The success of the Romans in inducing other peoples to adopt their language and culture is one of the momentous achievements of European history. The process was long and difficult, beginning in Italy in the 4th Cent., BC and eventually concluding in the 2nd Cent., AD when virtually all free people of the Roman Empire enjoyed Roman citizenship.
When Rome freed itself from kings (509 BC), the Italian peninsula was home to a wide variety of cultures and languages (at least forty different languages and dialects have been identified). Some, like the Etruscans and the Greeks were highly urbanized. Much of the rest of interior was in the hands of various semi nomadic "Italic" groups. The Po River Valley, at this time not even considered part of Italy proper, was being settled by Gallic groups from across the Alps. By the time of Augustus some 500 years later, Rome was not only the leading city, but in fact had presided over an amalgamation of all of these cultures. "Rome" and "Italy" shared a common citizenship, language and official culture.
Historians have identified several patterns in this unique transformation. By adopting a policy that stressed collective defense against common external foes and by allowing a considerable degree of local autonomy, the Romans were able to retain the cooperation, if not the good will, of their allies even through difficult years. Moreover, and unlike other societies in the ancient Mediterranean, the Romans were ready to use citizenship to enhance their military power. Progress toward citizenship depended on loyalty to Rome and on the degree to which a community adopted Roman law and Latin culture. Romanization generally proceeded from the elite down.
In this module we examine the relationship between Rome and Italy during the Republic.
The first section documents Roman expansion in the Republic to the death of Augustus (AD 14). We use maps to trace the process by which defeated communities entered the Roman alliance and over generations acquired first a limited ('Latin right'), then full Roman citizenship. We examine also the final assimilation of Italy and Rome during the Late Republic when, following a bloody "civil" war, the allies finally gained full citizenship (128-84 BC).
In the second section we trace the expansion of the Roman citizen body by examining census data on Roman citizens. The numbers are compelling and dramatic: there were about 450,000 citizens in 130 B.C.; by 80 B.C., that number had risen to 900,000 and by the time of Augustus (ca. 15 B.C.) the number was over 4 million.
A second module, Romanization, maps this theme in the age of the Caesars.