NOVA  ROMA Interview



of the month


Interview of August

Prof H. Weber
Roman Italy: the Republican conquest of Italy, his organization and administration and his evolution during the Empire

The process of unification of Italy
by Aelius Solaris Marullinus

During republican times history testifies that Italy wasn't an unitary state belowthe egis of Rome but a confederation of Italic nations bind in Rome (sometimes very tight). The social war, begun before Caius Marius' death, provides the measure of this fragmented body which, however, wished to conform juridically in Rome. I come to my question: how and when will be created the conditions to consider Italy one nation with Rome? We can think that this process of unification and assimilation definitively closes the period of Rome understood as town /state?

The question is complex and it would require, to give a complete answer, a much larger space than the one I have. I'll just sketch a few problems, which I hope can be the starting point for further reflections.
First of all it is necessary to reach an agreement on the matter terms and on parameters to be taken into consideration to talk about unification. The first problem to be clarified is the one of the geographic limits of Roman Italy which, as it is well known, never coincided with the natural geographic borders nor those of the current nation: I am referring to Augustan times, and as we'll see it will represent a moment of the unification process; we have to clarify that in Roman Italy weren't included Sicily and Sardinia, which had the province statute. Some differences also have to be done for the northern borders: the superior valleys of Piedmont and part of Alto Adige were beyond Italy, while the current Canton Ticino and a large part of Istria were included.
A first fundamental parameter is the equalization of the juridical status among the inhabitants of Rome and those of Italy. In this regard, the social war of 91-88 b.C. represents a watershed. To resolve the revolt of his allies, Rome understood that were necessary some concessions: a first provision allowed the commandants of the Roman armies to grant the citizenship to the allies which were fighting at their orders; lex Iulia de civitate of 90 b.C. gave the concession to faithful socii (among them also the latin colonies) and to the rebels that had laid the weapons within a short timeframe; in the following year the lex Plautia Papiria extended the Roman statute to those who had gone to Rome to be registered by the magistrate within 60 days from law promulgation. At the end of the war, in fact, the Roman citizenship was extended to all the peninsula at the south of Po river: the inhabitants of the Transpadane, who were before the war in the condition of socii, received only the Latin Right, as for a lex Pompeia promulgated in 89 b.C. by Cn. Pompeus Strabo; only the old latin colonies, as Cremona and Aquileia, had the full Roman citizenship. The Cisalpine remained actually for almost half of the century in a paradoxical condition: despite it was deeply Romanized, it remained a province, in which Roman citizenship was still quite rare. The paradox was solved around 49 b.C., when Caesar extended the full Roman citizenship to all the inhabitants of the Transpadane Gaul, and 42 b.C., when the province of Cisalpine was abolished and the territory integrated in Italy.
But the concession of the citizenship by itself didn't mean so much: to practice their civic rights new citizens had to be registered on the lists of the census and on the tribe, that were the unity of votes of the most important popular meetings of Rome, the tax meetings. The matter goes on for long after the conclusion of the social war: to limit the potentially disruptive effects of the entry of thousands of new voters in the electoral body, it was chosen to insert the new citizens in a few number of tribes of new creation, or in only 8 of the old ones. At the end the new Cives were registered in all of the 35 tribe, but the burst of the civil war between the two factions of Sulla and Marius and the turbulent political period determined that only in the census of 70-69 b.C. was actuated the extent of Roman citizenship to all of the peninsula inhabitants. Anyway, sources remember that the number of the new Cives counted in the census of 70-69 b.C. was of 900.000 (according to Livius) or 910.000 (according to Flegon of Tralles), but we know that to be counted in a census citizens had to go to Rome and not all of the new Roman cives could afford the long and expensive journey to Rome. The spectacular increase in the number of Roman citizens of the census of the 28 b.C. (4.028.000 according to the Res gestae divi Augusti) was presumably due to the fact that the census operations of that year were decentralized in the municipalities of Italy, so reducing the number of the citizens who were escaping to the census.
