Rome

The Conquest of Italy


Rome
The Etruscans
   The conquest of Italy began soon after the Romans expelled the Tarquins in 509 BC; their first target were the Etruscans themselves. Allying themselves with other Latins and with the Greeks, the Romans quickly drove the Etruscans from the Italian peninsula. Etruscan civilization came to a brutal end. Rome steadily conquered all the Etruscan territory throughout the fifth and fourth centuries BC.


   The Romans, however, were dramatically checked in their conquest of Italy by invasions of another Indo-European people from across the Alps: the Gauls. The Gauls were a Celtic people who were nomadic and war-like. In 387 BC, the roared across the Alps into Italy, soundly defeated the Roman army, and then capture and burned Rome to the ground. The Gauls, however, did not wish to settle in Italy; they were interested only in amassing wealth. They looted Rome and then demnaded a tribute; after they had collected their ransom, they returned home to central Europe. Rome was now vulnerable to all the peoples it had conquered, and various Italian states tried to attack Rome. By 350 BC, however, Rome was sufficiently powerful enough to begin asserting dominance over the region again.

   The Romans had been part of a Latin alliance, but exerted tremendous hegemony over that alliance. Despite being defeated by the Gauls in 387 BC, the Romans successfully fought back Gaulish raiding parties throughout the middle of the fourth century BC. Roman allies, however, began to bitterly resent the Roman hegemony over the league and demanded their independence. Rome turned them down flat, and the Latin cities rose up against Rome for their independence in 340 BC. Rome, however, only took two years to defeat the Latins in this uprising; in 338 BC, Rome dismantled the Latin League and took control of all of Latium.

   In 295 BC, Rome began a war with a tough Latin people living in the Appenine mountains, the Samnites, who were joined by the remaining Etruscan cities, by Gaulish tribes, and some rebellious Italian cities. The result of this war, in 280 BC, was total Roman control over all of central Italy. Rome then turned its eyes south to the Greek cities and quickly overpowered them. By the middle of the third century BC, Rome controlled all of the Italian peninsula.

   Ancient history shows abundantly that it is enormously difficult to hang onto conquered territories; the Romans, however, seemed to have figured out how to peacefully hold onto conquered territory with both liberal and militaristic policies. First, Rome didn't destroy conquered cities, but granted them certain rights. Some cities were allowed full Roman citizenship, particularly those near to Rome. Others were allowed certain Roman rights. Some were allowed complete autonomy. Some were allowed to become allies. All, however, were required to send Rome taxes and troops. In addition, Rome settled soldiers on the captured lands as payment for their service. Some of these land grants were especially lucrative. The soldiers got land wealth, and the Romans got permanent military settlers in the conquered lands. In this way, Rome was able to maintain a permanent military settlement in every conquered land. In order to reinforce these settlements, the Romans began an ambitious road-building project. Their roads were of the highest quality and went in straight lines—right straight over mountains in fact—so that soldiers and supplies could be quickly moved into rebellious territories. The response to revolt was swift and harsh. So the combination of granting conquered territories rights and citizenship (or the promise of future rights and citizenship) and the surety of a swift, harsh response to rebellion produced a lasting, peaceful empire on the Italian peninsula.

   A new enemy, however, asserted itself across the Mediterranean in the south: Carthage. The next century would see the clash of these two great and powerful cities; the end of these wars, the Punic Wars, would make Rome the most powerful force in the Mediterranean.

Richard Hooker



The Punic Wars

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1996, Richard Hooker
Updated 10-2-97