This is the second part (I, II, III, IV, V) of a series asking the question ‘Who were the Romans?’ How did they understand themselves as a people and the idea of ‘Roman’ as an identity? Was this a homogeneous, ethnically defined group, as some versions of pop folk history would have it, or was ‘Roman’ always a complex identity which encompassed a range of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious groups?
Last time, we presented the common pop-culture vision of the Romans, presented as a uniform or homogeneous cultural group, envisioned (especially in English-language productions) with white British actors speaking ‘the Queen’s Latin’ (that is, British English, often upscale and without strong regional accents). And we noted at the end that this depiction has filtered through into a certain set of folk historical theories about Rome, in particular the theory that Rome began as a homogeneous, ‘national’ state, achieved its conquests as a result of this supposed homogeneity, but then collapsed when it became multicultural due to its conquests. It’s a vision that imagines the Romans as a singular people who expanded outward militarily, but with an identifiable ethnic core.
Let anyone think I am tilting at strawman windmills here, I should note that within hours of that first post in this series going up, I got my first upset comment insisting that I had “either ignorantly or deliberately the differences between assimilable and un-assimilable cultural groups” and that such “un-assimilable” groups (the examples given being “Visigoths and the Jews” – because of course it’s the Jews, never mind that a Romanized Jew, Paul of Tarsus, is easily one of the most important historical figures of the last two thousand years and was by no means unique in his cosmopolitan outlook) became “a fifth column that destroyed Rome from within.” While we will not get to the Visigoths and the Jews today (though we will get to them later in the series), we’re going to see that this theory simply does not survive contact with the evidence in any meaningful way. But it is, I think, sustained by that deeply rooted pop-culture image which imagines the Romans exactly as they appear in film, TV and video games: as a bunch of white fellows speaking Latin with a British accent.
(As an aside, yes there are a lot of complications with terming this or that figure ‘Romanized’ which we’ll get to later. For now, I think it is sufficient to note that Paul had Roman citizenship, spoke Greek, had taken a Roman (Latin) name and was perfectly comfortable moving in non-Jewish circles in the Roman-controlled eastern Mediterranean.
Last time, we showed that far from beginning with an ethnically homogeneous core population, as this folk history theory supposes, every sort of evidence we have for early Rome, from the legends of the Romans themselves to the geographic, linguistic and archaeological evidence of the site, points to early Rome as a sort of ‘frontier town’ – a place defined as the meeting point of many quite different cultural groups. Unlike the poleis of the Greeks who, for all of their individual independence, largely shared a common religious and linguistic identity, these Italic peoples (who we’ll talk more about today) did not.
This week we’re going to march this story further, bringing our focus to how the Roman treatment of the different cultures of Italy evolved through the period of the Republic down to the mid-first century. That is unavoidably going to mean getting into some of the more legally dense concepts in Roman history, but I’ll try to keep this all approachable. In the end, understanding how Rome went from just one of Italy’s many self-governing cities to the dominant power in the Mediterranean requires understanding how the Romans handled all of those different Italian people as citizens and allies.
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What is a Roman?
Before we do that, though, we need to set some ground-work into how ‘being Roman’ was defined. Roman wasn’t, after all, a linguistic grouping (that would be ‘Latin’ though as we noted, many Romans were not ethnic Latins), nor was it a religious grouping (Roman religion was highly syncretic, though as we noted, many Romans practiced other religions, in whole or in part). Nor was it purely a cultural marker; there were people who shared nearly all of ‘Roman’ culture who could not say ‘I am a Roman’ but – as we’ll see going forward – also people with very different cultures, languages and religions who could make that proudest boast, civis Romanus sum.
And that, it turns out, is the key to the question: ‘Roman’ was at its core a legal status, defined by citizenship which marked membership in a community. And so to ask the question ‘who was a Roman’ is to ask a question fundamentally legal in nature – and for this week, that’s how we’re going to treat the question. Of course that is not the only lens to view the issue; we’ll come back to Roman attitudes later in this series, including both Roman acceptance and Roman bigotry that formed in the situations where social assumptions (or raw snobbishness) and the legal status diverged.
But fundamentally, being Roman was about a legally defined community membership and so those are the terms we are going to approach today. How did Roman citizenship work and how did one get it and thus become a Roman? Because it turns out, by ancient standards, Roman citizenship was radically expansionary.
But before we dive into how Roman citizenship worked, we need to have a baseline for how citizenship worked in most ancient polities so we can get a sense of the way Roman citizenship is typical and the ways that it is different. In the broader ancient Mediterranean world, citizenship was generally a feature of self-governing urban polities (‘city-states’). Though I am going to use Athens as my ‘type model’ here, citizenship was not exclusively Greek; Italic communities; Carthage seems to have had a very similar system. That said, our detailed knowledge of the laws of many of the smaller Greek poleis is very limited; we only know that the Athenian system was regarded more-or-less as ‘typical’ (as opposed to Sparta, consistently regarded as unusual or strange, though even more closed to new entrants than Athens).
Citizenship status was clearly extremely important to the ancients whose communities had it. Greek and Roman writers, for instance, do not generally write that ‘Athens’ or ‘Carthage’ do something (go to war, make peace, etc), but rather that ‘the Athenians’ or ‘the Carthaginians’ do so – the body of citizens acts, not the state. Only citizens (or more correctly, adult citizen-males) were permitted to engage in direct political activity – voting, speaking in the assembly, or holding office – in a Greek polis; at Athens, for a non-citizen to do any of these things (or to pretend to be a citizen) carried the death penalty. This status was a jealously guarded one. It had other legal privileges; as early as Draco’s homicide law (laid down in 622/1) it is clear that there were legal advantages to Athenian citizenship. After Solon (Archon in 594), Athenian citizens became legally immune to being reduced to slavery; non-citizen foreigners who fell into debt were apparently not so protected (for more on this, see S. Lape, Race and Citizen Identity in the Classical Athenian Democracy (2010), 9ff). Citizenship, for those who had it, was likely the most important communal identity they had – certainly more so than linguistic or ethnic connections (an Athenian was an Athenian first, a Greek a distant second).
So then who got to be a citizen? At Athens, the rules changed a little over time. Solon’s reforms may mark the point at which citizenship became the controlling identity (Lape, op. cit. makes this argument). While Solon himself briefly opened up Athenian citizenship to migrants with useful skills, that door was soon slammed shut (Plut. Sol. 24.2); citizenship was largely limited to children with both a citizen father and a citizen mother (this seems to have been more flexible early on but was codified into law in 451/0 by Pericles). Bastards (the Greek term is nothoi) were barred from the citizenship at least from the reforms of Cleisthenes in 509/8. This exclusivity was not unique to Athens; recall that Spartiate status worked the same way (albeit covering an even smaller class of people). Likewise, our Latin sources on Carthage – no Carthaginian account of their government (or indeed any Carthaginian literature) survives – suggest that only Carthaginians whose descent could be traced to the founding settlers had full legal rights. Under the reforms of Cleisthenes (509/8), each Athenian, upon coming of age, had their claim to citizenship assessed by the members of their respective deme (a legally defined neighborhood) to determine if they were of Athenian citizen stock on both sides.
It is worth discussing the implication of those rules. The rules of Athenian citizenship imagine the citizen body as a collection of families, recreating itself, generation to generation, with perhaps occasional expulsions, but with minimal new entrants. Citizens only married other citizens because that was the only condition under which they could have valid citizen children. Such a policy creates a legally defined ethnic group that is – again, legally – incapable of incorporating or mixing with other groups. In this sense, Athenian citizenship, like most ancient citizenship, was radically exclusionary. Thousands of people lived permanently in Athens – resident foreigners called metics – with no hope of ever gaining Athenian citizenship, because there were no formal channels to ever do so.
(As an aside, it was possible for the Athenian citizenry to admit new members, but only by an act of the Ekklesia, the Athenian assembly. For a modern sense of what that means, imagine if it was only possible to become an American citizen by an act of Congress (good luck with the 60 votes to break a filibuster!) that names you, specifically as a new citizen. We don’t know exactly how many citizens were so admitted into the Athenian citizen body, but it was clearly very low – probably only a few hundred through the entire fourth century, for instance. In practice, this was a system where there were no formal mechanisms for naturalizing new citizens at all, that only occasionally made very specific exceptions for individuals or communities.)
In short, while there were occasional exceptions where the doorway to citizenship in a community might open briefly, in practice the citizen body in a Greek polis was a closed group of families which replaced themselves through the generations but did not admit new arrivals and instead prided themselves on the exclusive value of the status they held. The fact that the citizen body of these poleis couldn’t expand to admit new members or incorporate new communities but had become calcified and frozen would eventually doom the Greeks to lose their independence, since polities of such small size could not compete in the world of great kingdoms and empires that emerged with Philip II and Alexander.
(For further reading on citizenship in Athens and the evolution of law around it, C. Patterson’s chapter, “Athenian Citizenship Law” in The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Law (2005), eds. M. Gagarin and D. Cohen is a good summary of what we know.)
Roman citizenship worked very differently (obligatory note: some of this is going to get quite legal; since our knowledge of Roman law is best for the Late Republic and the Empire, that is what I am going to focus on.)
Not in the particulars of political participation. As with other ancient self-governing citizen bodies, the populus Romanus (the Roman people – an idea that was defined by citizenship) restricted political participation to adult citizen males (actual office holding was further restricted to adult citizen males with military experience, Plb. 6.19.1-3). And we should note at the outset that citizenship was stratified both by legal status and also by wealth; the Roman Republic openly and actively counted the votes of the wealthy more heavily than those of the poor, for instance. So let us avoid the misimpression that Rome was an egalitarian society; it was not.
The most common way to become a Roman citizen was by birth, though the Roman law on this question is more complex and centers on the Roman legal concept of conubium – the right to marry and produce legally recognized heirs under Roman law. Conubium wasn’t a right held by an individual, but a status between two individuals (though Roman citizens could always marry other Roman citizens). In the event that a marriage was lawfully contracted, the children followed the legal status of their father; if no lawfully contracted marriage existed, the child followed the status of their mother (with some quirks; Ulpian Reg. 5.2; Gaius, Inst. 1.56-7 – on the quirks and applicability in the Republic and conubium in general, see S.T. Roselaar, “The Concept of Conubium in the Roman Republic” in New Frontiers: Law and Society in the Roman World, eds. P.J. du Plessis (2013)).
Consequently the children of a Roman citizen male in a legal marriage would be Roman citizens and the children of a Roman citizen female out of wedlock would (in most cases; again, there are some quirks) be Roman citizens. Since the most common way for the parentage of a child to be certain is for the child to be born in a legal marriage and the vast majority of legal marriages are going to involve a citizen male husband, the practical result of that system is something very close to, but not quite exactly the same as, a ‘one parent’ rule (in contrast to Athens’ two-parent rule). Notably, the bastard children of Roman women inherited their mother’s citizenship (though in some cases, it would be necessarily, legally, to conceal the status of the father for this to happen, see Roselaar, op. cit., and also B. Rawson, “Spruii and the Roman View of Illegitimacy” in Antichthon 23 (1989)), where in Athens, such a child would have been born a nothos and thus a metic – resident non-citizen foreigner.