A second aspect regards the real exercise of the rights and some of the duties connected to the Roman citizen's status.
The active and passive electoral right was only exercised by the elite of new Italic citizens: the vote operations, as those for census, used to have place in Rome and only a few times a rural man of Mutina or Bononia, e.g., could leave his field to take part to these meetings. However the Italic aristocracies were able to exploit the integration opportunities offered by their new statute: during the Augustan age the Senate truly became a meeting of the notable Italics, also because of the civil wars which had struck hard the old Roman aristocracy and opened the doors to a new managing class replacement. The Augustan phase represents the final step of a process of integration and assimilation of the Italic managing classes; this is a process that Rome had consistently pursued during all the period of its expansion, but not during the decades before the social war, when was emerging a closing attitude.
The integration of the popular classes of Italy rather took place through the service in the legions, reserved to Roman citizens. It was because of the military service in the Roman armies that the new Roman citizens could take part of the empire benefits, in particular by the war and earths spoils distribution upon the leave, and they recovered also some political action areas: not throughout the traditional republican structures and the right of vote in the popular meetings, from which they were actually widely excluded, but rather throughout the relationship of customers which was binding them to their commandant. In the last few years of the republican age, the voice of Italy raise louder above all through the armies of Caesar, Pompeus, Antonius and Octavianus.
A second aspect concerns the unification of the administrative and juridical structures. In this case the social war also represents a moment of changing: the integration of the Italics in the Roman citizenship involves the reorganization of the old states allied in the forms of municipia civium Romanorum, with a political organization which has a great deal of similar aspects.
A third level regards the cultural unification of Italy. In this case we also have to distinguish the destiny of the managing classes from that of the popular ones. The unification of the élite of Italy was widely already performed in II century b.C.: there was a common artistic and literary language, affected strongly by the Hellenistic culture, and there was a common frank language, the Latin. The assimilation procedeed slowlier in the lower classes: about the linguistic unification I ask you to read question number 2, but shortly it is possible to say that the process reached an arrival point, even if partial, only in Augustan age. With regard to the cultural aspect we have to notice that perhaps, instead of a real unification, we should talk about reunification, because until the VI sec b.C. the clues of a common Italic civilization are very clear.
I think that the process of unification of Italy finds its conclusive moment in the age of Augustus. Only in this period we can try to give a definition of the concept of Italy. Italy is not a province, and its inhabitants, unlike the provincials, are not submitted to a taxation directed to the their income; the jurisdiction is not committed to a governor sent by Rome, but it is in the hands of the same local magistrates elected in the single communities; moreover in Italy there are not allocated the troops of garrison typical of provinces (Italy was not however completely undefended, but the troops which stood there had a different attitude respect from the ones that are setted in the provinces: they are the pretorian cohorts, properly the body guards of the emperor, that stay in Rome, and two teams of the imperial fleet which respectively have base in Classe, near Ravenna, and Miseno, in the gulf of Naples.
It's however possible to advance also some positive definitions. The most interesting aspect of this Roman Italy is that all its free inhabitants have the full citizenship. However this is only a necessary, but not sufficient condition: there are Roman citizens who reside in the provinces too. Italian citizens have anyway some privileges: they can exercise the old republican magistracies of Rome, at least up to the age of emperor Claudius (it is likely that this privilege was introduced by Augustus). In Augustan age furthermore we have to remember the creation of seats detached in the municipalities of Italy, which was allowing the municipal advisers to vote in their towns and they did not have to go to Rome. It was furthermore reserved to Italics, at least for the first imperial times, the right to be registered in the lists from which the members of the juries of permanent courts were drawn, the quaestiones perpetuae, and to be body part of Roman army's quarrel, the already said praetorian cohorts.
