Originally, and in the restrictive sense, one who lived in the city of Rome, Italy. (Acts 2:10; Rom. 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. (John 11:48; Acts 25:16; 28:17) At other times a “Roman” simply meant anyone having Roman citizenship, regardless of his nationality or place of birth.—Acts 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, yet from birth he was a Roman.—Acts 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 167 B.C.E. Roman citizens for the most part were exempted from paying taxes. Those provisions of Roman law known as Lex Valeria and Lex Porcia forbade the beating, whipping, torturing or the inflicting of any shameful punishment on Roman citizens, and also granted them the right to appeal a magistrate’s decision to a court of the people under the republic; at a later date, appeals were made direct to the emperor. For anyone to violate these Valerian or Porcian laws was a very serious matter, as was demonstrated twice in connection with Paul. (Acts 16:37-40; 22:25-29) Or if certain capital offenses were involved, citizens could request to be sent to Rome, there to stand trial before the emperor himself.—Acts 25:11, 12.