The Romans might extend the right of conubium with Roman citizens to friendly non-citizen populations; Roselaar (op. cit.) argues this wasn’t a blanket right, but rather made on a community-by-community basis, but on a fairly large scale – e.g. extended to all of the Campanians in 188 B.C.. Importantly, Roman colonial settlements in Italy seem to pretty much have always had this right, making it possible for those families to marry back into the citizen body, even in cases where setting up their own community had caused them to lose all or part of their Roman citizenship (in exchange for citizenship in the new community).
The other long-standing way to become a Roman citizen was to be enslaved by one and then freed. An enslaved person held by a Roman citizen who was then freed (or manumitted) became a libertus (or liberta), by custom immediately the client of their former owner (this would be made into law during the empire) and by law a Roman citizen, although their status as a freed person barred them from public office. Since they were Roman citizens (albeit with some legal disability), their children – assuming a validly contracted marriage – would be full free-born Roman citizens, with no legal disability. And, since freedmen and freedwomen were citizens, they also could contract valid marriages with other Roman citizens, including freeborn ones (note the caption below, for instance). While most enslaved people in the Roman world had little to no hope of ever being manumitted (enslaved workers, for instance, on large estates far from their owners), Roman economic and social customs functionally required a significant number of freed persons and so a meaningful number of new Roman citizens were always being minted in the background this way. Rome’s apparent liberality with admission into citizenship seems to have been a real curiosity to the Greek world.
These processes thus churned in the background, minting new Romans on the edges of the populus Romanus who subsequently became full members of the Roman community and thus shared fully in the Roman legal identity. But there was one other major way to become a Roman citizen, which was to be granted the status for services rendered to Rome. And for that we need to, at last, turn to the many other peoples of Italy and talk about…
The Roman Republic spent its first two and a half centuries (or so) expanding fitfully through peninsular Italy (that is, Italy south of the Po River Valley, not including Sicily). This isn’t the place for a full discussion of the slow process of expanding Roman control (which wouldn’t be entirely completed until 272 with the surrender of Tarentum). The consensus position on the process is that it was one in which Rome exploited local rivalries to champion one side or the other making an ally of the one by intervening and the other by defeating and subjecting them (this view underlies the excellent M.P. Fronda, Between Rome and Carthage: Southern Italy During the Second Punic War (2010); E.T. Salmon, The Making of Roman Italy (1982) remains a valuable introduction to the topic). More recently, N. Terranato, The Early Roman Expansion into Italy (2019) has argued for something more based on horizontal elite networks and diplomacy, though this remains decidedly a minority opinion (I myself am rather closer to the consensus position, though Terranato has a point about the role of elite negotiation in the process).
The simple (and perhaps now increasingly dated) way I explain this to my students is that Rome follows the Goku Model of Imperialism: I beat you, therefore we are now friends. Defeated communities in Italy (the system is different outside of Italy) are made to join Rome’s alliance network as socii (‘allies’), do not have tribute imposed on them, but must supply their soldiers to fight with Rome when Rome is at war, which is always.
It actually doesn’t matter for us how this expansion was accomplished; rather we’re interested in the sort of order the Romans set up when they did expand. The basic blueprint for how Rome interacted with the Italians may have emerged as early as 493 with the Foedus Cassianum, a peace treaty which ended a war between Rome and Latin League (an alliance of ethnically Latin cities in Latium). To simplify quite a lot, the Roman ‘deal’ with the communities of Italy which one by one came under Roman power went as follows:
- All subject communities in Italy became socii (‘allies’). This was true if Rome actually intervened to help you as your ally, or if Rome intervened against you and conquered your community.
- The socii retained substantial internal autonomy (they kept their own laws, religions, language and customs), but could have no foreign policy except their alliance with Rome.
- Whenever Rome went to war, the socii were required to send soldiers to assist Rome’s armies; the number of socii in Rome’s armies ranged from around half to perhaps as much as two thirds at some points (though the socii outnumbered the Romans in Italy about 3-to-1 in 225, so the Romans made more strenuous manpower demands on themselves than their allies).
- Rome didn’t impose tribute on the socii, though the socii bore the cost of raising and paying their detachments of troops in war (except for food, which the Romans paid for, Plb. 6.39.14).
- Rome goes to war every year.
- No, seriously. Every. Year. From 509 to 31BC, the only exception was 241-235. That’s it. Six years of peace in 478 years of republic. The socii do not seem to have minded very much; they seem to have generally been as bellicose as the Romans and anyway…
- The spoils of Roman victory were split between Rome and the socii. Consequently, as one scholar memorably put it, the Roman alliance was akin to, “a criminal operation which compensates its victims by enrolling them in the gang and inviting them to share to proceeds of future robberies” (T. Cornell, The Beginnings of Rome (1995)).
- The alliance system included a ladder of potential relationships with Rome which the Romans might offer to loyal allies.
Now this isn’t a place for a long discussion of the Roman alliance system in Italy (that place is in the book I am writing), so I want us to focus more narrowly on the bolded points here and how they add up to significant changes in who counted as ‘Roman’ over time. But I should note here that while I am calling this a Roman ‘alliance system’ (because the Romans call these fellows socii, allies) this was by no means an equal arrangement: Rome declared the wars, commanded the armies and set the quotas for military service. The ‘allies’ were thus allies in name only, but in practice subjects; nevertheless the Roman insistence on calling them allies and retaining the polite fiction that they were junior partners rather than subject communities, by doing things like sharing the loot and glory of victory, was a major contributor to Roman success (as we’ll see).
First, the Roman alliance system was split into what were essentially tiers of status. At the top were Roman citizens optimo iure (‘full rights,’ literally ‘with the best right’) often referred to on a community basis as civitas cum suffragio (‘citizenship with the vote’). These were folks with the full benefits of Roman citizenship and the innermost core of the Roman polity, who could vote and (in theory, though for people of modest means, only in theory) run for office. Next were citizens non optimo iure, often referred to as having civitas sine suffragio (citizenship without the vote); they had all of the rights of Roman citizens except for political participation in Rome. This was almost always because they lived in communities well outside the city of Rome with their own local government (where they could vote); we’ll talk about how you get those communities in a second. That said, citizens without the vote still had the right to hold property in Roman territory and conduct business with the full protection of a Roman citizen (ius commercii) and the right to contract legal marriages with Roman citizens (ius conubii discussed above). They could do everything except for vote or run for offices in Rome itself.
Next down on the list were socii (allies) of Latin status (note this is a legal status and is entirely disconnected from Latin ethnicity; by the end of this post, Rome is going to be block-granting Latin status to Gauls in Cisalpine Gaul, for instance). Allies of Latin status got the benefits of the ius commercii, as well as the ability to move from one community with Latin status to another without losing their status. Unlike the citizens without the vote, they didn’t automatically get the right to contract legal marriages with Roman citizens, but in some cases the Romans granted that right to either individuals or entire communities (scholars differ on exactly how frequently those with Latin status would have conubium with Roman citizens; the traditional view is that this was a standard perk of Latin status, but see Roselaar, op. cit.). That said, the advantages of this status were considerable – particularly the ability to conduct business under Roman law rather than what the Romans called the ‘ius gentium‘ (‘law of peoples’) which governed relations with foreigners (peregrini in Roman legal terms) and were less favorable (although free foreigners in Rome had somewhat better protections, on the whole, than free foreigners – like metics – in a Greek polis).
Finally, you had the socii who lacked these bells and whistles. That said, because their communities were allies of Rome in Italy (this system is not exported overseas), they were immune to tribute, Roman magistrates couldn’t make war on them and Roman armies would protect them in war – so they were still better off than a community that was purely of peregrini (or a community within one of Rome’s provinces; Italy was not a province, to be clear).
The key to this system is that socii who stayed loyal to Rome and dutifully supplied troops could be ‘upgraded’ for their service, though in at least some cases, we know that socii opted not to accept Roman citizenship but instead chose to keep their status as their own community (the famous example of this were the allied soldiers of Praenesti, who refused Roman citizenship in 211, Liv. 23.20.2). Consequently, whole communities might inch closer to becoming Romans as a consequence of long service as Rome’s ‘allies’ (most of whom, we must stress, were at one point or another, Rome’s Italian enemies who had been defeated and incorporated into Rome’s Italian alliance system).
But I mentioned spoils and everyone loves loot. When Rome beat you, in the moment after you lost, but before the Goku Model of Imperialism kicked in and you became friends, the Romans took your stuff. This might mean they very literally sacked your town and carried off objects of value, but it also – and for us more importantly – meant that the Romans seized land. That land would be added to the ager Romanus (the body of land in Italy held by Rome directly rather than belonging to one of Rome’s allies). But of course that land might be very far away from Rome which posed a problem – Rome was, after all, effectively a city-state; the whole point of having the socii-system is that Rome lacked both the means and the desire to directly govern far away communities. But the Romans didn’t want this land to stay vacant – they need the land to be full of farmers liable for conscription into Rome’s armies (there was a minimum property requirement for military service because you needed to be able to buy your own weapons so they had to be freeholding farmers, not enslaved workers). By the by, you can actually understand most of Rome’s decisions inside Italy if you just assume that the main objective of Roman aristocrats is to get bigger armies so they can win bigger battles and so burnish their political credentials back in Rome – that, and not general altruism (of which the Romans had fairly little), was the reason for Rome’s relatively generous alliance system.
The solution was for Rome to essentially plant little Mini-Me versions of itself on that newly taken land. This had some major advantages: first, it put farmers on that land who would be liable for conscription (typically placing them in carefully measured farming plots through a process known as centuriation), either as socii or as Roman citizens (typically without the vote). Second, it planted a loyal community in recently conquered territory which could act as a position of Roman control; notably, no Latin colony of this sort rebelled against Rome during the Second Punic War when Hannibal tried to get as many of the socii to cast off the Romans as he could.
What is important for what we are doing here is to note that the socii seem to have been permitted to contribute to the initial groups settling in these colonies and that these colonies were much more tightly tied to Rome, often having conubium – that right of intermarriage again – with Roman citizens. The consequence of this is that, by the late third century (when Rome is going to fight Carthage) the ager Romanus – the territory of Rome itself – comprises a big chunk of central Italy (as seen in the map below) but the people who lived there as Roman citizens (with and without the vote) were not simply descendants of that initial Roman citizen body, but also a mix of people descended from communities of socii throughout Italy.
So just who were all of these socii? Well…
A Word About the Socii
In one way, pre-Roman Italy was quite a lot like Greece: it consisted of a bunch of independent urban communities situated on the decent farming land (that is the lowlands), with a number of less-urban tribal polities stretching over the less-farming-friendly uplands. While pre-Roman urban communities weren’t exactly like the Greek polis, they were fairly similar. Greek colonization beginning in the eighth century added actual Greek poleis to the Italian mix and frankly they fit in just fine. On the flip side, there were the Samnites, a confederation of tribal communities with some smaller towns occupying mostly rough uplands not all that dissimilar to the Greek Aetolians, a confederation of tribal communities and smaller towns occupying mostly rough uplands.
In one very important way, pre-Roman Italy was very much not like Greece: whereas in Greece all of those communities shared a single language, religion and broad cultural context, Roman Italy was a much more culturally complex place. Consequently, as the Romans slowly absorbed pre-Roman Italy into the Roman Italy of the Republic, that meant managing the truly wild variety of different peoples in their alliance system. Let’s quickly go through them all, moving from North to South.
