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IMMU´NITAS Immunitas means an exemption from burdens imposed by the state ; munus, according to the definition of Paulus (Dig. 50, 16, 18), is an “onus, quod cum remittatur, vacationem militiae munerisque praestat inde immunitatem appellari.” Such a remission might either be granted to individual citizens of a special state from some or all of the munera imposed by that state, or to classes of individuals throughout the Roman world; or the immunitas might take the form of special exemptions granted to whole states from certain duties which they owed to Rome: and in this, its most usual form, immunitas is generally equivalent to exemption from tribute.

This immunity conferred on states was, in the earlier Roman Empire, inseparable from the idea of societas, and was not regarded as a special privilege conferred on certain favoured communities amongst the socii. According to the old Roman principle, alliance with Rome excluded stipendium of any kind. This was not only the case with the Italians, but with the allied states out of Italy. In any classification the foederatae and liberae civitates invariably appear as immunes [see SOCII]. It is true that in the less organised portions of the Roman Empire the assertion that a nation was free did not necessarily imply that it was immunis; on the conquest of Epirus in 167 B.C., though all the Illyrians were declared liberi, only some were declared “non solum liberi sed etiam immunes” (Liv. 45.26). But the general principle of the taxation of free civic communities did not begin until the period of the later Republic or the early Empire. We find it in the case of Byzantium, which Tacitus describes as tributary (Ann. 12.63), although after the Macedonian war it had been in alliance with Rome and had certainly not been taxed in the early Republic; and in the case of the tributary states of Asia mentioned by Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 2.47), two of which, Magnesia ad Sipylum and Apollonidea, were liberae (Strabo xiii. p.621; Cic. pro Flacco, 29, 71). This change is specially noticeable in the East, and probably originated with Pompey's organisation of Asia. Henceforth immunitas was not a necessary accompaniment of autonomy nor even of the Latinitas which was conferred on states in the last century of the Republic and in the Empire (Mommsen, Staatsr. iii. p. 684 ff.; Marquardt, Staatsverw. i. p. 354 ff.); and the immunitas of states became more of an exceptional political privilege. Sometimes it was a special immunity, such as the beneficium claimed by the state Tyras in Moesia that its citizens should be freed from the port dues of Illyricum (C. I. L. iii. n. 781); sometimes a general exemption from all external burdens, such as that enjoyed by Ilium (Dig. 27, 17, 1; cf. Suet. Cl. 25). A mode of establishing immunitas for a state was the conferring of the jus Italicum, which implied quiritarian ownership of the soil, and consequently exemption from the land-tribute. This was generally done when the state was declared a colonia, but a colonia so created did not necessarily possess this right (Dig. 50, 15, 8, 6, “Divus Antoninus Antiochenos colonos fecit salvis tributis” ), although a partial immunitas might be conferred upon it (Dig. ib. “Divus Vespasianus Caesarienses colonos fecit non adjecto ut et juris Italici essent, sed tributum his remisit capitis: sed divus Titus etiam solum immune factum interpretatus est” ). Many states in Lusitania, Gaul, Germany, Syria, and [p. 1.995]Phoenicia, were coloniae and had the jus Italicum (Dig. l.c.).

The immunitas which was conferred on classes of individuals invariably took the form of an exemption from local burdens, which was granted by Rome either to Romans or to the members of the particular state by which the burdens were imposed. In the leges by which Rome recognised the position of free states she often claimed exemptions for classes of her own citizens; thus in the Lex Antonia de Termessibus the publicani of Rome are exempted from the portoria of Termessus (C. I. L. i. f. 204, 2.35): and the Roman soldiers in the Empire were exempt from duties on all goods which they might carry into or purchase in the provinces for their own use (Tac. Ann. 13.51; Cod. 4.61, 3). For another class of munera, personal duties, such as that of being a tutor, a limit of age was fixed after which exemptions were permitted (Dig. 50, 6, 4). But, besides such special exemptions, general immunities from local burdens were granted to classes of citizens. Thus during the Empire, and probably by an edict of Augustus, all who belonged to the senatorial order, i. e. senators and their direct descendants, were freed from the munera of the community to which they belonged (Dig. 50, 1, 22, 5). They were also freed from the necessity of undertaking its honores, which in the municipia were generally regarded as munera, but they retained their position as members of their native state, and were at liberty to fill the local magistracies if they pleased (Dig. 50, 1, 23, “municeps esse desinit quantum ad munera, quantum vero ad honores retinere creditur originem” ). Great difficulty was experienced, from an early period of the Empire, in finding citizens willing to undertake public duties in the Italian and provincial towns (see Lex Malacitana, C. I. L. ii. n. 1964, c. li.), and the classes of those who claimed an exemption from such burdens (excusatio municipalium munerum) were closely scrutinised and were constantly being narrowed. The effective grounds of such excusatio were various. One was the number of children possessed by the claimant, another the exercise of certain professions which required release from state burdens “ut necessariam operam publicis utilitatibus exhiberent” (Dig. 50, 6, 6, 12): thus merchants and ship-owners who supplied the state with corn, conductores vectigalium, and certain collegia and corpora of artisans were excused such duties, and a general exemption was granted to rhetors, philosophers, grammarians, and physicians practising their profession in their native state and in Rome (Dig. 27,1, 6, 8; 50, 6,6,12 ;--Cod. 10, 47 and 48).

