BMCR 2021.07.11

Cittadinanza e nazione nella storia europea

, , Cittadinanza e nazione nella storia europea. Centro di ricerca coordinato Studi sulla giustizia/Facoltà di giurisprudenza dell'Università degli studi di Milano, 34. Milano: Giuffrè Francis Lefebvre, 2020. Pp. vi, 280. ISBN 9788828818458

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The volume under review, resulting from a two-day colloquium held in May 2018 at the University of Milan, is a welcome addition to the rapidly growing bulk of scholarship concerning the notion and the various modalities of citizenship, ancient and modern.[1] Comprising twelve contributions by primarily Italian and French scholars, the volume aims to evaluate the continuity and changes that have accompanied the concepts of “citizenship” and “nation” throughout the course of European history. As such, the book has a truly impressive chronological scope, ranging from the eighth century BCE to the aftermath of the First World War. The choice of contributors (namely, “romanisti e storici del diritto”, p. 3), however, inevitably favours the Roman and the modern periods, with only one paper dedicated to the Middle Ages.

In their introductory piece, the editors take as their point of departure the so-called crisis or failure which “the European project” is allegedly facing today, as a result of numerous clashes between national and communal interests, best illustrated by the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The authors highlight how the “European cause” reflects a much more ancient problem of uniting legally and culturally different peoples under a single authority, a problem repeatedly observed throughout European history. Crucial to this are the recurring concepts of “citizenship” and “nation” (the former focused on an individual, and the latter on what unites a group of individuals), around which the political and the social bonds are built. Following the introduction, David Kremer draws some interesting parallels between Roman citizenship, primarily conceived as based on shared civil and political rights rather than common historical or cultural background, and the difficult concept of European citizenship. Kremer stresses Rome’s success in creating a vast and efficient juridical community which preceded and facilitated political assimilation, all the while preserving local legal heterogeneity. In this sense, the author suggests that, following Rome’s example, the European Union should seek to make its common law sufficiently attractive for the diverse populations to be willing to adhere to it.[2]

The following four contributions explore the notions of citizenship and nation in the Roman world. Lorenzo Gagliardi investigates the meaning of natio between the eighth and the sixth centuries BCE, criticising the scholarship inspired by the nineteenth-century “statism” which tends to assign the concept a political value. Gagliardi demonstrates, instead, that the Latin natio in the archaic period can only be understood as a set of populi or civitates consciously sharing common territory, as well as various linguistic, cultural and religious elements, but nonetheless prone to considerable fragmentation and conflict. Loredana Cappelletti then focuses on the Social War as the key moment in the history of Roman citizenship. The author provides evidence (epigraphic and numismatic, alongside the literary) for the political, administrative and military organisation of the Italian “state” at this time, albeit expressed in an ostensibly Roman fashion. In the following paper, Estela García Fernández discusses Latin status as the main means of integration of the inhabitants of the Western provinces into the Roman civitas. Highlighting the challenges in discerning the exact characteristics of the Latin condition, the author argues that  municipal legislation, which provides most of the evidence on the Latin status vis-à-vis Roman citizenship, lacked uniformity and depended on a region’s level of “Romanisation”. Finally, Chiara Corbo examines the role played by the Constitutio Antoniniana in the process of elaborating the concept of citizenship in relation to that of identity, by investigating the impact that the universal extension of Roman citizenship had on the relations between the empire and the Christian world.[3] Corbo suggests that, rather than enabling religious prosecution, the edict created a new sense of communal belonging which bound both Christians and pagans to the shared values of Romanitas. It is a shame that this part of the volume dedicated to the Roman period does not include a single contribution concerning the Eastern part of the empire.[4] A discussion of the ample epigraphic evidence for Roman citizens  living in  Greek cities and acquiring local citizenships   even before these cities became Roman provinces , or the reality of double and multiple citizenships in Rome’s Greek-speaking provinces  would have enriched this otherwise fairly Romano-centric discussion.[5]

In the only contribution pertaining to the period between the Antonine Constitution of 212 CE and pre-revolutionary France, Lorenzo Tanzini outlines the main features of citizen particularism in thirteenth- to fourteenth-century Italy, highlighting some key commonalities between ancient and medieval political cultures. Tanzini brilliantly expounds the non-monolithic character of citizenship in this period, prone to stratification depending on the individual’s level of involvement and participation in public life. This multi-layered nature or plasticity of medieval citizenship also implied various possibilities for negotiation and political advancement within the urban society.

Claire de Blois then explores the evolution of notions of “state” and “population” by examining the relative entries in the French dictionaries of l’Ancien Régime. The author convincingly demonstrates the shift in importance for state formation away from the sovereign and onto the individual in the wake of the French revolution. This evolution of thought, marked by the appearance of the term “citizen” (as opposed to “subject”) in relation to the state, is further explored by Thomas Branthôme. Focusing on conceptualisations of “citizen” in this crucial period of French history, Branthôme demonstrates how the connection between “nation” and “citizenship” was born at this time, and how this newly reimagined citizenship became a carrier of the French revolutionary project.