The Romans called the region south of the Alps but north of the Rubicon River Cisalpine Gaul and while we think of it as part of Italy, the Romans did not. That said, Gallic peoples had pushed into Italy before and a branch of the Senones occupied the lands between Ariminum and Ancona. Although Gallic peoples were always a factor in Italy, the Romans don’t seem to have incorporated their communities as socii; indeed the Romans were generally at their most ruthless when it came to interactions with Gallic peoples (despite the tendency to locate the ‘unassimilable’ people on the Eastern edge of Rome’s empire, it was in fact the Gauls that the Romans most often considered in this way, though as we will see, wrongly so). That’s not to say that there was no cultural contact, of course; the Romans ended up adopting almost all of the Gallic military equipment set, for instance. In any event, it wouldn’t be until the late first century BCE that Cisalpine Gaul was merged into Italy proper, so we won’t deal too much with the Gauls just yet. I do want to note that, when we are thinking about the diversity of the place, even to speak of ‘the Gauls’ is to be terribly reductive, as we are really thinking of at least half a dozen different Gallic peoples (Senones, Boii, Inubres, Lingones, etc) along with the Ligures and the Veneti, who may have been blends of Gallic and Italic peoples (though we are more poorly informed about both than we’d like).
Moving south then, we first meet the Etruscans, who we’ve already discussed, their communities – independent cities joined together in defensive confederations before being converted into allies of the Romans – clustered on north-western coast of Italy. They had a language entirely unrelated to Latin – or indeed, any other known language – and their own unique religion and culture. The Romans adopted some portions of that culture (in particular the religious practices) but the Etruscans remained distinct well into the first century. While a number of Etruscan communities backed the Samnites in the Third Samnite War (298-290 BC) culminating in the Battle of Sentinum (295) as a last-ditch effort to prevent Roman hegemony over the peninsula, the Etruscans subsequently remained quite loyal to Rome, holding with the Romans in both the Second Punic and Social Wars. It is important to keep in mind that while we tend to talk about ‘the Etruscans’ (as the Romans sometimes do) they would have thought of themselves first through their civic identity, as Perusines, Clusians, Populinians and so on (much like their Greek contemporaries).
Moving further south, we have the peoples of the Apennines (the mountain range that cuts down the center of Italy). The people of the northern Apennines were the Umbri (that is, Umbrian speakers), though this linguistic classification hides further cultural and political differences. We’ve met the Sabines – one such group, but there were also the Volsci and Marsi (the latter particularly well known for being hard fighters as allies to Rome; Appian reports that the Marsi had a saying prior to the Social War, “No Triumph against the Marsi nor without the Marsi”). Further south along the Apennines were the Oscan speakers, most notably the Samnites (who resisted the Romans most strongly) but also the Lucanians and Paelignians (the latter also get a reputation for being hard fighters, particularly in Livy). The Umbrian and Oscan language families are related (though about as different from each other as Italian from Spanish; they and Latin are not generally mutually intelligible) and there does seem to have been some cultural commonality between these two large groups, but also a lot of differences. Their religion included a number of practices and gods unknown to the Romans, some later adopted (Oscan Flosa adapted as Latin Flora, goddess of flowers) and some not (e.g. the ‘Sacred Spring’ rite, Strabo 5.4.12).
Also Oscan speakers, the Campanians settled in Campania (surprise!) at some early point (perhaps around 1000-900 BC) and by the fifth century were living in urban communities politically more similar to Latium and Etruria (or Greece, which will make sense in a moment) than their fellow Oscan speakers in the hills above, to the point that the Campanians turned to Rome to aid them against the also-Oscan-speaking Samnites. The leading city of the Campanians was Capua, but as Fronda (op. cit.) notes, they were meaningful divisions among them; Capua’s very prominence meant that many of the other Campanians were aligned against it, a division the Romans exploited.
The Oscans struggled for territory in Southern Italy with the Greeks – told you we’d get to them. The Greeks founded colonies along the southern part of Italy, expelling or merging with the local inhabitants beginning in the seventh century. These Greek colonies have distinctive material culture (though the Italic peoples around them often adopted elements of it they found useful), their own language (Greek), and their own religion. I want to stress here that Greek religion is not equivalent to Roman religion, to the point that the Romans are sticklers about which gods are worshiped with Roman rites and which are worshiped with the ritus graecus (‘Greek rites’) which, while not a point-for-point reconstruction of Greek rituals, did involve different dress, different interpretations of omens, and so on.
All of these peoples (except the Gauls) ended up in Rome’s alliance system, fighting as socii in Rome’s wars. The point of all of this is that this wasn’t an alliance between, say, the Romans and the ‘Italians’ with the latter being really quite a lot like the Romans except not being from Rome. Rather, Rome had constructed a hegemony (an ‘alliance’ in name only, as I hope we’ve made clear) over (::deep breath::) Latins, Romans, Etruscans, Sabines, Volsci, Marsi, Lucanians, Paelignians, Samnites, Campanians, and Greeks, along with some people we didn’t mention (the Falisci, Picenes – North and South, Opici, Aequi, Hernici, Vestini, etc.). Many of these groups can be further broken down – the Samnites consisted of five different tribes in a confederation, for instance.
In short, Roman Italy under the Republic was preposterously multicultural (in the literal meaning of that word)…and it turns out that’s why they won.
Roman Strength in the Crucible
With the end of the Third Samnite War in 290 and the Pyrrhic War in 275, Rome’s dominance of Italy and the alliance system it constructed was effectively complete. This was terribly important because the century that would follow, stretching from the start of the First Punic War in 264 to the end of the Third Macedonian War in 168 (one could argue perhaps even to the fall of Numantia in 133) put the Roman military system and the alliance that underpinned it to a long series of sore tests. This isn’t the place for a detailed recounting of the wars of this period, but in brief, Rome would fight major wars with three of the four other Mediterranean great powers: Carthage (264-241, 218-201, 149-146), Antigonid Macedon (214-205, 200-196, 172-168, 150-148) and the Seleucid Empire (192-188), while at the same time engages in a long series of often quite serious wars against non-state peoples in Cisalpine Gaul (modern north Italy) and Spain, among others. It was a century of iron and blood that tested the Roman system to the breaking point.
It certainly cannot be said of this period that the Romans always won the battles (though they won more than their fair share, they also lost some very major ones quite badly) or that they always had the best generals (though, again, they tended to fare better than average in this department). Things did not always go their way; whole armies were lost in disastrous battles, whole fleets dashed apart in storms. Rome came very close at points to defeat; in 242, the Roman treasury was bankrupt and their last fleet financed privately for lack of funds (Plb. 1.59.6-7). During the Second Punic War, at one point the Romans censors checked the census records of every Roman citizen liable for conscription and found only 2,000 men of prime military age (out of perhaps 200,000 or so; Taylor (2020), 27-41 has a discussion of the various reconstructions of Roman census figures here) who hadn’t served in just the previous four years (Liv. 24.18.8-9). In essence the Romans had drafted everyone who could be drafted (and the 2,000 remainders were stripped of citizenship on the almost certainly correct assumption that the only way to not have been drafted in those four years but also not have a recorded exemption was intentional draft-dodging).
And the military demands made on Roman armies and resources were exceptional. Roman forces operated as far east as Anatolia and as far west as Spain at the same time. Livy, who records the disposition of Roman forces on a year-for-year basis during much of this period (we are uncommonly well informed about the back half of the period because those books of Livy mostly survive), presents some truly preposterous Roman dispositions. Brunt (Italian Manpower (1971), 422) figures that the Romans must have had something like 225,000 men under arms (Romans and socii) each year between 214 and 212, immediately following a series of three crushing defeats in which the Romans probably lost close to 80,000 men. I want to put that figure in perspective for a moment: Alexander the Great invaded the entire Persian Empire with an army of 43,000 infantry and 5,500 cavalry. The Romans, having lost close to Alexander’s entire invasion force twice over, immediately raised more than four times as many men and kept fighting.
These armies were split between a bewildering array of fronts (e.g. Liv 24.10 or 25.3): multiple armies in southern Italy (against Hannibal and rebellious socii now supporting him), northern Italy (against the Cisalpine Gauls, who also backed Hannibal) and Sicily (where Syracuse threatened revolt) and Spain (a Carthaginian possession) and Illyria (fighting the Antigonids) and with fleets active in both the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Sea supporting those operations. And of course a force defending Rome itself because did I mention Hannibal was in Italy?
If you will pardon me embellishing a Babylon 5 quote, “Only an idiot fights a war on two fronts. Only the heir to the throne of the kingdom of idiots would fight a war on twelve fronts.” And apparently, only the Romans would then win that war anyway.
(I should note that, for those interested in reading up on this, the state-of-the-art account of Rome’s ability to marshal these truly incredible amounts of resources and especially men is the aforementioned, M. Taylor, Soldiers & Silver (2020), which presents the consensus position of scholars better than anything else out there. I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that my own book project takes aim at this consensus and hopes to overturn parts of it, but seeing as how my book isn’t done, for now Taylor holds the field (also it’s a good book which is why I recommended it)).
How was this possible?
The answer very clearly comes down to the socii. Polybius preserves for us a fascinating bit of information here: in 225, the Romans took a census of every Roman liable for conscription but also had all of the socii do the same. There are some quirks to this data (by which I mean historians have been arguing about it for decades), but in brief, Polybius notes that the Romans figured they had 299,200 infantry and 26,100 cavalry liable for conscription. Of course these could not all be called up at once (someone needed to farm things, after all) and as a total this is not much more formidable than the ethnic Macedonian core of the Antigonid kingdom in Macedonia – the weakest major Mediterranean power (for an estimate of Antigonid manpower, see Billows, Kings and Colonists: Aspects of Macedonian Imperialism (1995)). Clarity comes then with the report that the socii had between them around 400,000 infantry and 43,000 cavalry, bringing the total number of men available for conscription by the Romans in an emergency to an absolutely stunning 770,000 men liable for conscription. That balance of forces was born out in the wars to come: the socii generally made up around half – sometimes a bit more, never much less – of each Roman army (that meant, by the by, that the average Roman served a few more years in the army than the average ally, on this see N. Rosenstein, Rome at War: Farms, Families and Death in the Middle Republic (2004)).
Consequently, it was Rome’s ability to mobilize their diverse, multicultural socii-system which provided them with the resources to withstand the battering they took in this iron century and come out on top as the uncontested hegemon of the Mediterranean world. Far from weakening Rome, it was the very diversity of its coalition which enabled it to mobilize the tremendous resources required. Had the Romans – like many of their Macedonian rivals – been unwilling or unable to make full use of the non-Romans of Italy, they’d have surely been defeated. And had the Romans insisted – like both their Macedonian and Carthaginian rivals – of imposing tribute and blatant subordination on the peoples they had subdued, they’d never have been able to maintain the loyalty of those socii through all of the setbacks (though, as you can see above, not all of the socii were so loyal). Instead, the Romans kept up the polite fiction that their socii were equal allies (even when they clearly weren’t), accorded them a share of the spoils, a share of the honor and didn’t interfere overmuch in their domestic affairs.
None of this is to make the Romans out to be nice, cuddly teddy-bears. The Romans were not nice for the sake of it. Instead at every stage of Rome’s Italian expansion, its leaders prioritized developing more military power over reaping other possible rewards of empire; that hard-nosed and bellicose set of priorities, not a commitment to tolerance or any such thing, led the Romans to a system which employed significant cross-cultural tolerance as a tool to raise and focus military power.
