Citizenship by investment in the 13th century: the right to have rights …… and duties!

Mar 01, 2021

Obtaining citizenship by investment was common practice also in the 13th century.

This article is written by Marco Mazzeschi and contributed to our publication on

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Many States are raising capitals and attracting wealthy individuals by “selling” citizenship (Citizenship by investment or CBI). But the concept of acquiring citizenship by a monetary or real estate contribution is not new.

Citizenship in the 13th century

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Between the 11th and 13th century Northern and Central Italy was divided in hundreds of city-states (Comuni) which had their own form of independent governments. Within these entities the element of association was fundamental and participation played an essential role. (*)

Initially, in fact, the Comune was constituted by an oath and all those who participated in swearing the oath became CITIZENS.

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Citizenship brought with it rights (political rights, privileges and tax exemptions) but at the same time imposed precise duties, such us:

(i) the obligation to reside in the city for a period of time

(ii) the monetary contribution to the City-State

(ii) the duty to own or build a house

(iv) the obligation to defend the City gate in person or through a paid deputy.

Here some examples

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The Statute of Siena (1296 a.C.) established that a foreigner could become citizen by submitting an application, to be approved by 2/3 of the City Commission (Consiglio della Campana) and the efficacy of the adjudication was subject to

(i) the payment of “100 soldi” to the Camerlengo; and

(ii) the obligation to build, within one year, a new house to be used as collateral for 10 years toward the City, to guarantee the duties assumed by the individual by becoming a citizen. (**)

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In Venice, citizenship could be granted to people or princes who had particular merits and has benefitted the city.

In Florence, the Grand Duke began to bestow Florentine citizenship by “grazia”, as a gift, in exchange for the payment of a tax and the obligation to reside in the city for a period of time.

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In the State of Savoy, citizens were obliged to reside in Turin, to make special donations in money to the Duke in case of necessity and to guarantee guard duty at the town gates.

Citizenship by investment in present times

The European Parliament and many scholars — for various reasons — have expressed concerns and objected to this practice. The main argument is that if citizenship becomes a commodity, the perception of citizenship itself — as bond of allegiance with a State and a community — could also be affected.

But is this practice really so bad? Some authors defend the sale of citizenship by pointing out that it is less arbitrary and more transparent than other ways of acquiring citizenship (such as those implied by the principles of jus soli and jus sanguinis, or discretionary naturalisation). Why should those who have citizen parents or who have been born in the state’s territory have a stronger moral claim to citizenship than foreigners who are ready to pay or invest?

It is also argued that monetary investment can be a way of contributing to the common good of a political community and should therefore not be summarily dismissed as a legitimate reason for acquiring citizenship.

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Can you obtain Italian citizenship by investment?

In Italy, it is possible to obtain residency — NOT CITIZENSHIP ! — by different forms of investment. There some agencies which advertise the possibility of acquiring citizenship by investing some funds, but this is a wrong information and it is fraud.

Citizenship can be acquired only if someone has Italian ancestors (ius sanguinis), by marriage, by naturalization (after 10 years of residency), for special merits.

Investor Visa

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Since January 2017, also Italy has introduced the possibility of acquiring residency by some forms of investments in the country. To qualify for the Investor Visathe applicant can:

  • purchase at least € 2 million in Italian government bonds — funds to be kept for a period of at least 2 years; or
  • invest at least € 500.000 in equity instruments of a company based and operating in Italy or € 250.000 in case of a start-up company; or
  • donate at least € 1 million philanthropic funding supporting projects of public interest in the field of culture, education, immigration, scientific research, recovery of cultural assets and landscapes.

Enterpreneur Visa

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Another option for indivuals who are willing to invest in Italy is to apply for a self-employment visa for entrepreneurs. The applicant shall submit a business plan including an investment of at least 500.000 euros and the creation of at least 3 new jobs in Italy.

Start-up Visa

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The Italia start-up visa program is aimed to entrepreneurs intending to relocate to Italy to set up an innovative start-up business (companies must meet the conditions set forth by law 221/2012) or to join an already established startup company.

The applicant must prove the availability of at least € 50,000 to be used for the sole purpose of establishing and operating the start-up and submit a detailed business plan for an “innovative” project with a strong character of technological innovation.

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Disclaimer: The information provided on this article (i) does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; (ii) are for general informational purposes only and may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information (iii) this website may contain links to other third-party websites. Such links are only for the convenience of the reader; (iv) readers should contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter.

Interesting reads:

(*) Anna Maria Pult Quaglia, Citizenship in Medieval and Early Modern Italian Cities, in Citizenship in historical perspective (2006, Pisa University Press)

(**) Dina Bizzarri, Ricerche sul diritto di cittadinanza nella costituzione comunale, Studi Senesi, 1916, Vol. XXXII (Vol. VII della II Serie) Fascicolo 1–3.StudioMazzeschi

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