BMCR 2013.03.03

Processes of Integration and Identity Formation in the Roman Republic

, Processes of Integration and Identity Formation in the Roman Republic. Mnemosyne supplements. History and archaeology of classical antiquity, 342. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2012. vii, 406. ISBN 9789004229112. $182.00.


In the fourth century BC, the Italian peninsula was home to a group of interrelated but politically, culturally, and socially distinct entities. On the eve of Actium, tota Italia (Aug. Anc. 25) swore its allegiance to the future Augustus Caesar agens Italos (Verg. Aen. 8.678). This volume, edited by Saskia Roselaar, collects a number of attempts to answer the difficult question of how best to connect these two points.

The book publishes papers from a 2010 conference at the University of Manchester on the formation of an Italian identity under Roman political domination. Despite the absence of “Italy” in the title, this is a book about Italian integration and identity formation: fully nineteen of the twenty papers treat Italian topics. Not long ago, the peninsula’s transformation from Italian to Roman still seemed the uniform result of a convergence so natural that Mommsen had compared it to the law of gravity. However, beginning with Henrik Mouritsen’s reassessment of the Social War as a fight for Italian independence, not enfranchisement, historians have abandoned this teleology and begun to reflect instead upon the many decentralized and multilinear processes that ultimately reshaped Italy.1 At the same time, archaeology, particularly field survey, continues to reveal the fragmentation and diversity of Italian cultural and socioeconomic practices in the last three centuries BC when seen at a regional or even local level.2

The editor’s introduction notes that much recent work within this new regionalist paradigm contents itself simply with observing the results of increased contact with expanding Roman imperialism. Instead, she orients the volume towards the “points of contact” themselves, in hopes of understanding what characterized the daily interactions that brought together Romans and Italians (or Italians and Italians) and thus may have supported the long-lasting and profound transformation from Republican to Imperial Italy. About a dozen of the chapters that follow respond explicitly to this directive. Let me review the individual contributions before assessing what the volume offers to our understanding of integration and identity formation in the period.

Roman Roth criticizes the methodology of previous studies of Italy for starting from received boundaries such as ethnic divisions or Augustan regiones; these categories impose borders upon the evidence. Instead, he sketches out an approach to Central Italy viewed from the perspective of settlement and connectivity, and guided by Horden and Purcell’s The Corrupting Sea.3 No doubt there is potential here: after all, South Etruria was one of Horden and Purcell’s “four definite places.” We look forward to the fuller application of the model.

Federico Russo argues that Rome conceived of the First Punic War, fought mostly in Sicily, as a conflict over Italy. Much of this restates the conclusions of his article from Historia in 2010: the rhetoric of the ludi saeculares of 249 BC reflects Rome’s expanding interest in Italy; the Mamertines’ appeal to homophylia with Rome suggests that such a view may have also applied to Italians in Sicily.4 Skylar Neil suggests that Perusia’s comparatively late urbanization resulted from the settlement’s peripheral geographic location.

Two chapters discuss the role of the Republican army as a “melting pot.” Patrick Kent argues that ad hoc interstate cooperation characterized Italian warfare prior to the Punic Wars. Nathan Rosenstein’s outstanding paper questions a recent proposition that linguistic differences prevented meaningful interaction between Romans and allied soldiers. Ranging widely from archaeology to a comparison with the US armed forces, he concludes that, while the Republican army provided ample space for integration between Romans and Italians out of a basic desire for efficiency in battle, military structures never supported the formation of a common identity and instead may have highlighted Italian individualism.

The next pair of chapters turns to issues of citizenship leading up to the Social War. Seth Kendall suggests that Rome acted against its self-interest to protect its citizenship in pursuing a war known to be potentially devastating. Fiona Tweedie sets the Lex Licinia Mucia of 95 BC in its broader context, convincingly interpreting the legislation as a reactive measure intended to embarrass those socii who had illegally been extended citizenship in the particularly liberal census of 97 BC. The law fueled resentment, prompting a reassessment in the following census and ultimately Drusus’ failed rogatio of 91 BC.

From citizenship to commerce: Roselaar shows how concern for the protection of Italians’ commercial activity in the East became a factor in shaping Rome’s foreign policy. Italians abroad were increasingly viewed, and increasingly viewed themselves, as representatives of Rome’s commercial interests. This was conducive to integration, but only to a point: once the allies recognized their position, they quickly grew dissatisfied with their political exclusion.

By way of trade, the next chapter returns to the army. Toni Ñaco del Hoyo and Jordi Principal examine two Roman military outposts in Northeastern Spain that contain predominantly local material assemblages with some in-mixing of Italian imports. The authors see the continued strategic importance of Hispania Citerior even after the fall of Numantia as guided by Rome’s global ambitions, but in this case, those global ambitions were reliant on indigenous manpower and supply chains.

Continuing with trade, Daniel Hoyer promotes an optimistic view of Samnium’s economy and recasts the Samnite Wars as a competition between Romans and Samnites over access to and control of resources. Hoyer’s positive view of the Samnites finds supporters elsewhere in the volume; Livy’s picture of a rustic, backwards mountain people is wrong, but just how wrong? A comparative approach now seems needed: no doubt that some Samnites settled, farmed, and bought and sold pottery, but how does the quantity of material stack up against contemporary activity in comparable areas of Italy?