That focus is fairly evident when we look forward to the Social War.
The Social War: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Rome’s tremendous run of victories from 264 to 168 (and beyond) fundamentally changed the nature of the Roman state. The end of the First Punic War (in 241) brought Rome its first overseas province, Sicily which wasn’t integrated into the socii-system that prevailed in Italy. Part of what made the socii-system work is that while Etruscans, Romans, Latins, Samnites, Sabines, S. Italian Greeks and so on had very different languages, religions and cultures, centuries of Italian conflict (and then decades of service in Rome’s armies) had left them with fairly similar military systems, making it relatively easy to plug them in to the Roman army. Moreover, being in Rome’s Italian neighborhood meant that Rome could simply inform the socii of how many troops they were expected to supply that year and the socii could simply show up at the muster at the appointed time (which is how it worked, Plb. 6.21.4). Communities on Sicily (or other far-away places) couldn’t simply walk to the point of muster and might be more difficult to integrate into core Roman army. Moreover, because they were far away and information moves slowly in antiquity, Rome was going to need some sort of permanent representative present in these places anyway, in a way that was simply unnecessary for Italian communities.
Consequently, instead of being added to the system of the socii, these new territories were organized as provinces (which is to say they were assigned to the oversight of a magistrate, that’s what a provincia is, a job, not a place). Instead of contributing troops, they contributed taxes (in money and grain) and the subordination of these communities was much more direct, since communities within a province were still under the command of a magistrate.
We’ll get to the provinces and their role in shaping Roman attitudes towards identity and culture a bit later, but for the various peoples of Roman Italy, the main impact of this shift was to change the balance of rewards for military service. Whereas before most of the gains of conquest were in loot and land – which the socii shared in – now Roman conquests outside of Italy created permanent revenue streams (taxes!) which flowed to Rome only. Roman politicians began attempting to use those revenue streams to provide public goods to the people – land distribution, free military equipment, cheap grain – but these benefits, provided by Rome to its citizens, were unavailable to the socii.
At the same time, as the close of the second century approached, it became clear that the opportunity to march up the ladder of status was breaking down, consumed by the increasingly tense maelstrom of the politics of the Republic. In essence while it was obvious as early as the 120s (and perhaps earlier) that a major citizenship overhaul was needed which would extend some form of Roman citizenship to many of the socii, it seems that everyone in Rome’s political class was conscious that whoever actually did it would – by virtue of consolidating all of those new citizens behind them as a political bloc – gain immensely in the political system. Consequently, repeated efforts in the 120s, the 100s and the 90s failed, caught up in the intensifying gridlock and political dysfunction of Rome in the period.
Consequently, just as Rome’s expanding empire had made citizenship increasingly valuable, actually getting that citizenship was made almost impossible by the gridlock of Rome’s political system gumming up the works of the traditional stepwise march up the ladder of statuses in the Roman alliance.
Finally in 91, after one last effort by Livius Drusus, a tribune of the plebs, failed, the socii finally got fed up and decided to demand with force what decades of politics had denied them. It should be stressed that the motivations behind the resulting conflict, the Social War (91-87), were complex; some Italians revolted for citizenship, some to get rid of the Romans entirely. The sudden uprising by roughly half of the socii at last prompted Rome to act – in 90, the Romans offered citizenship to all of the communities of socii who had stayed loyal (as a way of keeping them so). That offer was quickly extended to rebellious socii who laid down arms and rejoined the Romans. The following year, the citizenship grant was extended to communities which had missed the first one. The willingness to finally extend citizenship won Rome the war, as the socii who had only wanted equality with the Romans, being offered it, switched sides to get it, leaving only a handful of the hardest cases (particularly the Samnites, who never missed an opportunity to rebel against Rome) isolated and vulnerable.
The consequence of the social war was that the slow process of minting new citizens or of Italian communities slowly moving up the ladder of status was radically accelerated in just a few years. In 95 BC, out of perhaps five million Italians, perhaps one million were Roman citizens (including here men, women and children). By 85 BC, perhaps four million were (with the remainder being almost entirely enslaved persons); the number of Roman citizens had essentially quadrupled overnight. Over time, that momentous decision would lead to a steady cultural drift which would largely erase the differences in languages, religion and culture between the various Italic peoples, but that had not happened yet and so confronted with brutal military necessity, the Romans had once again chose victory through diversity, rather than defeat through homogeneity. The result was a Roman citizen body that was bewilderingly diverse, even by Roman standards.
(Please note that the demographic numbers here are very approximate and rounded. There is a robust debate about the population of Roman Italy, which it isn’t worth getting in to here. For anyone wanting the a recent survey of the questions, L. de Ligt, Peasants, Citizens and Soldiers: Studies in the Demographic History of Roman Italy 225 BC – AD 100 (2012) is the place to start, but be warned that Roman demography is pretty technical and detail oriented and functionally impossible to make beginner-friendly.)
The Appian Road to Empire
The Social War coincided with the beginning of Rome’s wars with Mithridates VI of Pontus – the last real competitor Rome had in the Mediterranean world, whose defeat and death in 63 BC marked the end of the last large state resisting Rome and the last real presence of any anti-Roman power on the Mediterranean littoral. Rome was not out of enemies, of course, but Rome’s wars in the decades that followed were either civil wars (the in-fighting between Rome’s aristocrats spiraling into civil war beginning in 87 and ending in 31) or wars of conquest by Rome against substantially weaker powers, like Caesar’s conquests in Gaul.
Mithridates’ effort against the Romans, begun in 89 relied on the assumption that the chaos of the Social War would make it possible for Mithridates to absorb Roman territory (in particular the province of Asia, which corresponds to modern western Turkey) and eventually rival Rome itself (or whatever post-Social War Italic power replaced it). That plan collapsed precisely because Rome moved so quickly to offer citizenship to their disgruntled socii; it is not hard to imagine a more stubborn Rome perhaps still winning the Social War, but at such cost that it would have had few soldiers left to send East. As it was, by 87, Mithridates was effectively doomed, poised to be assailed by one Roman army after another until his kingdom was chipped away and exhausted by Rome’s far greater resources. It was only because of Rome’s continuing domestic political dysfunction (which to be clear had been going on since at least 133and was not a product of the expansion of citizenship) that Mithridates lasted as long as he did.
More than that, Rome’s success in this period is clearly and directly attributable to the Roman willingness to bring a wildly diverse range of Italic peoples, covering at least three religious systems, five languages and around two dozen different ethnic or tribal identities and forge that into a single cohesive military force and eventually into a single identity and citizen body. Rome’s ability to effectively manage and lead an extremely diverse coalition provided it with the resources that made the Roman Empire possible. And we should be clear here: Rome granted citizenship to the allies first; cultural assimilation only came afterwards.
Rome’s achievement in this regard stands in stark contrast to the failure of Rome’s rivals to effectively do the same. Carthage was quite good at employing large numbers of battle-hardened Iberian and Gallic mercenaries, but the speed with which Carthage’s subject states in North Africa (most notably its client kingdom, Numidia) jumped ship and joined the Romans at the first real opportunity speaks to a failure to achieve the same level of buy-in. Hannibal spent a decade and a half trying to incite a widespread revolt among Rome’s Italian allies and largely failed; the Romans managed a far more consequential revolt in Carthage’s North African territory in a single year.
And yet Carthage did still far better than Rome’s Hellenistic rivals in the East. As Taylor (op. cit.) documents, despite the vast wealth and population of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid states, they were never able to mobilize men on the scale that Rome did and whereas Rome’s allies stuck by them when the going got tough, the non-Macedonian subjects of the Ptolemies and Seleucids always had at least one eye on the door. Still worse were the Antigonids, whose core territory was as larger and probably somewhat more populous than the ager Romanus (that is, the territory directly controlled by Rome), but who, despite decades of acting as the hegemon of Greece, were singularly incapable of directing the Greeks or drawing any sort of military resources or investment from them. Lest we attribute this to fractious Greeks, it seems worth noting that the Latin speaking Romans were far better at getting their Greeks (in Southern Italy and Campania) to furnish troops, ships and supplies than the Greek speaking (though ethnically Macedonian) Antigonids ever were.
In short, the Roman Republic, with its integrated communities of socii and relatively welcoming and expansionist citizenship regime (and yes, the word ‘relatively’ there carries a lot of weight) had faced down a collection of imperial powers bent on maintaining the culture and ethnic homogeneity of their ruling class. Far from being a weakness, Rome’s opportunistic embrace of diversity had given it a decisive edge; diversity turned out to be the Roman’s ‘killer app.’ And I should note it was not merely the Roman use of the allies as ‘warm bodies’ or ‘cannon fodder’ – the Romans relied on those allied communities to provide leadership (both junior officers of their own units, but also after citizenship was granted, leadership at Rome too; Gaius Marius, Cicero and Gnaeus Pompey were all from communities of former socii) and technical expertise (the Roman navy, for instance, seems to have relied quite heavily on the experienced mariners of the Greek communities in Southern Italy).
Like the famous Appian Way, Rome’s road to empire had run through not merely Romans, but Latins, Oscan-speaking Campanians, upland Samnites, Messapic-speaking Apulians and coastal Greeks. The Romans had not intended to forge a pan-Italic super-identity or to spread the Latin language or Roman culture to anyone; they had intended to set up systems to get the resources and manpower to win wars. And win wars they did. Diversity had won Rome an empire. And as we’ll see, diversity was how they would keep it.
That said, next week we are going to turn from the military impacts of Rome’s expansionary citizenship model to the domestic impacts: how did all of this expansion, both within Italy and without, change the face of who got to be Roman?
163 thoughts on “Collections: The Queen’s Latin or Who Were the Romans, Part II: Citizens and Allies”
typo alert in your map of Hannibal’s socii allies: 216 instead of 2016 (I assume)
Minor error, in the description of the map of the Socii that joined Hannibal you have the date as 2016, not (presumably) 216.
This series just deepens the mystery of my pet question: what was up with Carthage? Given the Roman imperative to feed its war machine, why raze Carthage rather than make it an ally? I always assumed they were just culturally too different, but they currently had experience assimilating very different peoples. Was it just Hannibal’s humiliations? I get the sense the Romans were implacable foes of Carthage even before the second Punic War, given that they violated the peace treaty after the first.
I suppose that only sets up the question of why the result of the first Punic War was a peace treaty rather than their traditional ‘alliance’. Were they just too big to swallow?
The sources are actually explicit on this point: it was Roman fear that Carthage, if left in place, would inevitably recover. Carthage was, after the Second Punic War, converted into a formal ally (outside of the socii system) and stripped of its empire. But the speed of its recovery under what were supposed to be permanently crippling indemnities, led the Romans to conclude that they could only be truly safe if Carthage was entirely destroyed. So they did that.
carthago delende est
“Let anyone think I am tilting at strawman windmills here”
I think that should be “lest”?
“jumped ship and joined the Romans at the first real opportunity spike to a failure to achieve the same level of buy-in”
Should be ‘spoke’ instead of ‘spike’
Unless you meant “bespoke a failure”, which is how I read it.
Perhaps a less dated way to explain the “Goku” model of imperialism would be a simple “Shounen” model. There are many Japanese manga and anime aimed at boys that follow the same concept. Naruto, Bleach, etc. The requisite examples can be updated as new series explode on the scene, since this concept has long history in Japanese comics and will no doubt continue to occur in the future.
