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What does it mean to be “Roman”?

It is easy to assume that being Roman means you come from Rome. Ian explains that this term is much more elastic.
Let us think a little bit about this term “Romans”.
As we saw earlier in ‘Hadrian: Civilisation and Barbarism’, the Historia Augusta offered a very simple explanation of why the Wall was built – to separate the Romans from the Barbarians. Scholars have slaved over this short phrase – which juxtaposes two generalities. We have seen that this blanket term barbarians, is a classic example of the writers of history lumping together different peoples and stories, but what about the term Romans here? Understanding the elasticity of the term Roman is vital if we want to understand the Wall and, more broadly, the Empire.
At one level, as here the term Roman can be used as a collective term for those directly under the rule of the Emperor, whether citizens, free people who were not citizens, or slaves. It is important to remember therefore that Romans do not necessarily have to be people from the city of Rome itself. Indeed, very few of the Romans in Britain, even in the army of conquest, would have come from Rome. At another level, Roman is more specifically associated with the notion of citizenship. And this is where confusion can arise, because certainly at the time of the Wall’s construction, a majority of those who lived in Roman Britain were not in fact Roman citizens.
We will touch on some of the important details about who is a Roman citizen, and how Roman citizenship can be acquired later, but for the moment there are two issues I particularly want to stress. The first is that throughout Roman history, there is a clear appreciation that the Romans themselves are a mixed bunch, even Rome’s origin myths reflect this. And this appreciation remains a feature of life at the time Hadrian’s Wall was built, not only do Romans come from various places, they openly acknowledge their debt to a diversity of places for their ideas.
Arrian the Roman governor of Cappadocia in Turkey, for example, writes a work on the Roman cavalry in which he stresses that the army draws practices from different peoples. Now accompanying this pride in the diversity of its people and origins, there is another crucial factor, something vital to the creation and sustaining of the empire, and that is this….Unlike Greek identity, which came from the accident of one’s birth, it was possible to become Roman. Please keep that in mind.
Before moving on to explore the Roman Army [Week 2] and Frontier Communities [Week 3] we need to pause to think a little more about what it means to be Roman.
Roman doesn’t mean being from Rome – it means much more.
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Hadrian's Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier

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