Well there has been a discussion about the Roman Republic already, but I want to start a new discussion about a more specific topic - the Roman
conquest of Italy, which took place roughly from the foundation of the city in the 8th century BC to the 3rd century BC, (just before the Punic wars). This
thread is for discussion of everything relevant to Rome's rise to power in Italy, including the Samnites, Etruscans, Umbrians, Greeks, Gauls and other
peoples encountered by Rome, the Romans themselves, and the means by which Rome went from a small village to master of all Italy. Now before I begin, I'd
better state here that this is to be a thread for serious discussion only, like TheodenKing's recent weapons of WW2 thread. Here I set out my thoughts in
as much detail as I can manage, partly as an overview of the subject to be discussed, but also to provide as much material for discussion as possible. So,
let's begin at beginning.
Rome was founded, according to tradition, by King Romulus in the year 753BC. The city was located on the banks of the river Tiber, in central Italy. Little more than a collection of villages, with little wealth or social stratification, Rome at this time consisted of 'primitive wattle and daub huts with thatched roofs supported by timber posts'. At around this time, hut foundations together with simple fortifications were being constructed on the Palatine hill (the discovery of which has been used in modern times to suggest that there is a grain of historical truth in the myth of Romulus, the legendary founder of the city).
Meanwhile, Italy in 753BC was a divided peninsula. The Romans shared Latium with several other independent Latin speaking cities. Outside of Latium, Italy was dominated by three foreign groups: the dominant Etruscans to the north; the Samnites in the highlands of central and southern Italy; and the Greek colonies on the coasts of the south. The Etruscans dominated the area between the Tiber and Arno rivers. The Greeks were establishing themselves as colonists in southern Italy and Sicily, and were already beginning to migrate there in such numbers that the area was eventually to become known as 'Magna Graecia'. The Samnites were the dominant power in the central Italian highlands. Relative to Rome, the Etruscans were prosperous and advanced; likewise the Greeks; the Samnites were more rustic. Rome's power was so insignificant that the Etruscan City of Veii, located just 15 km from Rome, constituted one of its main rivals.
Such were the beginnings of a state that would one day dominate the Italian mainland almost completely, subduing Etruscans, Greeks (despite the efforts of the greatest Hellenistic general of the day, King Pyrrhus of Epirus), Samnites, and many other Italic peoples. It is now time to turn to a discussion of the factors that enabled this remarkable expansion to take place.
The Republic and its Constitution
Rome was originally ruled by a series of Kings (some of whom are believed to have been Etruscan in origin). Yet, after more than two centuries of monarchic rule, the last King of Rome was expelled in 509BC. I believe that this event was of supreme importance for the subsequent expansion of Roman power in Italy. This, I believe, is because the monarchy was replaced with a Republic whose institutions proved to be superior to those of any of its rivals in Italy. For this reason, I will now turn to an analysis of the Roman Republic and its institutions, in the hope that this will shed light upon the means by which Rome gained dominance and was able to expand in power and influence in ancient Italy.
Under the Roman Republic, supreme power passed to a pair of elected magistrates known as Consuls. These Consuls were the annually elected heads of state, and held office for one year only. The fact that an election was involved is remarkable enough, but the limited period was unprecedented, and has few direct parallels either before or since. Yet if its purpose was to limit the power of any individual in government, and prevent a return to monarchy, it must be regarded as a stunning success - nearly 500 years passed until Rome fell under monarchic rule again. Each of the Consuls also possessed the power to veto the actions their colleague in office - an ability which restricted the powers of the heads of state, thus sparing Rome from the worst excesses of absolutist rule. This system was one of Rome's major advantages, as it helped to ensure an internal balance of power that would not disappear until the final chaotic years of the Republic.