It was a thing in Japanese politics at pest once, if I remember right. (Toyotomi hideyoshi used this technique a lot, and planned to continue if conquering Korea had worked.)
Dragon Ball uses it a lot more extensively than any currently-running shonen series I’m aware of, with the exception of Sakamoto Days, which I wouldn’t expect multiple people in a single classroom to recognize by name. “Defeat Equals Friendship” is still a thing in manga, but not as much as it was in Dragon Ball or Lyrical Nanoha.
Maybe Steven Universe would be a better example? Aside from the fact that Steven tends to “defeat” his enemies via friendship rather than the other way around…
The standard shonen fighting anime pattern is for friendship between adversaries to develop over time as two rivals recognize and respect their common desire for a single goal; shonen antagonists who genuinely seek to destroy the hero (rather than merely thwart his achievements) almost never join the team. Goku’s specific pattern, where the moment an existential threat ceases to actively threaten he immediately assumes that they’re solid friend material and treats them accordingly is idiosyncratic within the genre, and deeply connected to his origin story of being dropped on his head as a baby.
The pattern where all adversaries are natural friends of the lead character and just need a serious beating to free them from their prejudices so they can realize it, there is an anime genre where that is a core common feature. That would be magical girl shoujo, but I don’t think it improves the joke any to replace Goku with Sakura.
Nanoha, not Sakura. https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DefeatMeansFriendship
Both, and also Hibiki, and more recent heroines like Mangetsu or Yusha, and fifty-odd years of various Akkos, and Miaka (also Yona), and Utena even when that’s pretty creepy, and Kagome tries not to but nearly always does, and…
Nanoha is generally regarded as the moment where ‘existential threat to the heroine’ stops meaning ‘indelible social consequences’ and just means ‘exploded,’ but the relentlessly befriending heroine is a common element in the genre.
This is also a core feature of the Touhou universe since at least around 2002 or so – the core writing loop of all of the games can be summed up as “new people appear in Gensokyo and are quickly acclimated to the local customs -> new people cause an Incident -> heroines solve incident through the societally-approved method of gloriously pretty danmaku battles -> everyone throws a party together and gets drunk.”
(Apologies if this multi-posted a billion times, I am having little luck with getting comments to actually go through.)
I find myself intrigued by the question of what life on the Italian peninsula looked like during that iron century. At least in the areas that weren’t directly under threat, you’ve got a large percentage of the men absent at any one time — sure, the older generation were there, and the fighting-age men who weren’t currently conscripted, and the slaves, and so forth — but I feel like that must have been a very palpable gender imbalance, with hundreds of thousands of men removed from daily life. And that tends to produce interesting effects around what kinds of things women are doing and what freedoms they enjoy.
Also, as previous posts on thid blog have talked about, older men marrying MUCH younger women.
From what I understood those older men were veterans that served their time in the army and now were free to marry and build up a civilian life. Meaning you have ~30 yo men marrying ~20 yo women. However of those hundreds of thousands of men going to war, a part of them die in battle, you still have a problem. You will have less veteran men than you have marriable women. Also during the campaign season young men are away from home, unable to help out in the household. I can imagine that in some households women had to step up and do men’s work, or perhaps trade their labor in return for a man helping them out. Or maybe they could solve the problem by slavery or marrying off the women (which would then also tighten the alliance/subjugation bond)?
AIUI Roman women were in between Greek women (purdah) and Egyptian (good legal rights) or inferredEtruscan (nice depictions of couples in art) women in social freedom. I wonder if a big chunk of men being Away At War fed into that. Though I think Egypt was fairly peaceful, so the explanation doesn’t work for them. (Maybe because it was peaceful? No idea about the Etruscans.)
A Roman writer commented on how Greek banquets were all when no Roman man would be ashamed to take his wife nor any Roman woman to come out to greet the guests.
I think I’ve found my first typo
“different Gallic peoples (Senones, Boii, Inubres, Lingones, etc)” —> should they be “Insubres”?
“Robust” debate – is that academese for “screaming match”?
Academic rivalries can get pretty catty and ugly, which to some extent helps explain why certain older, more established academics incensed that their once widely accepted views are increasingly subject to debate and challenge can end up turning into outright anti-intellectual reactionary cranks who write frothing rants about the degeneracy and decadence of academia as a whole. (Which should be distinguished from less mouth-breathing complaints about the increasingly dire economic situation of US higher ed; I’m talking about complaints where the ire against academics is for criticizing established ideological orthodoxies inherited from colonial-era European racial and cultural chauvinism.
A prominent example of this in Bret’s sphere of study is Victor Davis Hanson, whose unfortunate trajectory over the past 3 or so decades from respected historian of classical Greek warfare to openly white supremacist far-right pundit was outlined by Bret’s recurring online interlocutor Roel Konijnendijk in an episode of the podcast for the /r/AskHistorians subreddit.
Whenever I read a comment like this, I’m reminded of a comment made by a South African expat: “When I was in my teens and twenties, I believed that people should be judged as individuals and not by skin color. I was deemed a communist. Now, having not changed my views one whit, I am deemed a Nazi.”
Victor Davis Hanson advocated for treating people by their skin color. He said people should tell their kids to avoid (soecifically) black people in the city. Even if one agrees with the author of that quote, Hanson is still racist.
This sounds like your painting older historians resistant to new theories as bitter old neo nazis.
Maybe the overton window has just shifted that dramatically.
Actually, the Italian demography debate is very civil. Contentious, but polite and you’ll see both sides of the debate publishing in the same volumes. It is frankly a pretty good model of what academic debate should be.
Hey, the Centauri were winning all of those border wars, twelve fronts and all!
Yeah, but they were just a shadow of their former selves.
I don’t have a source on me, so take this with a large grain of salt, but I seem to remember JMS saying somewhere that the only times the Shadows fought for the Centauri were the two times we see it on the screen, at the start and the close of the war with the Narns. They gave more “technical” support in the sense of sharing information and the like, but the biggest thing they did was embolden the Centauri and strengthen the internal positions of factions that were more aggressive and expansionist. Put simply. the material resources for the Centauri to go on a rampage were already there, what was lacking was the political will (and honestly benefit) to do so.
And the second intervention shouldn’t have happened if the Shadows were sincere about their “First Principles: chaos through warfare, evolution through bloodshed, perfection through victory.”
They’d started the Narn-Centauri War. That’s good, by those principles. The Centauri had shown their strength, including pulling off an intelligence miracle that told them about the upcoming Narn attack on Gorash 7. The Shadows wipe out the Narn fleet, allowing the Centauri to sow Narn with salt, err, bombard Narn with mass drivers.
But the Shadows handed the Centauri a bloodless victory, rather than making them earn it. If they really meant their First Principles they should have refused. The Centauri would then have had to ambush the Narn fleet. They’d likely still win, but it would be hard fought, and the war would go on. Which is supposedly what the Shadows want.
Maybe the “First Principles” are just BS that guy made up as the story he thought most likely to get Sheridan to join them.
A very important part of the show is that both the Shadows and the Vorlons have a STRONG element of hypocrisy in their stances. When they’re asked their own questions shortly before leaving the galaxy, they can’t answer anymore.
Personally, I doubt Justin just made his shtick up on the spot to try to gull Sheridan. I think he honestly got it, distortions and all, from his Shadow patrons.
Of course, Babylon 5 overall seems to be going with the Fremen Mirage, with the Centauri and Minbari as decadent civilizations gone soft, and the Narns and humans as primitive but with vigorous martial virtue.
(Unmarked spoilers throughout)
I don’t think there’s any part of the series that implies the Minbari are soft. They’re often wise enough not to fight at all, but when they do, they never lose a fight of any importance – merely being able to use a trap to win a skirmish against them one time is used to build up the main character of the series as a badass. (And on one memorable occasion the mere threat of their becoming involved is enough to win a battle against a major faction’s battle fleet, without further bloodshed.)
Both of them have a lot of the decadence tropes, and the Centauri come a bit closer to matching the Fremen mirage, because it’s clear that corruption and laziness cost them their empire, and that they are very bitter about it. But even then, becoming martial again over the course of the series gets them nothing of lasting value, and comes within a hair of destroying Centauri Prime outright (and does ruin it badly).
Similarly, the “fremen” side of the Fremen Mirage, the Narns, are certainly hard men from a hard world. But they’re also deeply bitter, stubborn to the point of foolishness, and get pulverized by a technologically superior enemy. And the most heroic of the Narns is the Jesus/Gandhi figure, who abandons (most) combat in favour of becoming a philosopher. Likewise, the group who most strongly espouses the philosophy of combat leading to strength is the Big Bad faction of the series, who proceeds to literally get nuked by the hero about ten minutes after making this argument.
B5 certainly played with some tropes that appear in the Fremen Mirage. (It ran long enough, and those tropes are common enough, that it could hardly avoid them.) But I don’t think that it ever implied that being a correct worldview for any length of time, and a lot of its lessons skewer that worldview quite thoroughly.
If anything, B5’s core message is “Fascism is really bad”. And while that’s not the literal opposite of believing in the Fremen Mirage, it’s about 170 degrees apart.
Adding to what Alsadius said, the Minbari civil war was started by their warrior caste, and the core political problem the Minbari faced was that their workers didn’t have enough influence. This was “fixed” with the new grey council being majority-worker.
The Minbari, at the start of the show, are the unquestioned superpower of Known Space. The only power surpassing them are the Vorlons, who never leave their space.
While the Earth Alliance has rebuilt, canonically, the Minbari War was a clear military defeat; at the start of the show, the Minbari surrender is a mystery to the Earthers. IIRC, losses at the Battle of the Line were, essentially, total, certainly above 90%.
For that matter, next time you look at Lenier, who, canonically, beat the snot out of a casino full of people who thought themselves tough, recall that he’s a Religious. Still trained in basic empty-hand fighting, but a Warrior would pound him into the ground like a tent peg.
I’ve always assumed that the Minbari “surrender” was a translation error or propaganda distortion. I don’t recall anything like a real surrender, just the Minbari stopped shooting and went home.
They didn’t cede territory, pay tribute, scuttle or turn over their fleet, accept occupation troops, transfer advanced technology, or anything else you’d expect from a real “surrender.”
But the Fremen Mirage aspect is that the Minbari lost the war because of a failure of will, and the humans won because they just wouldn’t give up.
I’m replying to your later comment about minbari giving up because of a lack of will. I don’t know if you’ve gotten to the reveal where we learn of the reason for the minbari ‘defeat’.
But when you do (I believe your still watching) you should realise that the minbari victories where a massive own goal.
“Bastards (the Greek term is nothoi) were barred from the citizenship” Does this mean ALL bastards? If a citizen woman had a child out of wedlock with a citizen man, and the man accepted the child as his, the child would still not be a citizen?
That is correct, yes.
‘canon fodder’ -> ‘cannon fodder’
“When Rome beat you, in the moment after you lost, but before the Goku Model of Imperialism kicked in and you became friends, the Romans took your stuff. This might mean they very literally sacked your town and carried off objects of value, but it also – and for us more importantly – meant that the Romans seized land.”
Did “stuff” include lots of slaves in this period, or was that later?
Yes, stuff included people being enslaved. Unclear how many – the evidence for very large influxes of enslaved people into Italy come later, in the second and first centuries as Rome expands overseas.
