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The Latin War and Rome's Expansion.

Rome was forged in violent struggle. Wedged between often hostile cities and civilizations from the Etruscans in the north, to Hellenistic cities of the south, Rome seemed to be forever poised between conquest and destruction. Aristocrats of the late republican period lauded their ancestors for their military discipline and glory. The frugality and duty of Cincinnatus appointed dictator and invested with Imperium while plowing his field, was held in great esteem by Cicero in the first century before the Common Era . This nostalgic conception of early Rome may not be too far removed from actuality. Roman history was dominated by almost perpetual warfare, but Rome’s might came not from mere force of arms. Tactical alliances and integration of defeated enemies provided the manpower necessary for empire. This strategy, which established and perpetuated Roman hegemony, was in large part developed by the political settlements enforced after the Latin War of 340-338 BCE. These settlements therefore, offer insights into the Roman state of mind and their methods of Empire building.

Prior to the settlements of 338, Rome had fought the Latins in the aftermath of their aristocratic revolution. In 493, Spurius Cassius than Consul, signed a treaty with the Latin league which ushered in a period of peace between Rome and Latium . The terms of the Foedus Cassianum, or Treaty of Cassius, outline a defensive military coalition with stipulation on the equal division of booty and mechanisms for the resolution of commercial disputes between private individuals . This alliance allowed Rome and Latium to effectively fend off incursions from foreigners, and conduct relatively inexpensive campaigns due to the diffusion of resource requirements among many cities. Most significantly, Rome secured for herself a leadership role within the alliance, providing the commander for the allied army during campaign.

Roman military leadership eventually led to the common identification of Latium with Rome, but this relationship while symbiotic was not equalitarian. According to Livy (c. 59 BCE – 17 CE), the roots of the Latin war lay in this inequality of authority . Demands were made by the Latins before the Senate of Rome, that one Consul is to be elected from Rome and one from Latium, and furthermore that half the Senate be comprised of Latins. These requests were rejected and war ensured. Culminating in a Roman victory, the Latin war allowed Rome to reassert its authority over Latium and impose new political settlements upon defeated enemies and allies alike.

Unlike the Foedus Cassianum, the settlements of 338 were tailored to individual cities and not to Latium as a corporate body. This innovation increased the tie between Latium to Rome, while simultaneously divided Latium from itself. Many Latin cities had the rights of Conubium and Commercium, intermarriage and trade, with Roman citizens. However, such rights and relations were severed between the citizens of different Latin cities . In addition to the dissolution of the Latin league and the segmentation of Latium, different cities received diverse statuses, affecting further demarcation between the cities of Latium.

The statues, rights and obligations of the Latin cities imposed by the settlements, were determined in part by the cities locality, role in the Latin War and past history with Rome. On one end of the spectrum, the Tiburtines and Praenestini were deprived of their lands, not only for participation with the Latin’s rebellion but for their past alliance with Gauls against Rome . Tusculum on the other hand, whilst a participant in the revolt was granted Roman citizenship, after the pro-war agitators had been put to death. Along with Tusculum, Lanuvium, Aricia, Nomentum and Pedum were incorporated into the Roman state as Municipium, or self-governing communities . This method of incorporation of non-Romans into Rome predates the 338 settlements.

Underneath the status of full Roman citizenship, there was also the civitas sine suffragio, citizenship without the vote, a method of integration which represented an innovation of the 338 settlements . This status conferred the rights of trade and intermarriage with non-roman cities, but denied them political rights. Hence the Roman state could expand, without necessarily diluting its traditional political institutions and power bases . Not all cities were incorporated into the Roman state proper, but remained at the status of independent allies. The continuum of statuses from alien to full citizen allowed for flexibility in Roman policy and advancement up the hierarchy of statuses provided incentives for the loyally of communities.

Livy characterized these new arrangements as “acts of generosity” which ensured the “good-will” of the conquered . Roman rule was relatively light upon the Italians, local government persisted and direct taxation was not initiated. However, in essence the settlements represented the end of Latin independence and the solid establishment of Roman hegemony and empire. The major obligation of the newly incorporated cities and allies was the provision of military forces in times of war. Polybius claims that Rome had recourse to a possible 700,000 infantry and 70,000 cavalry during Hannibal’s invasion of Italy . If Polybius is only approximately correct on the total man-power available to the Roman state, it still demonstrates the strength of the Roman mechanisms for integrating prior enemies and allies into their confederation, mechanisms of control largely established by the settlements of 338. Though, these settlements were built upon the precedent of the Foedus Cassianum, and as with the Treaty of Cassius Rome maintained their leadership role.

The Roman insistence upon leadership was an underlying cause of the Latin War and the settlements are a further product of this mind-set. They were unwilling to cede their hegemonic position without the necessary compulsion and managed to strengthen it further. Whilst the settlements of 338 were similar to the Treaty of Cassius, it differed in many key respects. Firstly, it dissolved the Latin league and divided Latium, which demonstrates the Roman application of the divide and conquer principle. Furthermore, the creation of a hierarchy of statues from full citizens to allies was an innovation of the 338 settlement and indicates that Rome was not rigidly conservative with regard to its foreign relations, outside its instance upon leadership and hegemony. The mechanism of control developed by the 338 settlements set the pattern for Rome’s conquest of Italy and the man-power for its expansion into the Mediterranean.

Written by Mathew Toll.


Dillon, Matthew and Garland, Lynda, Ancient Rome: From the Early Republic to the Assassination of Julius Caesar, (New York, 2005).

Cornell , T.J. The Beginnings of Rome: Italy and Rome from the Bronze Age to the Punic Wars (c. 1000-264 BC), (New York, 1995).

Crawford, Michel, The Roman Republic, (London, 1992).

Livy, The Early History of Rome: Books I-V of The History of Rome From its Foundation, (London, 2002).

Livy, Rome and Italy: Books VI-X of The History of Rome From its Foundations, (London, 1982).

Scullard, H.H., A History of The Roman World 753-146 BC, (New York, 1980).

(written, late 2008)


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