Over time, there developed a series of other lesser magistracies of the state, each following the principles of the Consulship - a one year tenure in office, and a collegiate structure whereby no office could be held by one single man, but must consist of at least two office holders. Meanwhile, the Roman Senate (originally a body of 100 patrician nobles, but later open to the 'plebs' who formed much of the rest of the population) advised the Consuls and other magistrates. Finally, the assemblies of Roman citizens elected the various magistrates of the state and voted on the proposals they put forward.
After c.494BC, the office of tribune of the plebs was established, in order to act as a spokesman for the plebs of the city. With powers of veto over the Senate and other magistrates, and with their persons being sacrosanct, the Tribunes protected the Roman people from unfair prosecution by magistrates, and passed legislation in their interests. Significantly, this last was achieved after the plebs walked out of Rome and refused to co-operate with the Patricians unless their demands for greater representation were met. The courage of the Roman people in making this demand is not irrelevant to the expansion of Roman power in Italy, since by their decision they achieved a form of government that was more successful than any other in Italy. Thus are the origins of the Roman Republic, a system which has been concisely summarised as "collective rule by Aristocracy…dependent on the will of a popular assembly".
Now, I believe that, for a state to gain most advantage, it is important that positions of leadership are allocated according to merit, not according to patronage or family connections. The Roman Republican system was designed to achieve this. The advancement of a political career under the Republic depended on a system known as the 'Cursus Honorum'- a strictly regulated career path leading through a series of offices of state. The early stages of the Cursus Honorum involved less prestige, while the later stages were immensely important and included the office of Consul - a post that was highly sought after because of the power and influence which it brought upon its incumbents. In order to qualify for each magistracy of the Cursus Honorum beyond the lowest level, a Roman politician must have completed the previous office. Each office could only be held by the same person once every ten years, and it was not permitted for anyone to hold more than one office at the same time. The relevance of this to Rome's rise to power in Italy is to be found in several points. By preventing individuals and small groups (such as a particular family) from monopolising power in Rome, the Republic increased the efficiency of Rome's government. In particular, the fact that it prevented any individual from holding multiple offices of state reduced the opportunity for corruption, and thereby increased efficiency. Secondly, it restricted the ambitions of Roman politicians, thus providing an orderly and carefully regulated route to supreme power - an attribute of the utmost importance for the stability and success of any political system. Thirdly, it promoted competition among would-be Roman officials, which helped to prevent weak candidates from holding posts of importance, while encouraging talented candidates to work hard to progress their political careers. Again, this resulted in greater efficiency on the part of the state.
Civilian control of the military was another of the factors that contributed to Rome's rise to dominance in Italy during the 5th-3rd centuries BC. Under the Republic, there was a smooth transition of power between one head of state and the next. Power was not to be seized by whomever had the largest army. This held true until the final century of the Republic; indeed, it is precisely the regular seizure of power by ambitious generals that destroyed the Republic in its final years. For approximately four-fifths of the Republic's existence, however, the regular and orderly transition of power from each pair of Consuls to the next gave the Roman state a massive advantage over some of its neighbours. The Samnites and the Gauls, for example, had no system to compare with this. Even the sophisticated Etruscans still had Kings until the early years of the fourth century BC. Their reliance on the leadership of individual absolutist monarchs and/or tribal leaders of varying quality meant that their confederations and states lacked the essential balance and long-term stability of the Roman Republic. The Romans were the beneficiaries of this situation. Without the disastrous periods of weak rule, internal instability and civil war that plagued many other peoples, the Romans were able to consistently take advantage of any weakness or disunity in their foes, while denying the opportunity for their rivals to do the same in return. This is a significant factor in the expansion of Roman power in Italy down to 264BC.
The Republic - the basis of Rome's power
The strength and stability of the Roman political constitution was a great asset. This was true in war, as in peace. Therefore it is worth considering the impact of the Republican Constitution on Rome's political reaction to warfare.