“Canon fodder” could be kind of a cute academic conceit. Although maybe “the canon” is less of an academic obsession than it used to be? Henry Louis Gates titled a collection of essays “Loose Canons,” but I haven’t seen the word used so much recently. Whatever. I have a real job now.
Canon Fodder: martyrs who died to allow the church to have a unified set of rules.
I note that in Athens you could gain the status of citizen of an allies city without the city.
“Carthage’s subject states in North Africa (most notably its client kingdom, Numidia) jumped ship and joined the Romans at the first real opportunity spike to a failure to achieve the same level of buy-in.”
did you mean speak, instead of spike?
Otherwise great post!
Glad to finally catch one of these blog entries in the moment. A fascinating look into how the peoples and polities of italy came to be “roman”, and the varying degrees to which they got this over time.
A level of complexity I never really considered beyond a vague knowledge that “roman” italy contained many different peoples who the romans absorbed over time
I am relieved to learn that my endless wars in Rome: Total War were not just plausible but indeed historically correct! By the way, when you comment on the wars with the three of the four great powers of the med–am I correct the last one is Ptolemaic Egypt?
I also think there is an interesting connection between this one and your Europa Universalis series, as the growth of Rome is somewhat akin to your descriptions in the need to expand to get larger armies to expand. I find it fascinating here though that the motive is quite different–just internal politics and social status.
Anyway fascinating series Bret, I look forward to what comes next.
Yes, the Ptolemies don’t fight Rome (until Cleopatra) – instead they ally with Rome against the Seleucids and rapidly become a Roman client state.
What’s really impressive to me isn’t simply Rome’s ability to field large armies (although to continue to do so after Trebia and Lake Trasimene is an impressive feat in and of itself), but its ability to train, equip and supply those armies so that they were decent fighting forces. During the Korean War, the Chinese intervened with a huge, well-disciplined and well-trained army, but despite the proximity of the Korean Penninsula to China they reached their operational limit about halfway down it
This is the topic of my book project, so I have exciting answers to these questions to appear at some point vaguely in the future!
The Chinese logistic officers were probably working with worse terrain and weather at the time than the Roman’s. I think the Roman campaigns in snowy weather was minimal.
And the bridges and other critical transport infrastructure in North Korea was subject to bombing.
That’s almost certainly peanuts next to the different carrying requirements of a 1950s army vs a Roman army. Romans didn’t carry huge amounts of ammunition and spend it every skirmish, nevermind in pitched battles. And the enemies of Rome didn’t make concerted efforts to fly over the battle lines and drop bombs on lines of communication.
But the Romans didn’t have trucks either.
But they generally had ships. How much sea transport did China have in Korea?
In Korea, the Chinese had virtually no motor pool to transport supplies. American air supremacy meant that any such assets were quickly disposed of, and quite often the roads they ran on were obliterated too. A very significant amount of the logistical tail of the Chinese forces in Korea was hauled by guys with A frames. That’s less in absolute terms than what the Romans had efficiency wise, who were usually working with roads and animal drawn wagons, and again, they had a lot more to carry per soldier actually fighitng.
I did mention bombing hampering supply for the Chinese, but the Allies also had air supremacy over France in 1944, and the Germans were still able to provide sufficient supplies to the front lines in Normandy to put up a stiff fight for over a month.
The Allies (really the U.S.) dropped about 635,000 tons of explosive on Korea. In absolute terms, that’s less than the roughly 1.6 million tons dropped over the whole of the ETO in strategic bombing campaigns, but when you consider the area targeted in Korea was about 1/30th the size of the ETO, and that anti-air and repair ability was enormously more primitive and basic, the conclusion really is inescapable: Korea’s interdiction effort was enormously more severe than similar interdiction efforts in the late stages of WW2.
Weapon production at state level was never an issue in antiquity. The individual soldier would have problems when he needed a new cuirass or sword but the states could churn massive amounts of weapons. The real problem for the states were recruitment bonus and army food. Arming 10 000 man with spears, shields and some swords / long knifes was easy but keeping them fed, paid and disciplined for half an year was quite difficult.
“either ignorantly or deliberately the differences between assimilable and un-assimilable cultural groups” and that such “un-assimilable” groups [ . . . ] became “a fifth column that destroyed Rome from within.”
This is one of the standard pop-history explanations for the fall of Rome. They were stupid enough to make the Germanic tribes citizens en masse, which both ruined their ability to use citizenship as a carrot for recruiting soldiers, but also meant that the barbarian tribes which eventually took Rome down had friends and family within Roman borders, which weakened the defense against their invasions.
This isn’t especially accurate, but if you’d asked me at the age of 14 what caused the fall of Rome, that’d probably have been my answer. (At least, so long as I didn’t use the terrible “It slipped on Greece” joke, which was also quite possible. And tbh, you should probably watch out for jokes that bad from me, even today)
I think its Peter Heather who remarks on the difference between the incorporation of ‘barbarians’ into the empire in the 2nd century as contrasted to the 4th. In the 2nd, tribal leaders cross into Roman territory, to walk between legionary ranks up to a ceremonial throne, before which they humbly petition for entrance. The terms usually include a draft of young men into the auxiliaries and the folk are parceled out across several provinces to fill gaps in the agricultural labour force. By the 4th century, the ceremony is conducted at the border (on a raft mid-stream in at least one case), the group is settled in one place and the leaders contribute contingents to the imperial defence. What has changed is that small tribes (Cherusci, Chatti..) have been replaced by confederations (Marcomanni, Alamanni, Goths..) with significant muscle – consolidated over two centuries by Roman pressure.
I did an undergrad paper arguing that it was the late Roman insistence on religious uniformity that did the West in. They’d fenced out the Goths from assimilation because they were Arians and that eventually led them to simply replace the Empire with their own polity. It wasn’t that barbarians couldn’t be assimilated, it was just that Rome chose not to. It will be interesting to see if I was full of it if our host does a post on the end of the Western Empire.
We’re going to talk about it. There’s a lot of complex argument on that point. Your view is closest to O’Donnell’s Ruin of the Roman Empire – so you have some serious support in the scholarship.
I’m perversely glad I don’t have the language and other skills to do proper research on this even if I had proper access to sources. It’s relaxing to be confronted with a intriguing problem and being able to consign it to other people. It would still be fun to do a historiographic paper on the subject though.
I probably wrote my paper before Ruin came out which makes me feel better for not recognizing the title. The passage of time shouldn’t feel so alien to a historian but it does.
Note that the argument of the commenter quoted in the original post, that the unassimilability of the Jews (or certain Jewish-derived sects) and certain barbarians was the downfall of Rome, was also Gibbon’s thesis, though I understand it is rejected by most contemporary Roman historians. So the persistence of this meme is not necessarily the result of British dramas; the British dramas reflect the old historical consensus. Historians, even more than some others, may lay claim to being the unacknowledged legislators of mankind.
I can’t think of any credible modern late antique scholars who still hold this view. At least in the anglosphere. Liebeschuetz is the closest I think you’d get and he’s more just curmudgeonly over the idea that the roman empire did actually collapse and go away and stop telling him it was just an evolution into something new.
My entry drug to this era of Roman history was Colleen McCullough’s masters of Rome series. Naturally I immediately started reading up on the actual history and learned that her outline of the issues involved and the agendas of of the various factions were largely true to the history.
There were worse fates than being a province of Rome, and I say that as a descendant of a subjected people who rebelled three times against Rome. It certainly had it’s downside but there were very real benefits, as the Monty Python troup pointed out. You definitely got something in exchange for your taxes.
We Jews are certainly not unassimilable, as we have proven over the millenia of our diaspora. We are perfectly willing to layer in identity as Romans, or Americans with our Jewish identity.
Something a lot of people forget is that Titus’s second in command and the guy responsible for a lot of the fighting and planning during the sack that led to the destruction of the בית המקדש was one Tiberius Julius Alexander, a very thoroughly Romanized Jew.
Part of what led to those revolts was that Jews could not be assimilated by the exact same playbook. Peaceful assimilation of a minority requires knowing their cultural red lines are, and the Romans were too uninterested in this remote province to realize that religious practice was a red line here.
Josephus, traitor though he was, seems to have dedicated his Latin writings to teaching the Romans how to pull it off peacefully. Didn’t work right away, but after two (plus one Diasporic) revolts they seem to have gotten the message and reached an accommodation with the new Rabbinical elite. By that time the well of goodwill was thoroughly poisoned, though.
Yes, exactly. Don’t mess with our religion and we’ll get along fine. Well we’ll get along after a fashion. Judaic monotheism, and by the Roman period we were true monotheists, was almost incomprehensible to the Romans. An invisible, immaterial God was hard to grasp and the shibboleths his worshippers embraced even more so.
I’d contend that it’s not the invisibility or immateriality but the Jewish reluctance to participate in Roman civic religion. From the Roman perspective, it was the Jews who looked intolerant; the Romans would have been perfectly happy to let the Jews keep their own god and rituals as long as they would _also_ participate in the rituals needed for the functioning of the Roman civic system. Of course one could always turn the camera around and make an equally sound argument that the Romans were being intolerant of Jewish non-participation. It’s just that the Roman side of the equation is much less well-known today with monotheistic religions having become the norm in the Western consciousness.
As a general rule, people worshipped according to the ways of their forefathers even if that meant not participating in civic rites.
(Paganism in the Roman Empire by Ramsay MacMullen)
That’s what I mean by “the exact same playbook”.
The Persians and Alexander and (eventually) the Seleucids knew how to get along with their Jewish subjects, and it involved carving out an exception on the “civic religion” front and accepting a more purely political loyalty to the empire of the day.
Don’t get me started on Josephus. If he said First Century nights were dark I’d look for corroboration from other sources!
Despite what you said, I’m gonna get you started on Josephus. What did he say or do?
Leaving his political treachery entirely to one side he wrote a nonsensical history of the Jewish People surviving fragments of which have been used by assorted pseudohistorical types
Au contraire, he’s been found quite reliable when it comes to contemporary events. When doing more distant history, he’s not accurate per se, but as far as we can tell is faithfully retelling the accepted Jewish historiography of the time.
The annoying parts come from anything that may vaguely touch on Jesus, as Christian redactors have done serious violence to the text over time.
But the idea that states assimilate their minorities (and especially the notion that states benefit in some way from that assimilation) comes from 19th-century Irredentism. It has nothing to do with Roman policy in the former Seleucid-Ptolemaic borderlands.
Roman Republic era Jews were not confined to Jerusalem, they were spread (interspersed with other ethnic communities) all the way to the Tigris. They were constantly restive and constantly trying to found a (semi-)autonomous state for themselves because the Parthian-Roman frontier was constantly rolling back and forth over them. Parthia occupied Jerusalem after the assassination of Caesar, and the Roman Empire was about as effective in its efforts to consolidate Mesopotamia.
The 1st-century Jewish desire to be a satellite state that was tossed back and forth whole between two empires is no more mysterious than the 1st-century Armenian desire to be a satellite state that was tossed back and forth whole between two empires.
By “assimilate” I mean “fold into the polity”. Persia and (eventually) the Seleucids were perfectly capable of doing this – that’s how those Jewish minorities throughout the Eastern Mediterranean came to be!
Roman policy, indeed, initially *did* give Jews an autonomous kingdom, under their own puppet king – they were perfectly happy, before the revolts, to satisfy this Jewish ambition!
