I was reading SPQR by Mary Beard and in the book (pg 200) she mentions the a Roman colony in Hispania called Carteia, which was populated by legion veterans. They married local women and had children who were not Roman citizens (because there were no right of marriage for a Roman and non-Roman.) Their children petitioned the Senate for clarification of their (and their cities) legal status. The Senators decided to grant the colony status as

"...a colony of ex-slaves. How many hours of discussion it took to decide on the bizarre combination of 'ex-slave' and 'Latin' offered the closest match available for civil status of the technically illegitimate Roman soldier's sons."

I have heard of different colonies, each with differing rights, some had Latin rights, some had full Roman rights just like a citizen in Rome, some had full legal rights except for the right to vote, while some had extremely limited rights. And from the above quote it seems that the Senate would choose the type of colony depending on the rights they wanted to give the citizens, as obviously a colony of legion veteran's children was hardly a colony a ex-slaves.

I am very curious what where the different types of colonies and what were the rights that went with them.

And just for clarification we are talking in the time period before the edict of Caracalla.

1 Answer 1


The status and definition of the Roman colonia varied greatly depending upon the timeframe involved. The simplest definitions were during the time of the Roman Republic. The two major forms of colony from 500 BC to 133 BC were the Roman Colony, and the Latin Colony.

  • Roman Colony. These were the colonies which held full rights as roman citizens, and they were close to Rome. They were often at coastal locations, such as Ostia. They were populated by Roman citizens who chose to relocate to these locations, and were rewarded with property grants associated with the new colonies territory.
  • Latin Colony. These were strategic locations, either taken or built within the territory conquered by the Romans. The term derives from territories gained during the Latin Wars, when the Romans gained control over the rest of the Lands on the Italian peninsula. These, being essentially garrisons in occupied territory, were often granted to soldiers as rewards for service. Again territory was claimed with land grants offered, but these colonies did not infer citizen status, and any Roman citizen taking residence there did surrender his citizenship while there. These colonies did have local autonomy however, and were allowed to be self governing to a point, allowing more of an assimilation of the areas so colonized. Further info on Latin Rights .

Information on these basic colony definitions can be read

But that's were the simple explanations end. The city you are discussing, Carteia, really is a transition point, and is literally the first colony of its kind. Up to this point the Roman colonies were pretty close to home. Carteia, located near the Straits of Gibraltar, in the then Roman territory of Hispania, was a garrisoned city that had existed since 940 BC. It had been captured by the Romans in 190 BC.

Livy is the source for the information concerning the petition for status within the senate, which, in 171 BC granted the status of 'Latin Colony' to the captured city of Carteia. This was the first colony with this designation outside the Italian Peninsula. It granted its citizens more rights then they had, but not the rights of full Roman citizens.As a Latin colony they received right to marry, and the right to conduct business. The Colonia Libertinorum Carteia (Freedmen's Colony of Carteia) may have been unique in its status.

At this point, typical politics took over, and numerous other locations gained colony status, but often mainly as attempts to curry political favor among one group or another, so the clearcut definitions from above become harder to apply. As mentioned in the article on Latin rights,

The acquisition of ius Latii was wholly dependent on imperial gift.This beneficence could span the whole range from grants to individuals to awards made to whole towns, and could even be applied to an entire population, as when Emperor Vespasian gave the ius Latii to all of Hispania in AD 74.

I have to admit the 'freedman' designation apparently given to citizens in Carteia, as it seems different then that of Latin Colony. As mentioned in the wikipedia entry for freedman, freedmen were granted the right to vote, which members of a Latin colony were not. Possible some Roman legalese to infer rights 'after the fact'? Still looking for more on this...

I hope this helps clear up some of the confusion, basically up until the Carteia colony there were pretty simple rules, with two types of colonies. After 133 BC, it became politically defined and assigned at the whim of the Senate.

  • 1
    +1 for an excellent answer! and it did clear up much of the confusion. i too though am curious as to the whole freedman aspect of it. also just to clarify when you say as a Latin Colony the received the right to marry. does that mean if they marry another freeman/woman their children are Roman? What if they marry a non-Roman, i assume their children then would still not be citizens.
    – ed.hank
    Feb 4, 2017 at 23:54
  • also just another thought, maybe the combination of "Latin" and "freedman" meant they only had Latin rights, as it sort of sounds like me they didn't have the right to vote, but had the other privledges such as right to marry, conduct business, etc... though i could be wrong!
    – ed.hank
    Feb 5, 2017 at 0:29
  • I think that was the gist of the ius connubii, the right to officially marry. It seems to have conferred that status of the (most prominent) parent to the child.
    – justCal
    Feb 5, 2017 at 0:30
  • That would make sense, especially since it was the cause of their original grievance. Thank you for your time in answering this, it has helped explain quite a bit to me about this fascinating topic.
    – ed.hank
    Feb 5, 2017 at 0:33
  • you say " and any Roman citizen taking residence there did surrender his citizenship while there." Do you mean if you are a Roman citizen, and you move to a colony city, then you lose your Roman citizenship while you are there, but if you leave and move back to Rome you are a citizen again? I have never heard of that before.
    – ed.hank
    Jul 13, 2018 at 15:32

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