In 390/87BC, the Romans were defeated by an army of Gauls at the battle of the Allia. These Gauls then sacked the city of Rome, and extorted a large sum of gold from the defeated Romans as the price for their departure. Yet despite its dramatic nature and subsequent press, the sack was very limited in its effect on the course of history. The Romans quickly recovered; the Gauls did not stay long or destroy much of the city. The Romans showed an astounding ability to withstand the shock of defeat; their power and influence were barely affected. The Roman army soon returned to offensive warfare, campaigning in Etruria in the 380sBC. Victories in 389, 388 and 386 proved beyond doubt that the Gallic Sack had not seriously damaged Rome's power. The construction of the 'Servian' wall around Rome, beginning in 378, demonstrated that Rome was still functioning as normal. Indeed, as historian M. Crawford puts it, "…as if to symbolise that the Gallic sack changed nothing, the wall is built with turfa from the territory of conquered Veii."
This incident is important because it tells us something about the nature of Rome's power in Italy. It reveals that Rome's power was not based on ephemeral individual political or military victories, nor was it based on the prestige of a great war leader such as a King or a Tyrant. Rome's power was in the institutions of the Republic itself. It is the survival of these institutions that enabled Rome to rebound so quickly from what might have been a crippling disaster. A few defeats in battle were not enough to defeat Rome; while the Republic and its institutions remained, safe in Rome, defeats in the field were of little long term significance. This characteristic resilience is revealed again in Rome's dealings with King Pyrrhus of Epirus, during the years 280-275BC. Rome's success in the Pyrrhic wars spelled the end of the power of the Greeks in Italy, and the expansion of Roman power throughout the south of the peninsula.
Treaties, Colonisation & Citizenship
It is now time to turn to an examination of the methods and policies by which Rome was able to successfully maintain and extend its control in Italy. Firstly, colonisation. Rome founded many new cities across Italy - colonies (Latin municipia) - which were sometimes inhabited by Roman citizens, sometimes by Latins (e.g. Cales), and often by a mixture of both. Rome founded small colonies of Roman citizens to act as garrisons at certain specific vulnerable points along the coasts of Italy; colonies were often used to strengthen the borders of Rome and its allies. In this way they functioned as effective outposts of Roman power, projecting Roman influence and control far and wide across Italy.
Yet this is not the only contribution of the policy of colonisation to the expansion of Roman power in Italy. Colonies also functioned as centres of Romanization. Colonies enabled conquered peoples to buy into Roman civilisation through gaining Roman citizenship. For example, the historian Livy notes that "Some Ferentinates had enrolled as settlers in a Roman citizen colony in 195BC, and had thereby obtained Roman citizenship." A colony was a shining example of Roman civilisation and the advantages of Roman citizenship, and it invited conquered peoples to join the Roman people. In this way, colonies 'hoovered up' the populations of other regions, and made them into Romans. The fact that colonies were sometimes established at existing towns (e.g. Antium in 467BC) merely facilitated this process.
Finally, the policy of colonisation enabled conquered lands to be shared out among the Romans and their various allies. Roman officials founded each new colony and distributed the land. The Roman citizen contingent would be settled, along with other groups such as the Latins and the Hernici, for example, who could participate in any Roman colony. This practice again contributed to the expansion of Roman power in Italy, since it cemented the loyalty of the allies to Rome by allowing them to share in the gains of Rome's conquests. Thus the opportunity offered to these peoples by participation in a Roman colony gave them a strong incentive to fight hard for Rome, and then be rewarded accordingly. Thus both parties gained from the Roman practice of colonisation.
