Roman Hegemony in Latium (Mommsen 1.7)

(Read Mommsen 1.7 online.)

Mommsen, in a charming image, laments the lack of a Roman Homer who might show us the city’s ‘boyhood,’ but he attempts to trace the expansion of the city first to the Latin communities approaching the Anio (mod. Aniene river), and further on, eventually bringing them into conflict with the Etruscans and Gabii and expanding their territory to about 190 square miles.

From here he moves to the destruction of Alba, rejecting the story of the Horatii and the Curiatii, but it’s a great story, and the notion of single combat (even in this improbable case, involving two sets of triplets), is believable in the ancient world. The notion that they agreed to the duel so as not to weaken their troops under the threat of a common enemy (the Etruscans) lends credence to the outlines of the story, if not the details.

Horatii & Curiatii

This battle may not have happened, but it may as well have.

I’m tired of historians taking the easy way out (and Mommsen isn’t alone) by saying that we have no reason to believe such and such ever occurred. It’s enough to say that it may be the poetic echo of some faint event, but to discount it entirely diminishes its importance for the Romans themselves, who saw in the story of the combat and in its aftermath important lessons about Roman virtue.

At any rate, it was the way in which Romans treated the conquered and their territory under the law that mattered to Mommsen, and their particular genius seems to have been remaining Roman rather than establishing colonies and that sort of thing. The conquered towns had no citizenship of their own, but a Roman in them remained a Roman. He argues that other society’s created their own rivals, but the Romans did not.

It’s odd that Mommsen will reject legends but accept things like the importance of Alba, which some modern scholars dispute. The argument could be made that the whole story of Alba as a precursor to Rome was necessary to make political and historical connections that favored certain families. But it was Alba’s presumed position as the seat of the Latin League that Mommsen takes as the catalyst for its capture. Accomplishing this ensured Rome an alliance with the remaining Latin cities. They were equal but different. They would help one another and share in commerce, but live under their own laws. Win win.

But Rome was a city among towns, and profited from the exchange by the influx of Latin metics who had no claim to Roman citizenship.

The picture becomes murky now (as though it was clear before). Indecisive skirmishes with the Etruscans may have followed, but more productive conquests took place to the south. Throughout this period, due to successes in the south, the impact of the Servian reforms, and the alliance with the Latin League, resources flowed in and fueled the expansion of the city. The hills filled, then the banks, and so on. In time the walled city contained the seven hills as well as the Janiculan across the river. (This is a good time to remind readers of my 7 Hills of Rome (plus 1) Mnemonic.)

To this expansion, powered by the hegemony which Rome held over Latium, Mommsen ascribes the many public projects which tradition assigns to various kings (and among them the draining of the swamp which I mentioned elsewhere). But so much of this–the constitutional reforms, the buildings, the public entertainments–bear the mark of Hellenism to Mommsen. He’s rejected the Etruscans once before as an influence on one aspect of early Roman culture, and now he makes them somewhat Hellenic in the period of the Kingdom. I’m curious to see where he’s going with this.

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