The main stumbling block was a) their insistence on subject kingdoms syncretizing in parts of the Roman civic religion, as a gesture of suzerainty, and b) picking a puppet dynasty that was considered semi-foreign by the locals. Either one of these would probably have been survivable for stable Roman control, both were not.
Ah, no spoilers, gotcha.
Gee, I wonder why they think that Middle Eastern people (especially Jews) were tougher to integrate into Roman society than the Gauls and Germanii, who were far from the ancient Mediterranean region but share the modern European region with Italy? I wonder if it’s projecting modern biases into an era where they don’t and can’t apply?
I decided against facetiously pitching a Hetalia-like shonen battle series where an anthropomorphic personification of ancient Rome unites its empire, but this detail made me change my mind. Imagine Pontus planning to take Asia for himself, only for Rome to make up with the socii in time to defeat him, losing because he underestimated their friendship. It wouldn’t be hard to make that shonen as HFIL.
I loved this quote:
> By the by, you can actually understand most of Rome’s decisions inside Italy if you just assume that the main objective of Roman aristocrats is to get bigger armies so they can win bigger battles and so burnish their political credentials back in Rome – that, and not general altruism (of which the Romans had fairly little), was the reason for Rome’s relatively generous alliance system.
It strikes me that from what I can tell, European imperialism from say 1492-1945 doesn’t seem to have worked this way. I admit my knowledge is limited, but from what I’ve read it feels like Europe’s colonies mostly enriched a small number of men and at best provided a temporary boost to the sovereign’s foreign exchange reserves. The Roman approach seems consistent with the default way players of grand strategy video games play, but I’m sort of surprised how few historical states acted this way. IIRC Machiavelli, in the Prince, postulated that monarchies tended to be better at this sort of optimization than republics, because (so he argued) monarchs tend to view conquered peoples as subjects just like their other subjects, while the policy of republics is driven by the interests of existing citizens, but the contrasting examples of the Roman Republic and early modern European monarchies totally fails to fit this pattern. I wonder what actually determines whether a state adopts this sort of policy.
I disagree. In the first place, European imperialism was never one thing at any one time and varied greatly from century to century, much less over that entire colonial/exploratory era. The Portuguese, for example, tended to aquire small bits of territory and then work with local elites to trade and convert people. The exception for a long time was Brazil, but even then the authority exercised by Europeans didn’t extend far from the coast until the 20th century. When Cortez took on the Aztecs, he exploited divisions between them and their tributaries to augment his forces and many of the native elite in the Valley of Mexico were assimilated into the colonial elite of new Spain (descendents of Moctezuma hold the Spanish title Duke of Moctezuma de Tultengo). I believe Pizarro used similar tactics against the Inca.
In North America the British and French used Native allies quite frequently. It was to reward their Native allies that the British issued the Proclamation of 1763, which attempted to forbid European settlement west of the Appalachians. In Africa, everyone recruited askaris — many of whom served in Europe during both World Wars. The British also recruited sepoys in India and notably Gurkhas. While they didn’t recreate the Roman system exactly, there was extensive leveraging of manpower for military purposes going on.
I would also imagine (although I have done basically no research whatsoever) that resources brought back from the new world, domination of trade routes, creation of products for export and the like, created a lot of wealth for the colonizing governments. That wealth allowed them to raise and maintain armies, in the early modern period, the treasury tended to give out far sooner than the manpower pool when it came to raising and fielding as big of a military as possible.
The Russians constantly integrated Muslim elites from the steppe and Baltic nobility into the court and military. They even granted a large area to the Kasimov dinasty to use it as an almost autonomuous state inside the borders of Russian lands so they could mantain their Muslim steppe lifestyle. The Turkic, Siberian, Baltic and Finnish commoners were allowed full integration if they converted to Greek Orthodoxy. There was no equivalent with aborigens from Africa, Asia or America moving into French or English administration.
i wouldn’t blame media alone for the false view of romans as being a homogeneous mass of white people.. Racist and authoritatian movements have to take at least some of the blame. not just the Nazi’s and Mussolini’s italty but also modern movements as well. all tend to promote the idea that Rome was made up of ‘pure’ white people and that was part of the reason they did so well, and that it was ethnic mixing that led to its fall.
(i remember not long ago, i was pointing out on a gaming miniature group that the Late (east) Roman equipment was heavily influenced by the Goths, in large part because the Romans recruited Goths, Huns, and related groups heavily to fill out their Army. to which someone responded “no you are wrong, it has been recently confirmed that their army remained purely ethnic roman until their fall” and i was flabbergasted that someone could use them “ethnic roman” seriously given the details of how roman society worked, and all the genetics work coming out from burial studies showing that the roman army in places like Britain was incredibly diverse in terms of the ethnicity of its soldiers. and that the person would basically declare that period writers and records from back then were all false..)
note that the guy’s rant was much longer and blatantly racist, with reference to sites and stuff that were known racist propaganda sites.. but the words “ethnic romans” were regularly used through it.. yeesh.
Nah the Nazis thought the patrician were a distinct group from the plebians and when they mixed disaster ensued — so not even all Romans qualified.
the nazi’s used a lot of roman imagery in their propaganda, almost as often Norse imagery. always with the implications that the romans were predecessors to the Nazis. (which they justified mostly by way of a combination of revivonist history regarding the ethnic makeup of rome, and by way of promoting the Nazi regime as the successor to the Holy Roman Empire, which the German people had long perceived to have been the successor to the Roman Empire)
the exact details of their beliefs are less important in regards to the perception of rome as the fact they nazis drew the connection between white skinned “nazi aryan” peoples and Rome, and that their propaganda filtered into white supremacist movements all over the world in the 30’s and 40’s, where it metastasized across the wider populace via media and scholarship, remaining a cancer in our perceptions to this day.
Yanno, reading over this, the impression I get is the Roman Republic, much less the Empire that came after it, was all a massive Pyramid scheme. (No wonder the Egyptians tried to skip past the beatings straight to the friendship part.) And of course, like a pyramid scheme today, well, I’d like to take a quote from Night at the Museum by the…According to wikipedia, Roman General Octavius: ‘We expand or we die.’
And frankly, given your description, I can see it:
Rome keeps it’s newly minted Socii happy via the promise of more loot and glory, obtained by the same process they were just on the recieving end of. But that also means the latest gain in territory is going to be PISSED if that gravy-train ends. ‘Ops, sorry, you should have joined up with us faster!’ I’d expect to go over about as well as the apparently fictional ‘Let them eat cake!’ for those guys in question!
And I feel like while it’s clearly a VERY low bar in terms of making the vassals happy, that Rome was SYSTEMICALLY like that, not just the generosity of a random Hero-King but generation after generation, making GOOD on at least the basic premise of that promise?
I can see WHY Rome would carry a certain ‘goodwill’ about them down to the modern era, versus awkward contradictions like America’s history of Slavery versus the basic ‘Land of the Free, Home of the Brave’ and things of that nature.
Yes, Rome was a looter empire until it started to run out of people rich enough to loot (who could still be beaten) and political chaos ensued.
Although Augustus expanded the Empire pretty close to the ultimate boundaries and the relative lack of further expansion seems to have coexisted with a reasonable level of political stability for most of the next two centuries.
One could argue that by then the Roman empire was big enough that the looting turned inwards — towards defeated opponents in civil wars, etc.
But then it’s not a pyramid scheme. Some people would say that’s the same way modern democratic polities work, with various interest groups attempting to despoil each other. It’s a zero sum game, but so are most games.
The transition from looting to development was messy, but it happened. The army became an institution separate from local politics (it morphed into the unofficial electorate), while local elites competed to glorify their patria with baths, aqueducts, temples and so on – boosting their own names and civic prospects in the process. It all worked while the local base was rich enough to support the imperial superstructure – and the base got richer for two centuries under the Pax Romana.
Except in the end they did stop expanding – and then kept on chugging along for centuries. Because it’s not “expand or die”, it’s “expand or change”.
Goku is timeless.
> If anything, B5’s core message is “Fascism is really bad”. And while that’s not the literal opposite of believing in the Fremen Mirage, it’s about 170 degrees apart.
‘Please ignore the cult of personality hiding front and center.’
“We live for the One, we die for the One…”
despite the tendency to locate the ‘unassimilable’ people on the Eastern edge of Rome’s empire, it was in fact the Gauls that the Romans most often considered in this way, though as we will see, wrongly so
They were there. 20th century Teutonists varied between English ones holding the dreamy Celt in contempt and German ones who thought the Irish and Scots of the superior races unlike the subhuman Slav.
Obvious next question is: Is there any reason Rome in particular, or possibly some larger group of city states, valued military success more than usual, leading to this system? I’m guessing answers here are speculation, but seems worth throwing out.
and related, were there other cities that might have done something similar, but just got Romed before being able to put it into practice?
Romans tried so hard to find alliances among Italians, and yet looked much more harshly on Cisalpin Gauls… Could this *all* be linked to the 390 BC incident ? Roman history says that Brennus was quickly beaten afterwards and it was just an accident.
Whatever happened really, the Rome sacking could have left scars in the Roman mind: ‘never again… whatever it takes’
So it seems that before 390, the ‘kill all men and enslave the rest’ policy was used by Romans in Italy (against the Etruscans).
I don’t think it is a coincidence that Roman expansion starts in earnest a generation after the Gallic sack of the city.
It’s almost as if the Romans after suffering a big failure have decided to think long and hard on what happened, and find out why it did go pear-shaped. In this case, punish your neighbours when they are acting ‘badly’ may be satisfying, but long term it’s not a good approach.
Think long and hard about your failures is not so common in fact, many prefer to forget bad memories. For instance, US tech businesses have a tradition to do a ‘post mortem’ analysis when they have a big goof up. There is always a ‘what did go wrong’, and a ‘lessons learned’. Tradition is not to put blame on the immediate cause (the guy who did the big mistake is never named and shamed, the questions are always about the organization).
In my country, this does not happen. Private businesses may have private inquiries, but nothing (so far, I’m still waiting for OVH to do that…) is ever published. For public failures, there are some public inquiries of course, but it’s more along the lines of ‘who did the mistake’ ? It’s tacitly obvious that the system is good.
I find the continued references to “diverse” and “diversity” grating because we’re in 2021, and modern usage of “diversity” doesn’t certainly refer to “various kinds of white people” as you use it here. More widely, the idea that Italy in the 5th-2nd century Bc was — even that very misleading definition of “diversity” — more diverse than Carthage’s lands (including Berbers, multiple kinds of Phoenicians, not just Carthagenians, and Hispanic Iberian, Celts and who else knows) or Greece itself is just not right. Mind you, Italy had Etruscans who spoke a (probably) non-Indo-European language, but so did Greece, since “Minoic” languages in Crete remained in use until the Christian era, so roughly for as long as Etruscan. Greeks had a complex caste system that wasn’t replicated in Italy, and that reflected underlying ethnic and cultural differences between, say Dorians, and Ionians. Let’s not even get into the complex Macedonian melange, the Carians or other semi-Greeks of Asia Minor, or the fact that notable Greeks like Miltiades and Themistocles likely had foreign mothers (something unheard of among prominent Romans until imperial times). So: no diversity gain for Rome there, sorry.
