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Extension of Control by Rome Over Italy

Rome extended her control over Italy in several different stages involving conflicts with various enemies. The conquest can be broken down into 4 distinct phases beginning in 509 BC and ending in 265 BC.

The first phase involved, after overthrowing the Etruscan kings, putting down an uprising of Latin States which resulted in the treaty of the Latin League (493 BC). This offered mutual protection for both Rome and the Latins who were now her allies. Around this time also, certain hill tribes took advantage of what they saw as Rome’s weakness after the fall of the Etruscans, and the Aequi, Vosci and the Sabines attacked and were eventually defeated. They signed treaties with Rome and became her allies. This period was also a step forward for the plebeians, who between 494 BC and 287 BC fought for certain rights they believed they were owed.

Rome then extended her control over Fidenae which was an Etruscan fort town on Roman territory and after this laid siege to Veii, the nearest Etruscan city. The siege finally ended 10 years after it began with the capture of Veii, the beginning of the end for the Etruscan domination in the area. The Latins became discontent with Rome’s growing power and in 340 BC rebelled against Rome. In 330 BC they were defeated and each had to sign a separate treaty and the League was dissolved.

The Second phase (390-338 BC) involved attack by the Gauls who had been migrating into Italy because of population problems at home. An Etruscan city called on Rome for her protection and Rome warned the Gauls off but the Gauls would not be deterred and they marched on Rome. The two armies met at River Allia and Rome was badly defeated. The Gauls continued on to Rome and proceeded to sack the city. They occupied it for 7 months then left the Romans to rebuild which they did, but better than before. The so called Servian Wall was the result of this invasion. It also illustrated the Roman’s tenacity and determination when their city was involved.

During the third phase of Rome’s expansion (338 BC-290 BC) were the Samnite Wars, 3 in all, lasting many years. The first was won by Rome on behalf of Capua. The second, Rome was defeated decidedly but eventually won the war. In the third the Samnites were forced to sign a treaty after Rome defeated all the allies Samnium managed to gather, including the Etruscans. These wars brought about changes in the Roman army's battle tactics as they did not do well in the second Samnite war, fighting in the mountains. Their tactics changed from the phalanx to the maniple, flexible units able to manoeuvre quickly. These innovations were to become Rome’s greatest asset.

The fourth and final phase (290-265 BC) came about when Thurii, a Greek town, called on Rome’s support against raiding tribes. Tarentum, the leader of these Greek towns, had already begun to feel threatened by Rome’s growing power and she was getting closer because of the Samnite Wars. Tarentum accused Rome of breaking a previous treaty when her fleet sailed to the coast so they attacked the fleet and the Thurii garrison and expelled the Roman army. Rome demanded reparations, and Tarentum called on Pyrrhus for aid. The King of Epirus came with thousands of cavalry and infantry and also brought war elephants which would be Rome’s downfall. The first two battles were won by Pyrrhus but with heavy losses on both sides. Pyrrhus came very close to Rome but decided he would never get a total victory so left for Sicily. Over the next few years Rome again built up her army and won battle after battle until Tarentum again called on Pyrrhus, but he was badly beaten and the Greek cities, including Tarentum, eventually fell to Rome who had completed her conquest of Magna Graecia.

These victories were consolidated all along the way with treaties, making Rome’s enemies her allies, not her subjects, most only having to give over a little territory and supply army in times of war. This brought Rome their loyalty and increased her control and power.

The expansion of Rome in Italy was complete, the only place left to go was overseas. Rome turned her eyes toward Carthage.

Go to next essay - Background to the wars with Carthage

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Copyright Sherrie Thompson 1999
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Posted 4 May 1999