Gradual Conquest of the Peninsula - Italy under the Roman Rule

The invasion of the Gauls is a great notch in the line of the Roman annals. From this epoch to the time of the complete subjugation of the peninsula by the Romans (365-490, or - B.C. 389-264) is a period of 125 years. Of this period, the first fifty years were spent in repairing the shattered Commonwealth. Her strength having been fairly renewed, the republic shook off all impediments, announced to Latins and Hernicans that she required their cooperation no longer, and boldly declared her resolution to conquer central Italy. The series of wars against Etruscans, Latins, Hernicans, Gauls, Volscians, and Samnites, sometimes singly, sometimes in combination, by which she carried her resolution into effect, is usually known in Roman history by the general designation of the 'Samnite Wars' (412 -463), the Samnites being the leaders in this onset of the nations on Rome, the issue of which was to determine whether Rome or Samnium should govern Italy. Extricating herself by her valor from this confused conflict of nations, Rome, about the year 463, found herself mistress of Central Italy - Samnites, Latins, etc., all her subjects. A consequence of the con duct of the Latins and Hernicans during these Samnite wars was, that the famous triple confederacy between these two nations and the Romans was brought to an end precisely when it had fully served its purpose, and when its longer continuance would have impeded the growth in Italy of that Roman unity which it had fostered. The 'Samnite Wars' were succeeded by a short but brisk war, designated in Roman history 'the War with Pyrrhus and the Greeks in Italy.' Pyrrhus was an able and enterprising Greek prince, whom the Greek towns of southern Italy - fearful of being overwhelmed by the conquering barbarians, as they called them, of the Tiber, before whom even the Samnites had given way - had invited over from his native kingdom of Epirus, that he might place himself at the head of a con federacy which they were forming against Rome. Full of enmity towards their conquerers, all the recently-subdued nations of Central and Northern Italy welcomed the arrival of Pyrrhus; and all Southern Italy followed his standard. His enterprise, however, failed, notwithstanding several victories; and about the year B.C. 275, Pyrrhus having withdrawn from Italy,

The confederacy against the Roman Commonwealth crumbled to pieces, and the whole peninsula lay at their mercy. Before describing the manner in which the peninsula, thus acquired, was laid out and governed by the Romans, it will be necessary to continue our narrative of the gradual development of the constitution within, during the period which had elapsed since the Gaulish invasion.

The situation of Rome after the Gaulish invasion was extremely similar to what it had been after the expulsion of the kings - the plebeians distressed, and many of them in slavery for debt, and the patricians disposed to tyrannize. As on the former occasion there had risen up, as the best friend of the plebs, the noble patrician Spurius Cassius, so on this occasion there appeared as their champion a prudent and brave plebeian, Caius Licinius Stolo, a tribune of the people. His measures were very similar to those of Spurius Cassius - namely, a compromise on the subject of debts (not, how ever, an abolition of them); and an agrarian law, prohibiting any citizen from occupying any more than five hundred jugera (about 330 acres) of the public land, and depriving all who exceeded that quantity of the surplus for distribution among indigent commons. To these he added a proposal for constitutional reform - namely, that the military tribunate should be abolished, and that the consulship should be reverted to, one of the consuls to be of necessity a plebeian. After a hard struggle, these important measures were carried in the year 384, nineteen years after the Gaulish invasion. Under these Licinian Laws, as they were called, the state enjoyed tolerable repose for a long period of years - the principal source of disturbance being the attempts of the wealthy citizens to evade the operation of the agrarian law. The next great movement was in the year of the city 416, when, under the auspices of a plebeian dictator (for the dictatorship had also been thrown open to the plebeians), a considerable simplification of the constitution was effected. It was now rendered essential that one of the censors should be a plebeian; and the old patrician body of the curies was struck out of the machinery of the legislature, so as to leave the business of the state in the hands of the senate (itself become partly a plebeian body) and the people. Met in their centuries, the people could only accept or reject the measures proposed by the senate; but met in their tribes, they could originate a measure, and oblige the senate to consider it. Thus sometimes in the shape of a matured scheme descending from the senate to the people, sometimes in the shape of a popular resolution sent up to the senate, a measure became law. From this simplification of the constitution commences, according to historians, the golden age of Roman politics. The extension of dominion in the Samnite wars, by providing a large subject, population inferior both to patricians and plebeians, disposed these bodies to forget their differences, and to fall back upon their common consciousness of Roman citizenship. During the Samnite wars, however, a third party appeared in the field claiming political rights. These were the Aerrians, the name applied to all those residents in town pursuing mechanical occupations, who, as not belonging to any of the tribes (now thirty-three in number), did not rank as citizens. The claims of this class - the city rabble, as both patricians and plebeians called it - were supported by a daring and able patrician, Appius Claudius, who, during his censorship, admitted aerarians into all the tribes indiscriminately. Eventually, however, a com promise was effected: the aerarians were enrolled in the four city tribes, thus obtaining some influence, but not so much as Appius seemed to destine for them. It appears to have been at some period also during the Samnite wars that a modification took place in the constitution of the comitia centuriata, the leading feature of which seems to have been a blending of the tribes with the centuries, so as to accommodate the assembly to the altered state of society and the altered scale of wealth. Of the precise nature of this change, however, as of the precise time at which it occurred, we are ignorant. It may be considered, nevertheless, to have perfected the Roman constitution, and to have adapted it for the function of maintaining the government of the entire peninsula.

