What Made a Citizen in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, the concept of citizenship held great significance. Unlike modern societies where citizenship is often based on birthright or legal status, being a citizen in ancient Greece was more closely tied to participation in the political life of the city-state.

What Defined a Citizen?

A citizen in ancient Greece was typically a free adult male who had completed their military training and actively participated in the affairs of the polis, or city-state. Citizenship was typically not extended to women, slaves, or foreigners.

Free Adult Males: Citizenship was limited to free adult males who were born to citizen parents. They were considered part of the political community and had certain rights and responsibilities.

Military Training: One of the defining characteristics of a citizen was completing military training. The city-states relied heavily on their citizens for defense during times of war. Participation in military campaigns was seen as a duty and an essential part of being a citizen.

Rights and Responsibilities


  • Political Participation: Citizens had the right to participate in the decision-making processes of their city-state. They could attend public assemblies, vote on important issues, and hold public office.
  • Legal Protection: Citizens enjoyed legal protection under the law and had access to courts for resolving disputes.
  • Owning Property: Citizens had the right to own property, which also provided them with economic security and influence within society.


  • Military Service: As mentioned earlier, citizens were expected to serve in the military when called upon. This duty was crucial for the defense and survival of the city-state.
  • Taxation: Citizens were responsible for paying taxes to support the functioning of the city-state and its institutions.
  • Civic Duties: Citizens were expected to actively participate in public life, attend assemblies, and contribute to the political decision-making process.

Citizenship and Identity

Citizenship in ancient Greece was closely tied to one’s identity. It was an essential part of a person’s social standing and reputation within society. Being a citizen provided individuals with a sense of belonging and contributed to their overall status and honor.

Metics and Slaves:

In contrast to citizens, metics (foreign residents) and slaves had limited rights and were not part of the political community. While metics enjoyed some legal protections, they did not have political rights or the ability to participate fully in public life. Slaves, on the other hand, were considered property and had no rights or legal protections.


In ancient Greece, being a citizen meant more than just having legal status or being born in a particular place. It involved active participation in public affairs, military service, and fulfilling various rights and responsibilities. Citizenship conferred both privileges and obligations, contributing significantly to an individual’s identity within society.