Roman And Latin League – Earliest Struggles

Several races claim precedence as sponsors for Rome: the Latins in almost every field; the Sabines in a number of religious institutions and primitive agricultural customs ; the Etruscans in ritual augury and cult, in the advanced manners and customs of civilization. Each race has found modern protagonists, but Latin preponderance had seemed quite secure until the last decade, when the results of excavations, slowly digested. have been tending to show how close was the union with the neighboring cities of Southern Etruria, even before the Etruscan kings of Rome, and also how direct, in some ways, the influence of archaic Greece.

The safest conclusion now seems to be that Rome was fairly representative of the cosmopolitanism of the Italic race, especially of its Latin section. Not long after her emergence as a city in the eighth century, she began to come to the fore as the emporium of the Latins, breaking gradually through the original bounds of her tiny territory, which did not extend on any side over five or six miles beyond her walls. On the west the Tiber formed a natural boundary which she hardly passed for centuries, for beyond it loomed, only twelve miles away, powerful Veii, richest, perhaps of the Etruscan cities, forming the apex of a threatening triangle, whose base was marked, on one side, by Caere near the sea-coast and, on the other, by Capena and Falerii flanked by the mass of Mt. Soracte.

But on the north Rome could expand, after a while, beyond the Anio, and eastward to the Alban hills, across a belt of minor towns, all of the Latin race. She also soon reached the sea-coast, on the south, at Ostia. The two earlier cities to which traditions most closely bound her, both of them Latin, were Lanuvium, in this sea-belt, her sacred Mecca, which she always treated with reverence; and Alba, her political fountain head, leader of the Latin league, whom necessity obliged her to ruthlessly destroy so as to secure her place. This gradual extension of Rome’s limits meant, of course, the absorption of the smaller and weaker adjoining cantons. At first this was often done by the destruction of the town, the annexation of its territory, and the transfer of part at least of its population to Rome ; for example, in the majority of such towns as Politorium, Tellene, Ficana, Antemnae, Caenina, Collatia and Medullia, most of them in the region of the Anio. But when the population of Rome was sufficiently large not to re-quire this expedient, the towns were allowed to exist with their territory reduced or else they retained, under a sort of protectorate, their local autonomy. In some cases the struggle for independence of these early Latin towns was long: it was so with Gabii, which held the district between the Alban mount and the Anio.

Rome did not merely join one of the confederacies of racial origin into which Italy was then largely divided. The Etruscans had their loose union of twelve cities; the Latins theirs of thirty.” The Hernicans had a league ; so, possibly, had the Umbrians and the Samnites. But Rome was of, and yet not in, the Latin league, maintaining her independence of action and exercising a special authority. The earliest authentic document in Roman history, Rome’s treaty with Carthage, shows that in 509, when her early power had reached its first zenith under the Tarquins, her protectorate extended down the entire coast of Latium, as far as Terracina and Circeii, and we may conclude that it had spread inland to a similar extent. The Latin federation had then reached the point of an offensive and defensive alliance with Rome.

At about this time came an historic crisis of whose causes and extent we know but little. During the seventh and sixth centuries the Etruscans had been extending their dominion. Starting from the neighborhood of the Ciminian mountain, not far from Viterbo, in what we call Central Etruria, where they had been incubating for centuries, they had begun to steadily attack and annex the existing Italic communities of central Italy, penetrating first to the Mediterranean seaboard on one side and to the valley of the Tiber on the other; then crossing it eastward into Umbria as far as the Tiber. Whether they also pushed northward to the Po valley and reached almost to the Alps at this time, or whether their northern settlements, like Bologna (Pelsina), were remnants of their earlier immigration across the Alps is one of the problems we apparently cannot yet solve. They seem not to have reached Umbria until early in the sixth century. What became of the populations they conquered we do not know, but it seems likely that they existed as subject races under an Etruscan military aristocracy. Such cities as Caere and Falerii, which the Romans always regarded as Hellenic, seem not to have been radically changed by the Etruscan conquest. The wealthy Tarquinii and Clusium, whose Porsenna supported the exiled kings, were among the leading Etruscan opponents of the newly established Roman republic, as well as the nearer Veii, but the friendship of Caere certainly betrays a more than superficial brotherhood with Rome. Even on the coast south of Rome, in the Volscian and Campanian territory, the Etruscans had, through maritime and commercial superiority, gained a strong foothold and their fleets in union with the Phoenicians had acquired control of the commerce of this part of the Mediterranean. They seemed to be closing in around Rome.