Secondly, treaties. Rome's use of treaties was a key component in the expansion of Roman power in Italy. Rome's dealings with the Latin league will illustrate this point clearly. The Latin league is a term used by modern scholars to describe "the coalition of Latin states that fought against Rome and afterwards concluded the Cassian treaty". Rome cemented its dominance over the Latins with the Cassian treaty (foedus Cassianum) of 493BC. Thought to be the work of Spurius Cassius, Roman Consul, the terms of the Cassian treaty were thus:
- Perpetual peace between the two parties
- Defensive military alliance; each party must help the other if attacked
- Each party does not assist or give free passage to enemies of the other
- The spoils of military campaigns are to be shared equally between the parties
- Commercial disputes between citizens are to be dealt with
- An annual meeting at Ferentina is instituted between the representatives of the parties
The alliance established by this treaty greatly increased the power of Rome, because it effectively added the military power of the Latins to Rome's own, giving Rome a great military tool and advantage in Italy. This was a great asset in dealing with rivals, whether outsiders from abroad or hostile groups within Italy. Yet the principles established in this treaty were not applied to the Latins alone. The terms of treaties with Rome's defeated enemies almost always involved an obligation to provide troops for Rome's military campaigns. Nor should it be forgotten that such treaties also allowed the defeated to join in the spoils of war in future campaigns; this gave them an incentive to stay loyal and to fight hard for Rome. Thus, almost every Roman victory increased Rome's military manpower, in turn making future victories even more likely, while furthermore the enemies of yesterday gradually became the Roman soldiers of tomorrow. One of Rome's greatest strengths was the "…generosity and flexibility of the ways in which she gradually bound the rest of Italy to herself and the manpower upon which she could call as a result".
It is surely significant that when Hannibal invaded Italy after c.220BC, very few cities in Italy deserted Rome, despite extreme pressure and several crushing Roman defeats. This proves the stunning success of Rome in dominating Italy by the second half of the third century BC. The last serious revolt had been in c.340BC, but even then few cities took part. By c.220BC at the latest, therefore, Rome's dominance in Italy had become unshakeable.
I will now discuss my third Roman policy - the use of citizenship. By the 4th century BC, many of the Latin states had become wary of the growing power of Rome, and so formed a military and political alliance against the Romans at that time. This resulted in the Latin revolt of 340-338BC, which was defeated by the Romans. Afterwards, the Romans took measures to prevent a repeat of the revolt by the use of citizenship.
- In Latium, many defeated Latin communities were incorporated into the Roman State. Their inhabitants became Roman Citizens; they had the right to vote.
- Latin cities not incorporated in the Roman State (Tibur & Praeneste) retained their status as independent allies. However, they did have to give up some territory. They were allowed the rights of marriage and trade (connubium et commercium) with Roman citizens.
- Defeated cities outside Latium were made 'civitas sine suffragio' - partial Roman citizenship. They had all the burdens and obligations of Roman citizenship, but they did not have the right to vote. However, they were allowed to retain their native institutions, which is a point of some significance in terms of reconciliation.
In these treaties, Rome dealt with each community individually. All confederations were dissolved. This weakened each individual state relative to Rome, making it easier for Rome to impose favourable terms upon them. The treaties also established a hierarchy of relations between Rome and the other Italic states. Rights and obligations to Rome defined the different categories. The effects of this approach were to allow Rome to 'divide and rule', and simultaneously to make each of Rome's neighbours feel individually favoured by Rome. The unique willingness of the Romans to accept 'foreigners' and welcome them as Roman citizens was a key component of Rome's rise to dominance in Italy.
The Roman Military
The army of the Kings
In the early period, before the establishment of the Republic, Rome's army was based on "…three tribes… the Ramnes, the Tities and the Luceres…" Each tribe provided 1000 men to the army, under a tribal officer. Therefore, the army was approximately 3000 strong, with a small detachment of noble 'equites' cavalry about 300 strong. However, the first signs of the Roman genius for military organisation comes with the reforms of King Servius Tullus, c. 580-530BC. Servius is said to have divided the Roman people into five classes, based on their wealth and thus their ability to equip themselves for war. Of the soldiers thus raised, those over the age of 46 were assigned to the defence of Rome itself, while the remainder formed the field army of Rome.
