October 28, 2008


Throughout the period that we are analysing within Livy's history, Rome was fighting several Italian cities and tribes. We shall turn to its successes and failures in a future post- though your blogger confesses that his interest does not lie as much in military history as in its constitutional consequences. But military victories led to results outside of Rome, that early on confronted the nascent Republic with a challenge of both government and of political strategy. What was the attitude of Rome to conquered peoples and even more importantly to conquered territories? The problem that Rome confronted was dual- firstly that Rome was 'originally founded upon alien soil' and 'had hardly any territory but what had been acquired in war' (IV 48) and the second being the more central and perplexing issue of maintaining control over these areas.

The first issue gave rise to great political quarrels- which for the moment we shall leave. The second though ran alongside it. Often Rome conquered territories that were not close to the city itself- were beyond the territories of Rome's allies and were in parts of Italy that would not enable people to return to Rome easily. The standard ancient way of dealing with this problem was to found a colony- a city made up of citizens from another city which would ally itself with the other city. Famous examples of colonies included places like Massilia and Syracuse in the Greek world- and one is tempted to think that the practise spread (like so much else from southern Italy). Of course not every city stayed allied to its mother city- Corcyra fought in the opposite side to Corinth in the Peloponesian war for example- and mostly they were very independent of their mother city.

Romans though saw the use of following this method- founding strategic colonies in the north of Latium to resist the Etruscans. They also reoccupied old city sites and fortified them after victories in war. Labici went to war with Rome alongside the Aequians in the 5th Century. Roman armies victored over the Labician armies and the senate 'passed a resolution to send settlers to Labici and 1500 people left Rome to settle there, with a grant of about one and a half acres each' (IV 48). One can see the attraction of leaving immediatly- the grant of land to the settlers was enough to make it a worthwhile cause for the poor- one can also see the dangers, the settlers in Labici were swiftly attacked by the Bolae and Aequians (IV 49) no doubt a testiment to the wisdom of their arrival. The Aequians interestingly enough did the same thing in Bolae (IV 49). We often think of the Roman empire as a provincial institution- but actually in the early days, Rome extended its territory by founding colonies which guarded hinterlands and positions.

In a sense this throws into relief an important thing to remember about early Rome- she was neither an empire nor a world power- but a central Italian city state, struggling with others. One of the ways that she did this was sending out excess population- that she could not provide for- to colonise places that her armies had conquered and driven the previous inhabitants from. In a sense, the impression Livy gives- and I think there are good reasons based partly on the availability of records and stories about the foundations of towns to beleive him- is of a great chess game across Latium being played by various powers sending out colonists. The relationship between these colonists and the mother city is not something Livy discusses much at this point- if there is a point at which I believe he is being coy, it is here, there is enough evidence from Greece to suggest that colonies took an independent trajectory at times.

The point I am making here is not that stunning- but it is important. We cannot think of the early Roman environs of being like the later ones- we have to think of Rome as a city state with allies and colonies rather than an empire with provinces and territories. Once we see that, we begin to understand the kind of political environment in which early Roman foreign policy operated- and also that one of the causes of the Republic's early social problems was (if we are to beleive Livy) the question of the distribution of land within these new colonies.


Crushed said...

That tendancy actually lasted quite late- it's only the reforms of Diocletian really change the provinces into equal territories of an equal empire. Up till then Rome was governed by Rome- only citizens of Rome itself hadc a say in anything.

Much like only the electors of British constituencies elected members to Westminster, which ultimatelyy could over rule the local parliaments in self governing colonies, like the Natal.

Gracchi said...

Crushed I suppose here I'm describing the earlier part of the process before there were provinces at all. But I agree with you- the Roman empire itself was not a continuous entity and thinking of it as a thing that spreads out through time in exactly the same form is madness- the reforms of Diocletian were the most spectacular examples of that change- but even Tacitus perceived that under the Principate affairs had switched their key location from the city to the frontier especially following 68 and I think the empire continued evolving before and after Diocletian.