The Objectives of the Italian States during the Social War

4 April 2015
A discussion of whether the Italian states sought independence from Rome rather than equality with her during the Social War in the year 90.

This essay argues that at the beginning of the Social War, the Italian states only sought citizenship; it was Rome’s stubbornness to grant citizenship which encouraged the Italian states to increase their aims and seek complete independence. It explores the contrasting viewpoints of the two main sources of the time, Appian and Posidonius.
The outbreak of war between Rome and her Italian allies was due to a build-up of tensions caused by Rome’s refusal to treat the Italian states as her equals. Willing allies at the end of the third century, a gradual cultural assimilation of the Roman and Italian peoples suggested that a social and political assimilation would follow. The building of roads, the creation of Roman colonies and joint military service had seen cultural distinctions between the Italians and Romans decrease. Indeed, Latin had become a universal language in Italy to such an extent that a large proportion of Latin poets were of Italian heritage. Eventually, this assimilation was recognized by Rome, to the extent that in the early second century Arpinum, Formiae, Fundi and other cities received promotion from the status of half-citizenship to full. However, this process was not continued, and many Italians began to resent the refusal of Rome to treat them as equal citizens. The list of grievances was long, and grew over time. Italians had to provide troops for the Roman army, yet received an unequal proportion of the war-booty, even though in the second century Rome’s allies would provide more than half of her troops. Italian armies were further restricted from plundering foreign lands themselves. Italians were part governed by a democratic state, yet could not partake in the democratic process, as suffrage was restricted to those with full-citizenship. Romans, unlike her allies, could appeal arbitrary justice. Italians who had settled in Rome and had acquired citizenship caused a major drop in population in many Latin cities, yet they still had to provide the same number of troops for the army. In 187 and 177 Rome enforced the repatriation of thousands of Italians to solve this problem; this served to antagonize many Italians further, as their rights as citizens were suddenly revoked. The Italian aristocracy were aggrieved as their powers over their own people were restricted, and subjugated to the rule of Rome. Over a period of time, these grievances would formulate into a general appeal for the granting of full-citizenship to Rome’s Italian allies.
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