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This article is about the conflict between Rome and her Italian allies between 91 and 88 BC
For the Athenian conflict with its allies between 357 and 355 BC see Social War .


The Social War (“Social” from socii (“allies”); also called the Italian War, the War of the Allies or the Marsic War), was a war waged from 91 to 88 BC between the Roman Republic and several of the other cities in Italymarker, which prior to the war had been Roman allies for centuries.

Origins

The Roman conquest of Italy between the fourth and third centuries B.C. resulted in a collection of alliances between Rome and the cities and communities of Italy, on more or less favorable terms depending on whether a given city had voluntarily allied with Rome or been defeated in war. These cities were theoretically independent, but in practice Rome had the right to demand from them tribute money and a certain number of soldiers: by the second century B.C., between one half and two-thirds of the soldiers in Roman armies were drawn from the Italian allies. The Roman government also had virtual control over the allies’ foreign policy including their interaction with one another.

In exchange for these exactions, the allies had traditionally received a portion of the booty and lands taken in the course of Rome’s conquest of the Mediterranean world. But when Roman politicians redirected these profits to enrich Rome alone in the second century B.C., the allies protested. When Rome ignored their demands, the cities’ anger continued to grow to such an extent that most of them eventually declared war on their former ally.

The Romans’ policy of land distribution had led to great inequality of land ownership and wealth. This led to the “Italian race… declining little by little into pauperism and paucity of numbers without any hope of remedy.”

The Social War was in part caused by the assassination of Marcus Livius Drusus. His reforms would have granted the Roman allies Roman citizenship, giving them a greater say in the external policy of the Roman Republic. Most local affairs came under local governance and were not as important to the Romans as, for example, when the alliance would go to war or how they would divide the plunder. When Drusus was assassinated most of his reforms addressing these grievances were declared invalid. This angered the Roman allies greatly, and most of them allied with one another against Rome.

The War

The Social War began in 91 BC when the Italian allies revolted. However, it is important to note that none of the Latin allies revolted, remaining loyal to Rome, with the one exception of Venusia. The rebellious allies showed their intentions of not just separating from Rome, but also forming an independent nation, called Italia, and forming a capital at Corfinium (in modern-day Abruzzo), which was renamed Italica. To pay for the troops, they created their own coinage, which was used as propaganda against Rome. These coins depict eight warriors taking an oath, probably representing the Marsi, Picentines, Paeligni, Marrucini, Vestini, Frentani, Samnites and Hirpini.

Their soldiers were battle-hardened, most of them having served in the Roman armies. The 12 allies of Italia were originally able to field 100,000 men. The Italians divided this force according to their positions within Italy.



It was necessary for Rome to survive the first onslaught as this would discourage further defections and also they would be able to call on help from their provinces as well as from client kingdoms. One of the two separate theatres of war was assigned to each of the consuls of 90 BC. In the north the consul Publius Rutilius Lupus was advised by Gaius Marius and Pompeius Strabo; in the south the consul Lucius Julius Caesar had Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Titus Didius.

Events in 90 BC:
  • Roman consul Strabo successfully besieged Asculum
  • Rutilius was defeated and killed in Tolenus Valley
  • Caepio was destroyed by Poppaedius
  • Marius was able to retrieve these losses and was left in sole command
  • Besieged Aesernia — a key fortress which covered the communication between the north and south areas — forced it to surrender
  • Papius Mutilus burst into southern Campania and won over many towns and held them until defeated by Caesar
  • Other Italian commanders lead successful raids into Apuliamarker and Lucania


Despite these losses the Romans managed to stave off total defeat and hang on. In 89 B.C. both consuls went to the northern front whilst Sulla took sole command of the southern front.

Events in 89 BC:
  • Lucius Porcius Cato (one of the two consuls) defeated and killed
  • Strabo (other consul) left in sole command – decisive engagement defeated Italian Army of 60,000 men – after success forces Asculum to surrender
  • Sulla moved to the offensive — he defeated a Samnite army
  • Recovered some of the major cities in Campania


By 88 BC the war was largely over except for the Samnites (the old rivals of Rome) who still held out. It is likely that the war would have continued a lot longer had Rome not made concessions to their allies.

Roman concessions to the Allies

L. Julius Caesar proposed the Lex Julia during his consulship which he carried before his office ended. The law offered full citizenship to all Latin and Italian communities who had not revolted.

However, the law offered the option of citizenship to whole communities and not to individuals. This meant that each individual community had to pass the law, most likely by a vote in assembly, before it could take effect. It was also possible under the Lex Julia for citizenship to be granted as a reward for distinguished military service in the field.

It is assumed that the Lex Julia was closely followed by a supplementary statute, the Lex Plautia Papiria, which stated that a registered male of an allied state could obtain Roman citizenship by presenting himself to a Roman praetor within 60 days of the passing of the law. This statute enabled inhabitants of towns disqualified by the Lex Julia to apply for citizenship if they desired.Roman citizenship and the right to vote was limited, as always in the ancient world, by the requirement of physical appearance on voting day. After 88 BC candidates regularly paid the expenses (at least partially) for their supporters to travel to Rome in order to vote.

References


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