Sewell, J.P and Witcher, R. (2015). Urbanism in Ancient Peninsular Italy: developing a methodology for a database analysis of higher order settlements (350 BCE to 300 CE), Internet Archaeology 40.

A summary of the history and archaeology of urbanism in Italy: 350-30 BCE

By 350 BCE, diverse forms of settlement existed across the peninsula (Figure 4). Precocious urbanism is associated with the great centres of Etruria and Latium that developed during the Iron Age, most of which survived through to the Hellenistic period and beyond. Greek colonisation from the 8th century BCE onwards had established perhaps as many as 26 cities in southern Italy. Most of the other peoples possessed larger population centres among their settlement forms, many of which had (or soon would have) stone fortifications. Roman literary sources suggest that Rome had been involved in founding colonies together with the so-called Latin League, a confederation of cities in ancient Latium, during the 5th and early 4th centuries BCE (Salmon 1969, 40–54; Cornell 1995, 301–4; Gros and Torelli 2007, 165–67; Lackner 2008; Sewell 2010, 9–10; Termeer 2010). A pivotal moment in the history of Roman territorial expansion was the near doubling of the extent of Roman public land after the fall of Etruscan Veii, Rome's neighbour, in 396 BCE (Torelli 1999, 22).

Although conflict in central Italy continued immediately after this, it was the second half of the 4th century BCE when the pace of the Roman conquest increased dramatically, which is why 350 BCE has been chosen as the upper date for the study. Historical sources report that in 338 BCE, after Rome defeated the city-states of the Latin League in the so-called Latin War, constitutional changes were implemented that enabled Rome to independently found two types of colony (Toynbee 1965, 129–41; Cornell 1995, 347–52), those whose colonists possessed either Latin citizenship or Roman citizenship (mid-Republican Latin and Roman colonies). Such colonies were subsequently founded outside Latium, attested archaeologically, in the context of the conquest of the peninsula (Lackner 2008; Sewell 2010). Another legislative solution in the years after the defeat of the Latin League was the direct assignment of Roman citizenship to subjugated communities, occasionally including voting rights at Rome (civitas optimo iure), more often not (civitas sine suffragio) (Sherwin-White 1973; Humbert 1978). This period also marked the start of long-term conflict with the Samnites, perhaps the most challenging of Rome's Italic adversaries.

Arguably, more of Italy's pre-Roman peoples were impacted by Roman expansion in the second half of the 4th century BCE than any other phase of the conquest. It seems likely that for the majority of peninsular pre-Roman communities, their first official relationship with Rome took the form of a treaty (foedus), although only 22 cases of this in relation to specific named settlements are attested by ancient written sources in the study area. The asymmetrical character of these treaties is reflected in their terms, which included the requirement for subject communities to supply troops to support the Roman legions. Before, during and after the Roman conquest, many of the major non-Roman centres developed various urban characteristics, the most archaeologically obvious of which was stone fortifications. Most of the peninsula was under Roman dominion by 266/265 BCE.

A new intensive phase of Roman colonisation occurred during the first three decades of the 2nd century BCE with the founding of 18 colonies following the devastating war with Hannibal, the consequence of which was the consolidation of Roman power on the peninsula. Archaeologically, this period is marked by the decline or abandonment of many major settlements in southern Italy. A small number of urban colonial centres appear to have been founded as a result of the legislation of the Gracchi (Gracchan colonies), reformists at Rome active in the last third of the 2nd century BCE. After the poorly understood Social War of the early 1st century BCE, affecting much of the peninsula, Roman citizenship was extended to existing communities across Italy, creating large numbers of municipia (communities of self-governing Roman citizens) (Bispham 2007a). Most of them were associated with either an existing urban centre, or one that developed as a result of the process of municipalisation. In fact, a significant number of communities with pre-conquest origins first become visible, archaeologically speaking, with the municipalisation of the 1st century BCE, and some not until the Augustan period. As a result of the Roman Civil Wars of the 1st century BCE, many thousands of veteran Roman soldiers were given land in the territories of existing urban centres that consequently received colonial status (veteran colonies). These different categories of towns are not mutually exclusive: for example, both Roman and non-Roman foundations could become municipia, and subsequently veteran colonies. Some veteran colonies were subsequently recolonised with further contingents of veterans.

Table 2. Instances of Roman settlement categories in peninsular Italy known from ancient textual sources or hypothesised in publications. [NB The purpose of Table 3 is to illustrate the proportion of towns with pre-Roman settlement histories. The tabulated totals are derived from surviving ancient textual sources and informed speculation by the scholars of ancient Italy ('hypothesised' assignations). The totals are not quantitatively comprehensive because they only relate to archaeologically known sites, 122 of which are represented multiple times in Table 2 owing to them having been recategorised on multiple occasions. In addition, there are 49 sites in the database with settlement histories that continued into the early imperial period but which are not represented in Table 2 because no known or hypothesised legal statuses are assigned to them.]
  Number of instances in study area
Roman settlement category Total no. No. with pre-Roman settlement history No. without immediate pre-Roman settlement history No. with ill-defined pre-Roman chronologies
Latin colony 35 27 8  
Roman colony 26 10 16  
civitas sine suffragio 17 15 0 2
Hypothesised civitas sine suffragio 4 2 0 2
civitas optimo iure 9 9 0  
conciliabulum 1 1 0  
Hypothesised conciliabulum 6 0 5 1
praefectura 16 15 0 1
Hypothesised praefectura 10 8 2  
Gracchan colony 5 4 2  
Hypothesised Gracchan colony 3 2 1  
municipium (Social War onwards) 193 157 34 2
Hypothesised municipium 55 39 11 5
Veteran colony 95 73 20 1
Hypothesised veteran colony 16 10 6 1
Totals 491 372 (76%) 105 (21%) 16 (3%)