The point is not that Italy was more diverse than Carthaginian territory (or the Seleucid Empire, which takes the cake, for sure, in being the most culturally diverse Hellenistic state), but that Roman *management* of that diversity was better. Carthage never permits any of those non-Carthaginians into the Carthaginian citizen body (Hannibal is said to have made some promises in this regard, never carried out). From what we can tell, Carthage remained imperial in its approach to other peoples: they were subjects out of whom tribute was extracted, who could never become part of the ethnic ‘core.’
I also think – and this is a point I have been trying to make sure – assessing ‘diversity’ through a modern lens and in modern terms (European/non-European, white/non-white) when trying to understand it in the ancient world is a mistake. They don’t use those categories in the same way.
Finally, we’ll be getting into in the next two weeks how the Romans react when their empire moves beyond Italy, but frankly the contrast between say, Ptolemaic Egypt or the Seleucids, where after a century the ethnic divisions between Macedonians, Greeks and everyone else were studiously maintained, and the Roman experience in those same places – and then the Roman’s far greater degree of success – is striking.
Fair enough! Looking forward to the next articles, I always enjoy your spotless scholarship, even when in (friendly) disagreement with the occasional conclusion here and there.
Maybe it would be better to use a different word for the issue being discussed with respect to the Roman state: maybe “heterogeneous” instead of “diverse.”
Great suggestion. It would clarify the discussion at hand.
— I also think – and this is a point I have been trying to make sure – assessing ‘diversity’ through a modern lens and in modern terms (European/non-European, white/non-white) when trying to understand it in the ancient world is a mistake. They don’t use those categories in the same way. —
It’s my understanding that the term “White People” occurs for the first time in the historical record in apx. 1750 as part of a French play.
The current ‘racial’ system is a modern creation that was still forming in key places and components as late as 1800. The other thing that Americans tend to do, is assume that America’s racial caste system is reflective of racial caste systems in Europe or other parts of the world.
While it is true that people who use “diversity” as a synecdoche are sometimes using it as a synecdoche for “racial diversity” specifically, it’s exceedingly rare for anyone with any kind of pro-diversity outlook to do so. Racial diversity, religious diversity, ethnic diversity, gender diversity, diversity of sexuality, neurodiversity, all of these and more are valued (at various weights, some things are more controversial than others) and discussed by people who declare that they “value diversity.” If you’re encountering the exclusionary, limited, race-only use of the term “diversity” in the wild it’s usually in discussions dominated by people who don’t even have a program; people who might most charitably be described as ‘sneering nihilists.’
Well, the Romans had little racial diversity, a fair amount of religious diversity as they defined it, lots of ethnic diversity, as Prof. Devereux has been explaining, no gender diversity, a moderate amount of diversity of sexuality, prior to the ascendency of Christianity (and afterwards in Byzantium if you count eunuchs), and no neurodiversity. Really I think the modern concept is so far from being relevant to Rome that it is better to use a different word.
I think a Roman would have a hard time understanding the concept of ‘racial diversity’ as used here. The idea that people from different places are inherently different, rather than customarily different, is from early modern Europe, some 1300 year after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.
It’s hard to understand ‘racial diversity’ 1000 years before the European concept of ‘race’.
Julian the Apostate argued that peoples were intrinsically different because of the gods they were descended from.
That is not quite the improvement that you think it is.
Great article. One comment: Conferral of citizenship in Denmark actually requires a law to be passed by the parliament naming you specifically. So it still happens today.
Wait. Fronda turned his dissertation into a book? IN 2010? Somehow I missed all that, and knowing his dissertation (which I’ve read, not the book) must have come at least a couple of years before the book makes me feel old.
Wikipedia has an article on the Roman patron-client relationship.
Oops, that was supposed to be a reply to MaxF.
What does it mean for a former slave to be the client of their former owner?
Basically you have to dance attendance on them, provide your services for free and vote as they direct. In return clients got a small monetary sum, the protection of a rich, powerful connection and the occasional invitation to dinner.
Roxana’s description is rather cynical. Putting it another way, it’s like having a mentor at work or in academia: someone powerful who will promote your welfare in return for your support and service.
I suspect that the nature of the patron-client relationship ran along a spectrum between your description of it and Roxana’s, though most were probably more like her description than yours because people are jerks.
Also depends on the freedman. Some of them managed to get rich, or otherwise more useful/powerful than most, so received better treatment from their patron.
AIUI, freedmen qualified as citizens, and could join the legions. Depending on how that goes, your patron may well want to keep you sweet.
It wasn’t just freedmen who became clients. The system was complex and multi layered, many freeborn Romans, wealthy and influential enough to have their own clients, were clients in their turn to still wealthier and more powerful men.
I think the descriptions of academia by Prof. Devereux and others demonstrate that most powerful academics are jerks who mistreat their graduate students and assistants at least as badly as the average Roman patron. Plus ca change . . . .
In all justice the protection of a rich, powerful patron was no small thing. I’m sure many clients felt it was well worth the occasional inconvenience. How much it chafed depended very much on the behavior of the patron. Some were indeed jerks. Others gracious and appreciative and judicious in their demands.
Great post as always.
The sentence “Not in the particulars of political participation. ” seems out of place at the beginning of the paragraph. Is this an error?
I knew the Romans were multicultural, but I hadn’t realized they were so far ahead of their times that they had trans- and cis- designations for other peoples.
I’m sorry, do you mean the provinces, Transalpine Gaul and Cisalpine Gaul (in Latin, Gallia Transalpina and Gallia Cisalpina)? That just means “Gaul on the other side of the Alps” and “Gaul on this side of the Alps” respectively.
The Romans like that kind of naming. They do it in Spain too, with two provinces, Hispania Citerior (Nearer Spain) and Hispania Ulterior (Further-Away Spain). Some provinces are also named for altitude, thus Germania Superior (Higher Germany) and Germania Inferior (Lower Germany); same system used for Pannonia and Moesia.
They’re not the only ones, English, French and German do the whole “upper (region)” and “lower (region)”, as well. Occasionally while stealing the Latin terms, as in Trans-Sylvania (beyond the forests), or just making up pseudo-Latin terms (Trans-Siberian, beyond Siberia, trans-Atlantic, beyond the Atlantic, etc.)
But “trans” in English means “across”. The Trans-Siberian Railway isn’t beyond Siberia; it crosses Siberia.
Not always. The British mandate of Transjordan was literally on the far side of the Jordan river (from the other British mandate in Palestine, that is).
See also Transjordan (the original name of Jordan, before it annexed the West Bank), and the modern Spanish name of Cisjordania for the West Bank.
Is that a joke? 🤨
I know this is a really basic, stupid question, but I’ll ask anyway: How did an individual confirm or demonstrate their status as a Roman citizen? Especially if they were many miles from their home city where a list of citizens may have been kept. Was their some kind of token or scroll they could carry? If so, what were the precautions against forgery or theft?
A verbal declaration – Cives Romanus Sum – was sufficient, as a matter of law, to serve as a declaration of Roman citizenship, though it was of course subject to verification. During the Republic, two censors were elected every five years and took a complete census of the Roman citizen body, so there would have been a list in Rome to check against. During the Empire, this job was taken over by the emperors (post-22). the imperial census was less regular (and more difficult, owing to the larger empire) but even in between them, you could point to various things to establish citizenship – a ‘diploma’ (discharge from the Roman army) for you or your ancestor, an act of the emperor or the senate who extended citizenship to you, or your parents, or your own lineage connected to a known Roman citizen.
Paul evidently had little problem proving that he was a Roman citizen by birth, once the authorities stopped beating him long enough to listen (and then freaked out because beating a Roman citizen was a serious crime).
I actually just recently watched a video which gets deep into the details of how citizen ID worked in the Roman Empire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alpKlV_MKgE
Given that both, Humans and Narn got stomped flat by those decadent civilisations, I do admittedly struggle to agree.
Likewise – matching the article about Roman diversity – it’s the ethnically homogenous Clark administration that’s stomped by Sheridan’s multi-species alliance.
And equally tellingly, the Narns’ rampant aggression in the 1st season ultimately gets them nothing. The Centauri’s rampant aggression in the remaining seasons gets them bombed. The humans’ aggression in the backstory gets them almost rendered extinct. Okay, this doesn’t quite match this article about Roman aggression earning them an Empire, but anyway…
The Shadows’ ‘Philosophy’ is the closest thing to the Fremen mirage (though I’d argue that it’s closer to the Roman insistence of being at war all the time ‘erry time. Nobody’s saying you have to be a backwards primitive to be successful. The Shadows only say you have to fight for it), but the Shadows are also a ridiculously old hypertech civilisation whose last foray into spreading this point of view didn’t evolve shit – we get multiple references to species that went extinct a thousand years ago, the Minbari are the only apparent survivor, everyone else who existed during the last war is gone. Dead. Interesting ruins for interplanetary expeditions to do archaeology in. I struggle to find a clearer message than ‘Everyone this was tried on is dead.’
” Though I am going to use Athens as my ‘type model’ here, citizenship was not exclusively Greek; Italic communities; Carthage seems to have had a very similar system”
I think there might have been an editing error there?
The meaning is clear enough, but could use a rewrite for structure.
I’m surprised by the demographic chart. I’d expect citizen women to outnumber citizen men because of war dead.
Childbirth. Statistically speaking, it’s as dangerous as going to war, or more so, for the vast majority of human history.
“I would rather stand three times in the battle line than bear one child.”
Medea, Euripides. l. 200 odd.
Yes, even today childbirth remains as dangerous and debilitating as a limb amputation.
Greek writers claimed that was the case in Athens during the Peloponnesian Wars. So much so that men were not just allowed but encouraged to take two citizen wives. Modern historians are agnostic about the accuracy of the story.
A-frames? What, dragging on the ground like a sledge or travois? No wheelbarrow? https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2011/12/the-chinese-wheelbarrow.html
You mean the Korean ones? No, they were carried on a person’s back — think of modern external-framed rucksacks, just a cruder and more primitive (but still pretty effective) version. Many European villages still use similar systems to carry heavy objects up steep mountain paths in the Alps and the Balkans.
Bret, was being adopted by a male citizen a way to become a citizen?
As far as I know, a Roman citizen could only legally adopt another Roman citizen; non-citizens were not valid targets for wills or inheritance.
Now I’m imagining an agreement to “sell yourself into slavery” followed by “get freed” as a fast track into citizenship. Though probably without recourse if the new owner skips Step 2.
(::puff, puff…pant,pant::) Trying to catch up, even though this one was really dense–oh, wait–it’s I/me who’s really dense. *sigh*
Bret, here’s my collection of proofreading corrections for this post.
Let anyone think -> Lest
deliberately the differences between ->ignored the differences
Greek; Italic communities; Carthage -> [Bret, is something missing here?]
Caption for pop. of Athens: hoplites Athens was to have had -> was said to
between Rome and Latin League-> and the Latin League
Caption to The Orator: identity (its worth noting -> it’s
notes, they were meaningful -> there were
colonies have distinctive material -> have their own distinctive
same time engages in -> engaging in
of imposing tribute -> on imposing
province, Sicily which -> Sicily[insert comma] which
plug them in to the -> into the
had once again chose victory -> chosen
getting in to here -> into
wanting the a recent survey -> wanting [one article or the other] survey
at least 133and was -> 133 [insert space] and
whose core territory was as larger -> was larger
the Latin speaking Romans -> Latin-speaking
than the Greek speaking -> Greek-speaking
When Senators needed to have property worth 1 million sesterces, is that having land with an estimated sale price of 1 million s, or land generating an income of 1 million s/year?