Special immunities might further be granted to individuals: the right to confer such immunities was one that Rome reserved to herself both in the foedera and in the laws other than foedera which regulated the rights of her allied states. Exemption from military service was the most frequent of these privileges which she conferred (Lex Jul. Munic. C. I. L. i. n. 206, 1. 93, “vacatio rei militaris ex foedere,” Liv. 23.20, 2), but the power extended to other munera as well, and in the Lex Acilia Repetundarum of 123 B.C. “militiae munerisque publici in sua civitate vacatio” was conferred on any Latin who might convict a Roman citizen under this law (C. I. L. i. n. 198, 100.79). During the Empire the exemption from tribute to Rome might be conferred, in an individual case, by a beneficium of the princeps (Suet. Aug. 40).

The acts conferring such immunities on states or individuals were called beneficia (Cic. Phil. 1.1, 3; 7, 17; 2.36, 91 ;--Dig. 50, 15, 4, 3); they were, during the Republic, ordained or ratified by a decree of the people (Cic. Phil. 5.4, 10), and were revocable if they were no part of a sworn foedus. Some immunities of free states might be recalled by the senate through the terms of the lex data (Lex de Term. 2.6, “ne quis magistratus milites introducito, nisi senatus nominatim decreverit” ), and in the case of a foedus being rescinded or libertas being recalled the immunitates they conferred were necessarily lost (Suet. Tib. 41). In the Empire such beneficia were conferred by the princeps, and the legal principles regulating them were, that they might be resumed again by the princeps who conferred them, and that their validity ceased with the princeps who had granted them (Mommsen, Staatsr. ii.2 p. 1126 ff.). This latter principle was instituted by Tiberius (Suet. Tit. 8) and continued down to Titus, who introduced the change of conferring all such grants by a single edict (Suet. ib.). This principle was followed by later emperors; but this did not exclude special investigation of the grounds of certain exemptions, for instance that of Tyras by Severus (C. I. L. iii. n. 781). Prescription was not in every case sufficient to establish a baseless immunity (C. I. L. 1. c. “nec facile quae per errorem aut licentiam usurpata sunt praescriptione temporis confirmentur” ), but the principle was finally developed that immunities granted to states were understood to continue to subsequent generations (Dig. 50, 15, 4, 3). Personal immunities granted to individuals ceased in most cases with their death ( “cum persona extinguuntur,” Dig. l.c.; cf. Dig. 50, 6).

(Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht, ii.2 p. 1126 ff.; iii. p. 684 ff. and p. 474; Marquardt, Römische Staatsverwaltung, i. pp. 354-358; Madvig, Verfassung und Verwaltung des römischen Rechts, i. p. 84.)


hide References (17 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (17):
    • Cicero, Philippics, 5.4
    • Cicero, Philippics, 1.1
    • Cicero, Philippics, 1.17
    • Cicero, Philippics, 1.3
    • Cicero, Philippics, 1.7
    • Cicero, Philippics, 2.36
    • Cicero, Philippics, 2.91
    • Cicero, Philippics, 5.10
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 25
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 41
    • Suetonius, Divus Titus, 8
    • Tacitus, Annales, 13.51
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.47
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 40
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 45, 26
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 23, 20
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