The balance reached during Augustus' empire was still precarious for a simple reason: the Romanization of Italy was proceeding of equal step with empire Romanization. In this regard it is opportune to remember that Rome had extended its domain on a few transmarine areas, like Sicily, Sardinia and Spain, before conquering the full northern Italy; when Augustus took the borders of Roman Italy to the Alps, the empire was already extended on three continents.
Actually the empire history marks a progressive loss of the special role that Italy used to have during the last period of Republican age: with Claudius the access to the old republican magistracies and to the Senate is already opened to the notable of Transalpine Gaul; in the following decades the leading class of the empire is more and more open to the provincials, and at the end of II sec a.C., in Senate Italics represent a minority. Roman citizenship is progressively extended and concernes the civitas Romana for all the free empire inhabitants with the famous constitutio Antoniniana promulgated in 212 a.C. by Caracalla.
Military privileges of Italy lasted for longer: only at the end of II sec a.C. S. Severus firmly decided to place a legionary garrison near Rome, in Albano: the II Partic legion allocated here probably had to counterbalance to pretoriane cohorts, which was deeply reorganized, melting the old body formed by Italics with reliable elements drawn by his soldiers of pannonic origin.
Fiscal order substantially remained unchanged up to dioclezianean reforms, even if occasionally a few provincial towns, as for instance Leptis Magna under S. Severus, obtained the so-called ius Italicum, the complete equalization at an Italian town how concerning the taxation.
Under the administrative point of view M. Aurelius divided Italy into districts, and in each of them justice administration was directed by an official called iuridicus, chose by the emperor; moreoveran anticipation of this provision was already decided by Hadrian, who had instructed four ex-consuls for the jurisdiction of Italy. We cannot however talk about a true provincialization of Italy, becuase it could be setted from III sec a.C., when the emperor could entrust, even if temporarily, with a corrector for the government of an Italic area; this certainly happened with Diocletian, that institutionalized all division of Italy with 12 provinces. This reform takes anyway its root with the provisions of Marcus Aurelius.
In definitive, it was the "universal" dimension of Roman empire to prevent a "national" dimension of Italy: to use a very effective definition from Andrea Giardina, we can say that of Italy always remained an unfinished identity. The problem of the union of Roman Italy is just modern and not ancient: the debate about the possibility of doing of the ancient Italy a subject of unitary study arises in the XIX century, on the push of the political comparison on the country reunification and on the forms of its government (the federalist Carlo Cattaneo is an important figure in this development).
For as much as concerns the second part of this question, there is an obvious relationship between the unification of Italy and the transformation of the political structures of Rome, from those of a town-state to those of an imperial state. Already at the times of the Punic war (when Romanization of Italy was moving its first steps), the Roman state had lost one of the essential features of a polis: an extent and a number of inhabitants relatively limited, which assured the citizens the political possibility of directly participating to the government. Of other singing, at the eve of the Augustan Principatus, the forms of government of Rome were still remaining formally those of a town-state, even if the degree of unification of Italy had almost reached its apex. Augustus' reforms, who undoubtedly changed the structures of Rome in a deep way, were depending from the fact that the emperor could recruit the new class with a basis wider than in the past (whole Roman Italy), but they were descending above all from the necessity to govern a Mediterranean empire.

To know something more…

  • J. Mt. David, the Romanization of Italy, Rome - B plough 2002 ( Italian translation of the romanisation de the Italie, Paris 1994.
  • E. Gabba, the problem of unity of the Roman Italy, Italic the culture , E: etg_4 care. Bell tower, Pisa 1978, pp. 11-27; time in e. Gabba, Roman Italy, Como 1994, pp. 17-31.
  • E. Gabba, a few considerations on an identity national in the Roman Italy , Geographia Antiqua, 7 (1998), pp. 15-21.
  • A. Giardina, the Roman Italy. Histories of a unfinished identity, Rome- Cheats 1997, especially the cap. The the unfinished identity of Italians to Roman .

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