The Citizenship Law of Pericles

The concept of being Natural Born and having advantages over those in a nation state who are not, is not a recent idea and is explained in the ancient history writings of many of our early scholars. From Greece to Rome to the Egyptians and Mongols, to the founders of the New America.

There was one main reason the Athenians under Pericles decided to limit the people eligible to hold office. Only those born to two people of Athenian citizen status could henceforth be citizens and eligible to be magistrates. Children of foreign mothers were explicitly excluded.

In 451BC, Pericles, a leading Athenian Statesman, introduced legislation that was to limit the availability of Athenian citizenship to those male children born to two lawfully wedded Athenian citizen parents.

Previously, the offspring of Athenian men who married non-Athenian women were granted citizenship. Aristocratic men in particular had tended to marry rich foreign women, as Pericles' own maternal grandfather had done.

The rise of Democracy in Athens increased the number of "metics" or "permanent foreigner inhabitants" who flocked to Athens to secure the economic advantages of that Democracy. The male child of two citizen parents is the highest degree of citizenship that a Democracy can envision, a true "natural born citizen."

Pericles' new law enhanced the status of Athenian mothers and made Athenian citizenship a more exclusive category, definitively setting Athenians off from all others. Not long thereafter, a review of the citizenship rolls was conducted to expel any who had claimed citizenship fraudulently. Together these actions served to limit the number of citizens and thus limit dilution of the advantages which citizenship in Athens' radical democracy conveyed on those included in the citizenry.

Those advantages included, for men, the freedom to participate in politics and juries, to influence decisions that directly affected their lives, to have equal protection under the law, and to own land and houses in Athenian territory. Citizen women had less rights because they were excluded from politics, had to have a male legal guardian (kurios), who, for example, spoke for them in court, and were not legally entitled to make large financial transactions on their own.

They could, however, control property and have their financial interests protected in law suits. Like men, they were entitled to the protection of the law regardless of their wealth.

Both female and male citizens experienced the advantage of belonging to a city-state that was enjoying unparalleled material prosperity. Citizens clearly saw themselves as the elite residents of Athens simply because they were born there to citizen parents. These were the first Natural Born citizens by law.