While Rome was thus being embroiled with the Etruscans, and was forced into making humiliating concessions of territory, and authority to Porsenna, there began a movement on her east flank which threatened to overwhelm not only her but the whole Latin confederacy. Some cause was forcing certain mountainous tribes of the Apennine tablelands, called by Roman historians Aequi and Volsci, to seek an outlet toward the seaboard of Latium across the valley of the Sacco and the Pontine plain, over the Hernican and Volscian hills. They penetrated as far as the Alban mount, captured and held such important Latin strongholds as Velitrae, Cora and Pometia, and established an advanced fortress on Mt. Algidus on the edge of the Alban group. They were stopped with difficulty by a splendid line of Latin fortresses, extending from the Apennines to the sea—Tibur, Praeneste, Tusculum, Signia and Norba ; helped by the strong cities of the Hernican league, which usually took the side of the Latins and of Rome.

“It was before 450 B.C. that the invading tide ebbed at this point, and eddying back found its way between the lower spurs of the Ausonian and Volscian ranges and mastered the whole of lower maritime Latium. But for over a century longer these Aequi and Volsci, helped by occasional Sabine and Ausonian incursions, kept up a harassing and desolating warfare. It became a regular thing every year for the Romans to expect a raid from these peoples, who would either meet on Mt. Algidus, at the back of Alban mount, or along the upper edge of the Pontine plain. Word would be received from the ravaged Hernicans or Tusculans or Lanuvians. Sometimes, even, the gates of Rome were reached. Many cities exchanged hands in these wars, so that it is sometimes difficult to know whether to call them Roman and Latin or Volscian and Aequian. This was the case with Suessa Pometia, Cora, Velitrae, Satricum, Antium, Labici, Bola, and many more. Several were burned once or more often—like Satricum and Pometia; others received once or twice Roman colonies in order to keep them loyal and satisfy needy Romans.

Fortunately for Rome, the struggles of the Etruscans: with Greeks, both on land and sea; with Samnites in the south, and with Celts in the north, while largely outside the direct Roman sphere, yet by putting an end to Etruscan preponderance in Italy, were preparing the ground, during the fifth century, for the establishment of Roman domination. Still, this was considerably retarded by the second crisis in Rome’s career, that of her capture by the Gauls in 390 B.C. and her consequent loss of prestige with the Latins, the Hernicans and other surrounding peoples. This made a long, patient and bloody renovation of her influence necessary before the subjugation of Italy could again be undertaken.

So the long struggle raged for a period of between three and four centuries before 380 B.C., between Rome and these various enemies : Etruscans, Volscians, Aequians, Sabines. The seat of war was never far enough from the Roman Campagna to give Rome itself any feeling of safety from capture. And she could not always feel absolutely sure of her usual allies of the Latin and Hernican leagues, with both of which she had at times to struggle. It was always a fight for life.

There were several groups of cities most intimately interrelated with Rome during this period. First, of course, the cities of the ancient Latins, the prisci Latini, some of them, such as Aricia and Tusculum, merged in the Latin League, while others, like Tibur and Praeneste, were sufficiently powerful to act with individual policy. Beside these were the neo-Latin foundations, such as Norba and Signia, to which colonies had been sent by Rome, and in which she had a proprietory interest. In a third class were the Hernican cities, friendly to Rome as a rule, but not as closely related to her. Before attacking the new era of the fourth century before Christ when Rome passed into new and wider fields, I will describe some typical cities of each of these groups.