Originally, and in the restrictive sense, one who lived in the city of Rome, Italy. (Ac 2:10; Ro 1:7) With the expansion of the empire the name took on broader meanings. Sometimes “the Romans” referred to the imperial authority that ruled; “Roman procedure” meant that authority’s methods of rule. (Joh 11:48; Ac 25:16; 28:17) At other times a “Roman” simply meant anyone having Roman citizenship, regardless of his nationality or place of birth.—Ac 16:21.
In the latter case one could become a Roman by purchasing citizenship, as in the instance of the military commander Claudius Lysias. Or one might be born a Roman, that is, be a Roman citizen from birth. The apostle Paul was such a one, for although he was a Jew by nationality, and born in the Cilician city of Tarsus hundreds of miles from Italy, from birth he was a Roman.—Ac 21:39; 22:3, 25-28; 23:26, 27; see CITIZEN, CITIZENSHIP.
Being a Roman citizen carried with it many privileges and protections. After Macedonia was conquered in 168 B.C.E., Roman citizens for the most part were exempted from paying taxes. The Lex Valeria and the Lex Porcia, enacted at various times between 509 and 195 B.C.E., exempted Roman citizens from scourging. The Lex Valeria provided such exemption when the citizen appealed to the people; the Lex Porcia, without such appeal. At a later date, appeals were made direct to the emperor. If certain capital offenses were involved, citizens could request to be sent to Rome, there to stand trial before the emperor himself. (Ac 25:11, 12) For anyone to violate the Valerian or Porcian laws was a very serious matter, as was demonstrated twice in connection with Paul.—Ac 16:37-40; 22:25-29.