Rome's influence expands to cover the entire Italian peninsula, defeating Gauls, Samnites and Etruscans, as well as repelling invaders from Greece.

Conquered peoples are only allowed a diluted form of association with Rome - full citizenship is no longer routinely extended to fellow Italians.


map of Italy

Early Italy, with Sicily and Carthage. (Ancient World Mapping Center)

By 265 BC the Romans had conquered the whole of the Italian peninsular below the river Arno (Arnus). They also successfully resisted several incursions into their territory by the Gauls who occupied the valley of the Po (Padus), and in 275 BC had finally seen off the hired army under Pyrrhus (318-272 BC), king of Epirus, who had been called in to protect the interests of the Greek city states in the south.

The attitude of the Romans to the peoples they defeated was enlightened and tactically sound. They refused to deal with conglomerates of states, such as the league of Latin cities to which Rome had originally belonged, or with the Etruscan empire as a whole. They insisted on treating each conquest on its individual merits, and imposed restrictions or awarded privileges according to the circumstances. Some were granted Roman citizenship without voting rights, and some a kind of probationary citizenship; others had to give up part of their territory, which became public land or was carved up into lots for the use of Roman citizens, or employed as the site of a new colony.

Defeated states were sometimes allowed the right of trade and intermarriage with Rome, but never with each other - it was a case of applying the Roman proverb “divide and rule”. All were required regularly to provide manpower for the armies of Rome. This continuous supply of recruits was a factor in the determination to extend the power of Rome. It was not until the second century BC that soldiers received any formal pay, though from 406 BC they were reimbursed for their field expenses, less the cost of rations and other items from military stores. A soldier’s reward was in spoils and land: the Roman empire grew as a means of providing these.

The year 338 BC marked the final capitulation and dissolution of the Latin league of states, and the establishment of Roman colonies along the coast of Latium which were out of bounds to settlers from other Latin towns. Shortly afterwards, treaties were made with the Campanian towns of Cumae and Capua, originally of Greek foundation but more recently under Etruscan domination, whereby these, and certain other communities in the region, accepted a form of Roman citizenship and the duty of supplying soldiers in return for military protection.

map of central Italy

Latium, Campania, and Samnium. The Caudine Forks are at the gap in the mountains immediately below the name Caudini. Mount Ciminius is just to the north of the lake between Tarquinii and Falerii. (Ancient World Mapping Center)

It was not long before the call for protection came, against Samnite invasions of Campania. The Samnites could be contained quite easily on the plains of central Italy, but once they retired to their mountainous homelands, new military tactics were required to dislodge them. The war lasted with few interruptions for 37 years until 290 BC. It culminated in victory for the Romans, but not before they had, in 321 BC, suffered the most shameful defeat in their history. Trapped in the Caudine Forks, a series of narrow mountain passes, the whole Roman army, with its consuls and officers, was forced to surrender. Six hundred knights were demanded and handed over as hostages. Then the real humiliation began. First the consuls, having been stripped of their cloaks of office, were sent under the yoke. Then the whole army, in descending order of rank, one by one, was forced to follow, while the Samnites hurled insults at them and cracked jokes, maiming or killing any who protested at their treatment.

The last-remaining Etruscan footholds in Campania had been swept away in the latter part of the fifth century by Oscan-speaking tribes from the southern Appenines. The disintegration of the rest of the Etruscan empire began in 310 BC when a Roman army penetrated as far as the wooded slopes of Mount Ciminius, and then by a forced march through the forest got behind the opposing confederate army, and crushed it. Three major Etruscan cities immediately sued for peace. The rest followed suit by degrees until 283 BC, when the capitulation was complete.

The Gaulish tribes who had spilled over into the fertile valley of the Po as a result of Celtic migrations in the fifth century BC resisted Roman attempts to annex their territory until 191 BC, and though Ligurian tribes on the east coast offered pockets of resistance for a further twenty years, the whole region now recognized as Italy was soon in Roman hands.

Believe it or not:

According to Plutarch, Pyrrhus died during an assault on Argos, when an old woman, seeing him engaged in hand-to-hand combat with her son, hurled a roof tile at him, and scored a direct hit.