You might be wondering “If Romans beat up Latins why do they speak Latin?” and it’s because, like with many of these early Roman wars it was less of a conquest and more a protection racket.
Like with Sabines and Etruscans, Latins probably formed a major part of the early population of Rome. Those happy to be Roman stayed in the surrounding area and those looking to keep an aspect of their ‘Latin’ identity inhabited the area just to the south of Rome. Rome was, in essence, a Latin state, and for the most part the Latins were allies of Rome.
However as Rome grew, particularly as they started fighting with their neighbours, the other Latins got quite rightfully worried and tensions grew.
What we need to consider, at this point, I think I have mentioned before. We think of ‘Rome’ and we think of a big, uniform empire. We think of a combined ‘Roman’ identity, but we’re thinking definitely of Imperial Rome, we’re likely thinking post-Augustus – and it’s hard not to. A lot of our impression of Rome is defined by this era, a lot of our popular culture around Rome surrounds this era. In the West, our major religion of Christianity began in this era. There’s a heavy focus on it.
But in the 8th, 7th, 6th centuries BCE? Rome was just another village-turned-city-state. The Etruscans were not a uniform ‘empire’, though they had a shared culture they were separate city states, with their own rulers, who through commonalities would form alliances and ‘leagues’. The same is true of many of the cultures in the Italian Peninsula at the time, including the Latins.
This is where talking about ‘wars’ with these groups is difficult. To an extent the Sabine wars, the Etruscan wars, the Latin wars, these were all civil wars. In fact, according to Livy often the Kings of Rome would sack a town, displace its residents, set them up somewhere in Rome and piss off to do the same again to another poor town! Rome was, at least by a semi-legendary history, a city of forcibly diaspora-ed migrants from surrounding towns and cultures.
On to the wars;
Unlike with their other near-neighbours they didn’t immediately kick-off at the Latins and the first conflict did not happen until the reign of Ancus Marcius in the 7th century BCE. It is here that Livy mentions Marcius taking the town of Politorium and settling the people as residents on the Aventine Hill in Rome.
The next war was under Tarquinius Priscus, who raided a Latin settlement around or before 588 BCE, and then later subdued all of Latium.
In 503 BCE there was a revolt in two Roman controlled Latin towns, Pometia and Cora.
In 501 BCE Livy reports that 30 Latin cities joined in an alliance, the so-called Latin League, against Rome, but it did not come to blows until 499 BCE at the earliest. This actually led to some interesting developments. The nearby Volsci tribe attempted to get the Latins to join them in an attack on Rome in around 495 BCE. Instead the Latins warned Rome of the impending attack and gave up the Volscian ambassadors, starting an alliance between Rome and the Latin League and leading to a mutual exchange of prisoners and tribute. This was formalised in a treaty, the Foedus Cassianum or the Treaty of Cassius around 493 BCE. This would mean peace between Rome and the Latin League for a century.
However, in 390 BCE the Gauls caused some minor problems, reaching Rome and sacking the hell out of it. Rome’s near neighbours (Latins included) spied an opportunity to carve up what was becoming a dominant power and, according to Livy at least, sort of…Stopped helping Rome – And then started fighting against them, except of course as a League they had no formal declaration of war with Rome it’s just “If some of our guys happen to join some other guys as mercenaries…” – We’ll call it the Ukraine defence, no contemporary political reason. There is some debate about the validity of this. There is every possibility that warfare at the time was a very individual, mercenary affair. Either way Rome would not stabilise for close to five years, and by around 385 BCE all this scrapping had calmed down.
They had a war with the large, Latin city of Praeneste between 383 BCE and 379 BCE.
Likewise with Satricum in 377 BCE.
They had a fairly major war with the Latin city of Tibur between 361 BCE and 354 BCE, notable because of an alliance between Tibur and the Gauls, this Gallic threat then provided the pretext for a temporary truce.
Finally Latium would come under almost complete Roman control with The Latin War between 340 BCE and 338 BCE. Again, this was before the era of the Roman strategy of ‘Make desert, call it peace’ as Roman historian Tacitus would put in the words of the mouth of Calgacus – a Caledonian chieftain. The war ended not with total destruction or total subjugation but with an acceptance of many of the Latin cities under the Roman umbrella. They annexed some cities, left some autonomous but presumably indebted, and forged treaties. The Latin League as an entity was not dissolved so much as it was absorbed, consumed by a hungry Roman appetite for expansion.
This treatment of the Latins would provide a blueprint for the treatment of much Roman military ‘diplomacy’ – again, it was a protection racket in all honesty. They’d beat you up and then go “We could do that again, or we could leave you in charge, you run it for us and just pay us taxes and worship a few of our gods, is that alright?”
Read the other parts in our ‘Roman History in a Nutshell’ Series:
The Founding – 753 BCE and Before
The Kingdom – 753 BCE – 509 BCE
The Patrician Era and the Conflict of the Orders – 494 BCE – 287 BCE
Wars with Etruscans Pre-753 BCE – ~264 BCE
Wars with Sabines, Veii & Fidenae ~753 BCE – ~287 BCE
The Gallic Wars ~390 BCE – ~284 BCE
The Rest of the Med ~2,000 BCE – ~3rd Century BCE
The Samnite Wars ~343 BCE – ~290 BCE
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