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Rome emerged from the rule of the Etruscan tyrants as a formidable power in central Italy (Africa 1974, p. 49). The neighboring tribes of the Latins quickly challenged this newly acquired freedom by trying to bring the Tarquinian rex back to power (Livy 2.2.19). This invoked the now mythical Roman hubris as the mention of the despised king enraged the people of the new "democratic" republic. The Latins led by Porsenna fought a largely uneventful series of battles with the Romans, finally ending in a victory by the first-ever Roman dictator at Lake Regillus in 496 (Livy 2.2.21). The treaty of alliance that followed was to be a rare one for the Romans as they gave the Latins what Lewis and Reinhold call a foedus aequum in which they gave fair terms to their enemies, a vastly different approach from the later method of imposing terms on beaten foes (1990, pp. 88-89). It seems that even the haughty Romans knew when to be humble early on as they had also made a similar pact of allegiance with their later arch-enemies the Carthaginians in 509 (Lewis and Reinhold 1990, pp. 75-76). This along with Rome's frequent annexation of conquered territories was to be the two main ways in which the Romans would attain their empire.

The success against the Latin League instilled the Romans with confidence to expand their territory even more expediently. Merely ten years after the battle at Lake Regillus, Roman diplomats created a military alliance with the tribe of the Hernici, thus surrounding the Volsci and the Aequi who threatened Rome (Africa 1974, p. 50). What ensued was a long period of random skirmishes rather than a war and the two tribes were subdued after seven decades of conflict (Africa 1974, p. 52). The duration of the war stemmed from the class conflict between the patricians and the plebeians and its impact on army morale. Rome's legislative bodies remedied both problems by creating the plebeian office of military tribune with consular powers in 445 (Africa 1974, p. 54). This satisfied the downtrodden plebeians and also added much needed leadership to the Roman army. Furthermore, the city began to pay its soldiers, thus increasing the size of the army to include the middle economic classes (Africa 1974, p. 55). These efforts to strengthen Rome contributed to her attempts to bring the historic rival town of Veii to its knees, brought to fruition when Rome destroyed the city in 396 (Africa 1974, p. 55). Despite this military advancement, the Roman army was surprisingly weak as the strategies and weapons employed by generals dated back to Etruscan times. Once again Roman pride created a false sense of security in the city's military strength.

The invasion of the Celts shattered any such delusions when Rome was sacked and burned to the ground in 390 (Lewis and Reinhold 1990, pp. 78-79). The barbaric northern tribe occupied Rome, plundering the city save for the Capitol. This disgrace was unbearable to the Romans and they were forced to bribe the nomads with one thousand pounds of gold to return back to the Po River (Africa 1974, p. 56). The humbled Romans displayed their famous tenacity as they replenished their manpower and overhauled the army at an amazing rate. Within twenty years of its destruction, Rome was rebuilt and the city recieved a new protective outer fortification named the "Servian Wall" (Africa 1974, p. 56). Furthermore, Rome revamped her army when the hero Camillus replaced the antiquated method of phalanx battle formations with the more flexible manipular formation (Africa 1974, p. 56). During this time, many tribes had considered the Romans a defeated people and had ceased to recognize their alliances with the fallen city (Africa 1974, p. 56). The rejuvenated Romans took this harshly and struck back fiercely, capturing Latium and most of central Italy by 338 (Livy, 8.11.12-16, 12.5, 13.8-10, 14, in Lewis and Reinhold 1990, pp. 92-93). The victors no longer offered foedus aequum but instead levied heavy demands on the conquered, although they often granted citizenship to the defeated people as a means of binding them to Rome (Africa 1974, pp. 59).

The Samnite League of southern Italy checked this rapid Roman expansion when these two clashed over the routes to Campania (Lewis and Reinhold 1990, p. 81). Similar to the Romans in military might, the Samnites were equally expansionist and grew nervous of Roman influence in Southern Italy when the latter entered Campania (Africa 1974, p. 58). Rome's involvement in Campania was another manifestation of its ambition, as the historian Homo noted in a discussion of the cause of the bloody war:

"The brutal truth is that from the political, military, and economic standpoint the intervention in Campania promised substantial advantages.... Stripped of pious words and phrases, intervention in Campania meant to Rome politically the encirclement of the Latins, militarily cavalry, and economically wheat" (L. Homo, "Primitive Italy and the Beginnings of Roman Imperialism," pp. 181-182, in Lewis and Reinhold 1990, p. 82)."

Tensions erupted into open conflict in 326 producing varying results for either side. A low point for the Roman ego occurred after the defeat at the Caudine Forks when the captured Roman troops were forced to walk beneath a degrading yoke of spears (Africa 1974, p. 59). The humiliated Romans fought to a draw and grudgingly agreed to a peace treaty in 304 (Africa 1974, p. 59). The courageous Samnites then enrolled the Celts as allies and attacked Rome at Sentinum in 295 (Africa 1974, p. 60). The Romans achieved a decisive victory and subsequently drove the Celts back north while at the same time forced the Samnites to surrender in 290 (Africa 1974, p. 60). Victories over the Etruscans and Celts followed and within two decades the entire non-Celtic Italian peninsula belonged to Rome (Africa 1974, p. 60).

The conquest of Italy did not come cheaply, as the forty-year Samnite War had taken its toll on the Roman economy. The impoverished plebeians seceded from the city's limits for a third time leading to the ratification of the Hortensian Law in 287 (Lewis and Reinhold 1990, p. 132). This law held all Roman subject to plebiscites, thus joining the patricians and plebeians as one (Gaius, Institutes I. iii, in Lewis and Reinhold 1990, p. 132). A newly united Rome now turned its interest to the prosperous Greek cities of southern Italy. Spurred on by upstart plebeian politicians, the Roman army got involved in an altercation with Tarentum by siding with a rival hill tribe (Africa 1974, p. 116). The Tarentines quickly summoned Pyrrhus to come and deal with the nosy Romans. This "predatory warlord" met the Romans at Heraclea and enjoyed an easy victory as his elephants made quick work of the surprised Roman army. Pyrrhus then sent a peace offer to Rome which was quickly refused by the proud people (Africa 1974, p. 117). Since the Roman policy of unconditional surrender remained steadfast, Pyrrhus won another battle at Ausculum against the Roman army, only this time suffering severe casualties (Africa 1974, p. 117). The Romans finally succeeded in driving Pyrrhus from Italy at the battle at Beneventum and thus defeated the Tarentines in 272. Italy was now under Roman control.

ŠAugust 2000 Skidmore College Department of Classics
 Created and Maintained by Alexander Carballo '01
 Please post comments or inquiries to a_carbal@skidmore.edu