Following this, Jean-Baptiste Busaall examines the political constitution of the Spanish monarchy of 1812, commonly known as La Pepa, which saw the creation of the concept of “Spanish citizen”. This new personal status, tied to one’s moral and social condition, was intended to distinguish those who enjoyed political rights in addition to civil ones from the rest of the population, thus excluding from political participation many native inhabitants of the Spanish territories. Comparably, Guillaume Richard discusses the legislation concerning the individual right to compensation in France and Italy after the First World War, which was based on the principle of “national solidarity”. Following the reintegration into the national territory of some regions which had been lost shortly before or during the war, this legislation created a hierarchy of beneficiaries based on their supposed degree of integration into the national community, which resulted in gradation within the group of nationals depending on the time and conditions of their enfranchisement. What emerges in this context is the perception of nationality as a historical link, and thus the precedence of the socio-historical notion of nationality over the juridical one.

The volume ends with concluding remarks by Valerio Marotta, who circles back to the question of the current crisis of the European project, addressed in the contribution of David Kremer. Marotta here explores the complex relationship between the formal boundaries of (European) citizenship and the substantial guarantees of social rights, without which there is always room for discrimination and marginalisation.

One wonders whether the volume as a whole perhaps misses the opportunity to discuss in more detail the issues concerning non-citizen residents, all too often sidelined in similar scholarship. A notable exception in this regard is a discussion in Claire de Blois’ contribution of “les aubains” and “droit d’aubains” in seventeenth- to eighteenth-century France (p. 167-172), which illustrates the real potential of such an enquiry. The rights that were and often still are denied to foreign residents can speak volumes on the general perception of civic or national belonging at a given time and place. A related phenomenon, characteristic of ancient as well as modern societies, is the common misalignment in practice between the experience of civic or national belonging and the actual possession of formal juridical status.[6] Lorenzo Tanzini’s contribution stands out in this regard by highlighting how the perception of belonging to the community in medieval Italy did not necessarily correspond to possession of formal citizenship.

From the presentational point of view, the value of the volume is diminished by the lack of a collected bibliography, either at the end or, at the very least, following each paper: this leaves the reader searching for bibliographical references in the footnotes of individual contributions. Nonetheless, with its unusually extensive chronological scope and multiple interrelated foci, this book is an admirable attempt at a broader contextualisation of some of the key issues concerning the difficult concepts of citizenship and nation, increasingly widely debated in modern-day Europe and beyond. As such, the book offers its reader many stimulating insights and should be consulted by ancient as well as modern historians and students interested in the intersecting modalities of national and civic belonging throughout the course of the European history.

Authors and titles

Lorenzo Gagliardi, David Kremer :  «Cittadinanza e nazione. Un approccio storico
David Kremer : Leçons romaines à l’adresse des Européens. Brèves réflexions sur la civitas Romana et son héritage »
Lorenzo Gagliardi : «La nazione latina al tempo della Roma dei re »
Loredana Cappelletti : « Lo « stato » degli Italici al tempo della guerra sociale (91-88 a.C.) »
Estela García Fernández : « La condición latina como instrumento de integración de la población provincial »
Chiara Corbo : « Constitutio Antoniniana : un’ulteriore chiave di lettura »
Lorenzo Tanzini : « Cittadinanza e appartenenza alla comunità nelle città italiane tra XIII e XIV secolo »
Claire de Blois : « L’évolution du lien entre « population » et « État » dans les dictionnaires de l’Ancien régime (1689-1789) »
Thomas Branthôme : « Le citoyen révolutionnaire »
Jean-Baptiste Busaall : « Le Citoyen espagnol de la Nation catholique dans la Constitution politique de la Monarchie espagnole de 1812 : sujet nouveau d’un ordre traditionnel »
Guillaume Richard : « Redéfinir la nation. L’application des lois sur les réparations pour dommages de guerre aux territoires intégrés après la Première Guerre mondiale (France, Italie) »
Valerio Marotta : « Conclusioni »


[1] The continuing scholarly interest in ancient citizenship is illustrated by important works which appeared (or are due to appear) after the publication of this volume, e.g. Gabrielle Frija (2021) Être citoyen romain dans le monde grec au IIesiècle de notre ère, Bordeaux, and the forthcoming volume of Clifford Ando and Myles Lavan, eds. Imperial and local citizenship in the long 2nd century CE, Oxford. For a critical assessment of the ongoing significance of citizenship as an object of study, see e.g. Engin Isin, Peter Nyers and Bryan Turner, eds. (2009) Citizenship between past and future, London Preview.

[2] For the potential dangers of drawing direct parallels between the Roman state and the European Union, see the remarks in Valerio Marotta’s Conclusioni, p. 259-261.

[3] In a footnote (p.  101-102), Corbo provides a useful synthesis of the most recent literature on the Antonine Constitution, to which one should now add a new monograph by Arnaud Besson (2020) Constitutio Antoniniana. L’universalisation de la citoyenneté romaine au 3e siècle, Basel.

[4] Notably, Estela García Fernández, though focusing on Baetica, brings in for comparison some pieces of evidence from the Greek East (p. 89, 91).

[5] The contrast between Roman and the Greek citizenship in terms of the former’s inclusivity and the latter’s exclusivity, mentioned by Chiara Corbo on p. 105, illustrates the common trend in scholarship of comparing the Roman civitas to the politeiai of Classical Greece, thus disregarding the fundamental transformation of civic belonging observed in the Greek poleis in the Roman period.

[6] See, for instance, ch. 6 in Arjan Zuiderhoek (2016) The Ancient City, Cambridge, on the formation of civic identity in the Greek cities through rituals which often included non-citizen groups: Preview. For contemporary societies, with a particular focus on the United States, see the brilliant study of Linda Bosniak (2006) The citizen and the alien. Dilemmas of contemporary membership, Princeton: Preview.