From the time of Servius onward, the Romans fought in the Greek manner as a force of approximately 4000 hoplites, supported by 600 cavalry. Mustered at the Campus Martius, the field of Mars, the soldiers of Rome marched to war in the same divisions in which they would vote under the Republic. These developments are important in terms of Rome's expansion in Italy, because they represent two things:
- The start of Rome's increasing superiority in terms of organisation over many of Rome's neighbours; and
- The characteristic Roman ability to adopt useful ideas from other cultures and make them strengths of Rome.
The impact of the Republic on the Roman army:
Under the Republic, the Roman army underwent many important changes; one of the most significant was the system of command. Applying the principles of the
Republic to the military system, the Romans gave command of the army to the Consuls, "the two supreme magistrates of the state, who held civil and
military power for a single year and were replaced by their successors in office. Each Consul usually commanded two of the Legions…Each Legion also had six
Military Tribunes, likewise elected in the assembly." The application of a Republic political system had a profound impact on the functioning of the army.
The importance of command in an army cannot be stressed enough. Under the Republic, the commanders of Rome's armies were usually not complete amateurs; the
Republic ensured that its armies were led by democratically elected magistrates, chosen (at least in principle) not because of their blood but because of their
merit, experience and/or military ability. The contrast with an autocratic military system, such as that of the Persian King Xerxes, could scarcely have been
greater. This is, I believe, one of the fundamental reasons for Rome's success - while the armies of many of Rome's enemies were commanded by men who,
because of their Royal or Noble blood, status and/or position, were often either incompetent, complacent, arrogant, vein, hubristic, or worse still suffered
from some combination of these vices, the commanders of Rome's armies were often chosen for their merit. Through this virtue, the Roman Republic was able
to mobilise the talent of its citizens more effectively than most of its rivals. The selfless achievements of the Roman hero Cincinnatus are an apt example of
this Roman talent for finding the right man and enabling him to achieve success, while simultaneously fostering a culture where he does not seize power.
One of the strengths of the Roman army at a tactical level was that it adapted and adopted good ideas from other cultures. The gladius sword, for example,
was from Spain. The scutum shield was from the Italic peoples, and much of the Roman cavalry was supplied by other peoples such as the Numidians, whose
assistance was a key part of the Roman victory over Hannibal at the battle of Zama in North Africa. Meanwhile by the 4th century BC, the majority of
legionaries were equipped with the pilum, a throwing javelin, instead of the more traditional spear. This was a significant tactical development. Yet perhaps
of still greater importance was the Roman use of battle formation. After the Gallic sack of Rome in 390/87BC, the Romans developed a more flexible battle
order, known as the maniple, which allowed detachments of soldiers to manoeuvre more freely in battle. Instead of forming one main battle line, the Romans
deployed for battle in a triple line formation known as the quincunx, which produced a chequer-board pattern. The first line in this Roman battle formation was
the hastati. The second line was the principes, and the third were the Triarii. The quincunx allowed the three lines to support each other while successively
wearing down the enemy. Bringing together fierce order and discipline with flexibility and resilience, the manipular legion was a key factor in Rome's
spectacular rise to power.
Overall, I believe that the success of the Roman Republic in expanding its power in Italy down to 264BC was not due to any one man, nor was it due to a specific success in battle. It was due in large part to the operation of an effective political constitution over a long period of time. The Romans bound Italy to the Republic by treaty, by citizenship and by colonisation. . Latin and Italian allies provided soldiers to Rome. Native populations were assimilated by Roman colonies. The formidable Roman army was a key tool of the Roman Republic and its expansion, but it was the stable, intelligent constitutional government of the Republic that enabled Rome's dominance in Italy to endure and expand in the long-term. The adaptability and resilience of Rome's military system was just one manifestation of the strength of the Republic. If we apply the concept of 'survival of the fittest' to the states and confederations of Italy during the 6th-3rd centuries BC, then it is possible to conclude that during these centuries, the Roman Republic showed itself superior to all its rivals, and the reward of that superiority was domination of Italy.
Well, those are my thoughts. Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to set out my ideas in as much detail as possible. Thanks for reading this far, and let the discussion begin!