Roman Expansion in Italy and The Dissolution of the Latin League

After Rome's disastrous war with the Gauls, many of the Latin city - states attempted to throw off Roman leadership and influence in their affairs. having become Roman allies during the Fifth Century BC, they now felt that Rome was too weak to oppose their bid for independence. These included the important towns of Praeneste and Tibur. The citizens of Tusculum, on the other hand, quickly settled their differences with Rome and were granted the benefits of full Roman citizenship.

The city of Capua and the surrounding regions of Campania had meanwhile been sufferingfrom raids from Samnite tribes who had descended from the neighboring hills in search of land to satisfy their increasing population. In 343 BC, Capua appealed to Rome for help in dealing with the Samnite threat. In what became known as the First Samnite War (343 - 341 BC), Rome came to the aid of the Campanian cities but instead suffered defeat at the hands of the Samnites.

Fearing that Rome was growing too powerful, Capua and the Campanians soon changed their mind about an alliance with Rome and instead joined with other Latin cities in resisting Rome's bid for control over northern and central Italy. Rome had at first been considered more or less an equal partner in the Latin League. Although one of its most powerful members, eventually Rome began to treat the other member city - states as inferiors. In some cases, Rome failed to share with her neighbors territory captured from an enemy, while actually abandoning some of her allies to the Samnites in a peace treaty concluding the First Samnite War.

The growing dissatisfaction of the Latin towns with Rome's dominance led to the Latin War, during which Rome reestablished a measure of control over her neighbors. After lengthly bitter fighting, the Latin League was dissolved as a result of the treaty concluding the Latin War in 338 BC. The Latin towns were offered generous terms while leaving no doubt that Rome was in full control. Citizens of some Latin towns were offered partial Roman citizenship which granted certain rights, including those of commercium and connubium, but not the right to vote in the Senate and popular assemblies at Rome. This was called civitas sine suffragio, or citizenship without voting rights. The Latin towns could make treaties with Rome but not with each other, so they could not set up powerful confederations such as the Latin League had been. Some towns were offered the benefits of full Roman citizenship. In forming treaties of alliance with her defeated neighbors, Rome dealt with each one individually as circumstances dictated rather than simply impose a uniform policy of oppression on all. It was this new form of diplomacy, extending some of the rights of Roman citizenship to other groups in Italy that in large part paved the way for Rome to become the most powerful empire known in history up to that time. Another policy that Rome employed was to alloww the existing government of most town to continue to rule under Rome's supervision. This allowed the existing ruling class to retain most of their power and, since they were afforded Rome's assistance in case they were attacked by their neighbors, even provided the local rulers with some measure of security. Those in positions of power usually found this arrangement so attractive that they enthusiastically embraced Roman alliance and overlordship. In most cases, the cities that came under Roman control did not have to pay taxes to Rome, but were required to render military aid to help Rome fight her numerous wars. Rome's sophisticated tools of diplomacy, in combination with her well disciplined army brought about a new era in history which made it possible to successfully build and rule a complex, culturally diverse empire.

The mid Fourth Century BC was also a time of social change in Roman society. The Plebeian class was hard hit by the destruction caused by the Gallic invasion of 390 BC, and many of them found themselves deeply in debt. There was also much resentment because the Plebeians had little or no say in the Roman government. Even though it was technically not contrary to law for a Plebeian to become consul, this did not happen in practice.

The Licinio - Sextian laws of 367 BC provided a measure of relief from debt for the Plebeians as well as mandating that one of the consuls should be chosen from amongst the Plebeians. The Licinio - Sextian laws also established several other magistracies including the offices of Praetor and Curule Aedile. Another law passed in 342 BC made it illegal to charge interest on loaned money, but, like other such attempts throughout history to outlaw the charging of interest, was widelly ignored.

Sinnigen and Boak pp. 50 - 53
Grant pp. 55 - 57, 65 - 66
Atlas of the Roman World pp. 34 - 36


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