Roman Italy  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Italia, under the Roman Republic and later Empire, was the name of the Italian peninsula.

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Under the Republic and Augustan organization

During the Republic and the first centuries of the empire, Italia (which extended at the beginning from Calabria to Rubicon later from Calabria to Alps) was not a province, but rather the territory of the city of Rome, thus having a special status: for example, military commanders were not allowed to bring their armies within Italia, and Julius Caesar passing the Rubicon with his legions marked the start of the civil war.

The name Italia covered a portion of Italy that changed through time. According to Strabo (Geographia, v 1), at the beginning the name indicated the land between the strait of Messina and the line connecting the gulf of Salerno and gulf of Taranto; later Italia was extended to include the whole Italian peninsula, as well as the Istrian town of Colonia Pietas Iulia (Pola); finally, Julius Caesar gave Roman citizenship to the people of the Gallia Transpadana— that part of Cisalpine Gaul that lay "beyond the Po"—, thus extending Italia up to the Alps.

With the end of the Social War (91–88 BC), Rome allowed the Italian allies to enter with full rights in the Roman society, giving the Roman citizenship to all the Italic peoples.

At the beginning of the Empire, Italia was a collection of territories with different statuses. Some cities, called municipii, had some independence from Rome, others, the colonies, were founded by the Romans themselves. Around 7 BC, Augustus Caesar divided Italia into eleven regiones, as reported by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia (iii 46):

  • Regio I Latium et Campania
  • Regio II Apulia et Calabria
  • Regio III Lucania et Brutii
  • Regio IV Samnium
  • Regio V Picenum
  • Regio VI Umbria et Ager Gallicus
  • Regio VII Etruria
  • Regio VIII Aemilia
  • Regio IX Liguria
  • Regio X Venetia et Histria
  • Regio XI Transpadana

Italia was privileged by Augustus and his heirs, with the construction, among other public structures, of a dense mesh of roads. The Italian economy flourished: agriculture, handicraft and industry had a sensible growth, allowing the export of goods to the other provinces. The Italian population grew as well: Three census were ordered by Augustus, to record the presence of male citizens in Italia. They were 4,063,000 in 28 BC, 4,233,000 in 8 BC, and 4,937,000 in AD 14. Including the women and the children, the total population of Italia at the beginning of the 1st century was around 10 million.

Italia in 3rd century

When Roman citizenship was given to all the Empire ( 212 ), Italia began to decline in favour of provinces. Furthermore, Italian territory suffered from the attacks of barbarian tribes, which happened at the end of the 3rd century (see Crisis of the third century and Barracks emperors).

Diocletian divided the Empire into four parts (dioceses). The diocesis Italiae, ruled by the Augustus of the West, was divided into two zones, each divided into smaller territories held by correctores:

  • Italia suburbicaria ("under the government of Rome")
    • Tuscia et Umbria
    • Valeria
    • Campania et Samnium
    • Apulia et Calabria
    • Sicilia
    • Sardinia et Corsica
  • Italia annonaria, with capital Mediolanum (Milan)

The former Italian regions of Alpes Poenninae and Alpes Maritimae become part of the Diocesis Galliarum.

Italia from the 4th to the 6th century

When the barbarians became the most important problem, the Emperors were obliged to move out of Rome, and even in other provinces, thus increasing even more the decline of Italia. In 330, Constantine I moved the capital of the empire to Constantinople, with the imperial court, economical administration, as well as the military structures (as the fleets of Misenum and Ravenna).

After the death of emperor Theodosius (395), Italia became part of the Western Roman Empire. Then came the years of the barbarian invasions, and the capital was moved from Mediolanum to Ravenna (402). Alaric, king of Visigoths, sacked Rome itself in 410; something that hadn't happened for eight centuries. Northern Italia was attacked by Attila's Huns, and Rome was sacked again by the Vandals under the command of Genseric in 455.

According to Notitia Dignitatum, a compilation of public civil and military officers that is considered updated to 420s for the western part of the Roman Empire, Italia was governed by a prefectus, Prefectus praetorio Italiae (who governed Gaul, Italia, Illyricum and Africa), one vicarius, and one comes rei militaris. The regions were governed by eight consulares (Venetiae et Histriae, Aemiliae, Liguriae, Flaminiae et Piceni annonarii, Tusciae et Umbriae, Piceni suburbicarii, Campaniae, and Siciliae), two correctores (Apuliae et Calabriae and Lucaniae et Bruttiorum) and four praesides (Alpium Cottiarum, Samnii, Sardiniae, and Corsicae).

With the Emperors controlled by their barbarian generals, the imperial government weakly controlled Italia, whose coasts were continuously under attack. In 476, with the resignation of Romulus Augustulus and the return of the imperial ensigns to Constantinople, the Western Roman Empire had fallen. For 77 years, Italia stayed united first under Odoacer rule as the Ostrogothic Kingdom.

In 533AD, Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I reconquered Italia and founded the Exarchate of Ravenna. The Byzantines were to lose most of Italia (except the cities and territories of Ravenna, Ancona, Rome, Naples and parts of the deep south) during the Lombard invasion in 553, it ceased to be a Roman unitary state and began to be divided between several kingdoms, and would not be re-united for another thirteen centuries.

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Roman Italy" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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