Next, two particularly strong chapters on social networks. Kathryn Lomas’ excellent paper examines Cicero’s speeches and letters in order to understand the social practices of vicinitas and hospitium, which in Social Network Theory parlance can be defined as “weak ties.” While these weak ties bound Cicero to Italians and provincials, “strong ties” like kinship or conubium proved insufficient to prevent the Social War. To explain this, Social Network Theory relates that strong ties, naturally more inward-looking, are also more apt to create cliques and factions, whereas weak ties by virtue of their diverse membership are outward looking, bridge different social groups, and are thus effective integrators. In turn, John Patterson builds from his recent work on social relationships between Romans and Italians to consider how Italians connected with other Italians. Like Lomas, he endorses Peter Brunt’s observation that, whatever the character of those ties that bound various Italians together, they ultimately proved insufficient to prevent either the outbreak of the Social War or the eventual Roman victory.

Colonization seems a natural “point of contact.” Edward Bispham’s instructive case study describes a “double community” at the coastal colony of Antium with Volscians and Roman colonists living side-by-side. The Antiate Romans engaged in the sort of piracy for which the Volscians were famous, even after the Volscian population had disappeared. This is a well-articulated example of the contribution indigenous peoples could make to the societies of early and mid-Republican colonies.

Elizabeth Robinson presents results of an archaeological study of Larinum in Molise and advances an interpretation of a high degree of continuity and stability, at least insofar as concerned the local elite. As it contrasts with the violent picture gleaned from our literary evidence, the smooth transition of Larinum from Samnite center to Roman municipium highlights the need for fine-grained resolution that only such local studies can provide.

Osvaldo Sacchi sees continuity among indigenous magistracies at Capua before and after Rome’s punitive dismantling of much of the local government in 211 BC. To support this, he labors to reaffirm the vicus- pagus model as an authentic form of archaic Italian settlement.

As we all know, during the first century BC, Latin replaced the vast majority of indigenous Italian languages. I learned a great deal about this process from David Langslow’s admirably lucid discussion of about twenty epigraphic documents. He makes a sophisticated case for cultural borrowing and Latin linguistic behavior even in non-Latin texts. Especially where we may detect a conscious choice of linguistic practice, many of “the language-related phenomena are more cultural objects than linguistic features proper” (294), and thus important evidence not of Latinization, but of Italian reaction to Roman cultural practice.

Underscoring the role of Italy in Cato’s Origines, Eleanor Jefferson offers a salient reminder that Romans of the second century were themselves consciously writing Italians into their histories. To my mind, though, she goes too far in arguing that Cato intended his work to find a “multi-cultural readership” among Italian elites. The centripetal movement of mid Republican authors to Rome, which she cites, finds little centrifugal corollary; the Fabius Pictor inscription from Taormina proves no more than does Timaeus himself that Magna Graecia was interested in Greek histories that discussed Rome; it says nothing about the reception of Cato’s idiosyncratic work.

Three chapters on religion round out the volume. Rianne Hermans looks at how the perception of Juno Sospita changed after the Italian deity arrived at Rome; I would have appreciated illustrations to clarify her iconographic discussion. Massimiliano Di Fazio’s contribution shows how the worship of the Sabine goddess Feronia came to Rome in the fourth or third century BC, where she nonetheless maintained her Sabine identity. Then, Feronia’s cult was promulgated from Rome throughout Italy following Roman expansion, but often with a degree of non-Roman affiliation. The chapter rewards by depicting religious development in Republican Italy as dependent upon a rich spectrum of concerns from Roman, “Romanized,” and local. Elisabeth Buchet examines three cults at Tibur (Tiburnus, Albunea, and Hercules) and shows with impressive insight how each reflected the vicissitudes of the city’s relationship with Rome; religious practice served the larger aim of promoting a community’s independent identity.

Some stray commas and misspellings will not stand in the reader’s way. Might we allow that discrepancies in modern orthography (e.g. Asculum/Ausculum, Romanization/Romanisation) parallel the attention to ancient diversity? I did, however, find the inconsistent presentation of ancient texts distracting: some authors give only translation, others both original and translation, and others no translation at all; sometimes variation appears within the same article. Considering the volume’s potential appeal to both the philologically and archaeologically inclined, a more systematic inclusion of translation and original would have been appreciated. As this may suggest, however, one great success here is the volume’s wide and interdisciplinary scope: the methodological breadth is a welcome acknowledgement that, as far as the subject is concerned, the goals of archaeologists and historians are increasingly overlapping.

To conclude: what sort of integration and identity formation do the authors here describe? Rosenstein puts it best when he observes “integration without identification” (103), and others subscribe to a similar view. The processes of integration and identity formation seldom ran parallel. Italians and Romans interacted, but Italians rarely lost sight of their local identities. Instead of promoting cohesion, then, interaction emphasized differences and served to remind Italians of the debt that they felt Rome owed them, ultimately provoking conflict. Two decades ago, this would have been a startling conclusion. Now, it is a timely reinforcement of the role that diversity played in Italian identity formation, and the volume thus contributes to the changing way that we understand the development of tota Italia. The growing group of archaeologists and historians working on the topic are advised to take note.


1. H. Mouritsen, Italian Unification: A Study in Ancient and Modern Historiography, London, 1998; E. Bispham, From Asculum to Actium. The Municipalization of Italy from the Social War to Augustus, Cambridge, 2007; M. Jehne and R. Pfeilschifter (eds), Herrschaft ohne Integration? Rom und Italien in Republikanischer Zeit, Frankfurt am Main, 2007.

2. A large bibliography since the 1990s; one detects the field changing in N. Terrenato, “ Tam firmum municipium : the Romanization of Volaterrae and its cultural implications,” JRS 88 (1998): 94-114. For a recent overview, G. Bradley, C. Riva, and E. Isayev (eds), Ancient Italy: Regions without Boundaries, Exeter, 2007.

3. P. Horden and N. Purcell, The Corrupting Sea: A Study of Mediterranean History, Oxford, 2000.

4. Federico Russo, “Il concetto di Italia nelle relazioni di Roma con Cartagine e Pirro,” Historia 30 (2010), pp. 74-105.