What Made You a Citizen in Ancient Greece?

Citizenship in Ancient Greece: Understanding the Criteria

Ancient Greece is known for its rich history and culture, but one aspect that stands out is the concept of citizenship. In modern times, citizenship is typically granted based on birthplace or other legal criteria.

However, in Ancient Greece, being a citizen meant much more than simply being born in a certain place. Let’s take a closer look at what made someone a citizen in Ancient Greece.

The Basics of Citizenship

In Ancient Greece, citizenship was not automatically granted to everyone born in the city-state (known as a polis). Instead, citizenship was earned through various means such as military service, owning property, or being born to citizens.

The criteria for citizenship varied depending on the city-state. For example, Athens had different requirements than Sparta.

Military Service

Military service was one of the most common ways to earn citizenship in Ancient Greece. In Athens, men were required to serve in the military for two years before they could become citizens. This requirement ensured that only those who were willing to fight for their city-state were granted citizenship.

Property Ownership

Owning property was another way to earn citizenship in some city-states. For example, in Sparta, only those who owned land were considered citizens. This requirement helped ensure that only those who had a stake in the community were granted full rights and privileges.


Being born to citizens was also a way to earn citizenship in Ancient Greece. However, this did not automatically guarantee citizenship. In Athens, for example, both parents had to be citizens for their children to be considered citizens as well.

The Rights of Citizens

Being a citizen in Ancient Greece came with certain rights and privileges. Citizens had the right to vote on issues that affected their city-state and could hold public office. They also had the right to own property and participate in the military.


Those who were not citizens in Ancient Greece, such as slaves and foreigners, did not have the same rights and privileges as citizens. Slaves were considered property and had no legal rights. Foreigners were often treated with suspicion and were not allowed to participate in government or own property.


In conclusion, citizenship in Ancient Greece was earned through various means such as military service, property ownership, or being born to citizens. Being a citizen came with certain rights and privileges that non-citizens did not have. Understanding the criteria for citizenship is important for understanding the political and social structures of Ancient Greece.