Italy, once fairly subjugated and laid out by the Romans (B.C. 266), its population may be considered as having been distributed into three political divisions - the Populus Romanus, or citizens of Rome, properly so called; the Socii, or inhabitants of the allied and dependent Italian states and the Nomen Latinum, or citizens of the 'Latin name.'

The first of these, the Populus Romanus, included the whole body of the free inhabitants of the thirty-three tribes or parishes north and south of the Tiber, which constituted the Roman territory strictly so called, together with a considerable number of persons scattered over the other parts of Italy, who were also accounted citizens, either because they were colonists of Roman descent, or because the title had been conferred on them as an honorary distinction. The total number of adult Roman citizens towards the close of the fifth century was under 800,000 - a small proportion, evidently, of the vast Italian mass, which consisted, including the slaves, of about 5,000,000. Nor were all these equal in point of civil rights, many of them having the franchise, as it was called, or legal rights of citizens, without the suffrage, or political rights. The citizens with suffrage, those who voted on public questions - the real governing power, therefore, by whose impulses all Italy, with its millions of inhabitants, was swayed, as the body is moved by the beats of the heart - were a mere handful of men, such as might be assembled with ease in any public park or square.

The Italian subjects were the inhabitants of the allied or dependent states. The list of these was a long one, including, as it did, the various communities which made up the populations of Etruria, Umbria, the Sabine territory, Samnium, Campania, Apulia, Lucania, Messapia, and Bruttium. All the allies, however, were not equally subject to Rome: the relations in which they stood to it were determined by the particular treaties which formed the separate alliances, and these, of course, varied according to the circumstances under which they had been concluded. Almost all the allied states, however, were permitted to retain their own laws, their own municipal arrangements, their own judges, etc. Throughout the peninsula, however, care was taken to destroy every vestige of nationality or national legislature among the allies of the same race. Upon the whole, this change from independence to subjection to Rome was beneficial to the Italian nations. Not the least benefit attending it was the total abolition of those wars between neighboring states which, while the peninsula was subdivided into small independent territories, had raged incessantly and fiercely.

The Nomen Latinum, or Latin name, was a fictitious designation ap plied to a number of colonies scattered through the peninsula, and which, in respect of privileges, stood in an intermediate position between the Roman citizens and the Italians. The name probably originated in the circumstance, that the original colonists of this description were Latins.

It is a curious fact, that even after Rome had attained the supremacy of the peninsula, there did not exist such a thing as even a dawning Roman literature, although the state had now existed nearly five hundred years; so much earlier than their literary faculty did the native talent of the Row mans for governing mankind develop itself. It was by their massive character, more than by their powers of speculation or expression, that they were to impress the world.