the word for 'parent' (except, I think, in the genitive). Still, that might be a fruitful, if time-consuming, avenue. – cnread Sep 27 '17 at 1:30
  • 1
    It also occurs to me that when Roman citizens themselves feel that they have been made subjects (for example, under one of the 'bad' emperors), they try to capture the enormity of the situation by talking about it in the strongest possible terms -- that is, in terms of slavery, using words such as servitus. For example, in letter 3.5, Pliny says that his uncle wrote his 8 books Dubii sermonis 'sub Nerone novissimis annis, cum omne studiorum genus paulo liberius et erectius periculosum servitus fecisset.' – cnread Sep 27 '17 at 18:37
  • 1
    To me, this is just an amazing question, thank you. I do not claim to possess a deep knowledge on this point, so I waited for a week to see if anyone with more expertise answers. But, since no answers materialized, I'll develop my take on it. A TL;DR answer is that subiectus in the modern sense is indeed a Medieval coinage, and an encompassing, hyperonymic concept of the royal subject did not exist in the Roman mind, probably not even in the late Empire. Time allowing, I'll try to elaborate on this in the coming couple days. – kkm Sep 29 '17 at 18:18
  • 1
    @kkm Thank you! I look forward to your answer. (Please share it even if it only ends up being partial or otherwise imperfect. What you have discovered is already worth an answer.) – Joonas Ilmavirta Sep 29 '17 at 18:32

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.