Jump to content
UNRV Ancient Roman Empire Forums
  • Time Travel Rome

Coulee

Treatment of conquered land and peoples

Recommended Posts

As the Roman state captured territory, under either the Republic or the Empire, in what situations did they confiscate the lands of the inhabitants and in what situations did they simply exact tribute from them?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Romans took a very practical view on this, although considerable greed was evident. They did not ordinarily set out to capture territory, rather to defeat the threat against them. Acquisition was made not for the victory itself, but for the advantages of bringing the territory under Roman control. So for instance Trajan wages war upon the warlike Dacians. Hadrian, his successor, creates a peaceful resolution by returning occupied territory - but kept the areas with gold mines.

Or consider the events leading to disaster. Warlike Germanic tribes were constantly raiding Gaul. After Julius Caesar had conquered Gaul for booty to pay debts and kudos in his career, Germanians attacked and defeated the 5th legion garrison under Marcus Lollius. Augustus sent an expedition to teach them a lesson and they stayed in occupied areas after the victory against the Germnians, with Publius Varus - known to be a greedy man after his governorship of Syria - to administer those territories before they had become provinces of Rome (Something the Romans noted in their histories). The Germanians didn't like the Romans trying to tell them how they ought to be living and rebelled. For ten years Germanian provinces were out of reach until Germanicus re-conquered them, but most of this was punitive and the territories not kept. Indeed, Augustus would later advise Tiberius not to extend the frontiers.

Or consider client states. This was a legal means of acquiring new territory by making a tribal state a client state. The ruler was allowed to continue as a friend of Rome, only that when he died he was supposed to bequeath his land to Rome for the privilege. This was the source of the Boudiccan revolt. The Iceni king had done this but left half his realm to his family. The Romans considered the Iceni lands to be theirs.

Bear in mind that Roman control of territory was not uniform. They had provinces of different levels of civic status, military districts (two created in lesser Germania by Augustus), client states, and Tribal states (such as most of Italy into the imperial period - only after the fall of the west were Italian tribal lands called 'provinces' although from Augustus onward they were increasingly less independent) 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for your response. I must admit I'm a novice when it comes to things Roman, but I'm writing a book for which this issue is relevant (it's a "history from below" of a colonial situation in Africa). Writing such histories is challenging (due to the paucity of sources), especially for previous historical periods, but my main concern is how common people fared in the territories conquered by Rome -- i.e., could they keep their land, did land-use and land rights change, did local rural economies persevere and how did they change, etc.

In addition to the information you provided, I know of the latifundia system as well as the practice of rewarding war veterans with grants of land and presume that there was considerable variation, according to time and place. But any information and references you (or anyone else) could provide will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Rome was not concerned with lifestyles at all other than loyalty and tribute to Rome were observed. For instance, in my home area, a hillfort was occupied by the local Britons throughout the occupation and the Romans don't seem to have bothered them. Remember that free will and self determination were extremely important in Roman culture - it was what made human beings superior in their eyes - anything else was either a slave or an animal. Of course obedience was necessary sometimes such as military discipline in the legions, but these were accepted exceptions.

Note what happened in Germania after Publius Varus took control. He was sent there to administer the occupied territories (Rome had not officially annexed them) and to secure tax revenue for Augustus, keen to fund games and civic improvements. Although Varus was told that the German tribes were going to revolt, he believed that they would see Roman law as superior and adopt the invaders culture willingly, an impression aided by the apparent complicity of the tribes. He was well and truly fooled.

People often talk about 'Romanisation' today, declaring that within a generation or two Roman culture was adopted and to all intents and purposes the empire was solidly Roman from one end to the other. This is a very deep misinterpretation. It didn't matter if the locals chose not to Romanise - that was their choice. Tacitus sneers at the Britons for their attempts to mimic Roman culture, and mentions the Gauls as most closely emulating them. It was an example of the bell curve. At the extremes, a local might discard anything Roman, or adopt the culture completely. In between, the majority took on board whatever level of Roman ways that suited them. Naturally the Romans offered their culture both as a reward and a means of compatibility, thus they persuaded local leaders to become 'Roman' and thus they could be plugged straight into the Roman political network and employ their local networks of loyalty usefully.

Then again, malcontents might expect something a great deal harsher.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Again, thanks for your comments. If you have any references for their ideological emphasis on free will and self-determination, I'd love to have them. Also, your version of Roman "colonialism" seems to agree with how the archaeologist, Chris Gosden (2004), characterizes it.

In terms of the land question, would it be safe to say that the Roman state was more concerned about "incorporation" of distant lands and peoples than transforming local economies and practices (e.g., land-use, land-tenure, etc.)? With an exception being areas chosen for latifundia and, to a lesser extent, areas settled by war veterans, who would be given estates?

And would that mean that struggles over land such as the dispute between Cassius and Verginius over division of the land of the conquered Hernicians, and other practices leading to land consolidation among the wealthy, were more limited to areas nearer to Rome, rather than the far-flung areas of the empire?

Also, what conceptual/legal categories did they have for land? I've heard about res publica and res communis, but were there others? And what might res communis actually have meant on-the-ground? Would it have meant leaving local lands alone? Or would it have allowed local lands under the category of res communis to be captured by any ambitious entrepreneur (general, soldier, etc.) who desired them? Sorry to bug you with all these questions, but if they're getting tiresome, maybe you can provide me with some references I can research on my own. Thanks a lot.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Cassius Dio mentions a number of times how someone was made a slave of. He's not talking about legal servitude as a servant, but rather that the individual was in a position such that he was obliged  to do as he was told.

My views on colonialism are guided very much by archeology but also the sources, which occaisionsally give off clues. The ownership of a roman pot does not make you Roman. What matters is context, in this case, the nature of settlement and who lived there.

Often the Roman state didn't want external land - an expedition was punitive and designed to quell a security threat before marching home again. This was more true of the imperial period than republican. The Italian tribal lands had retained their status as parts of a loose federation within the empire because originally Rome had won a war with them and accepted their good behaviour as allies afterward, based on comparable civilisation. When dealing with 'barbarian' lands, there was far less consideration. The incorporation was not about land but about population. Wilderness - of which there was plenty in Roman times - was of no concern to the Romans whatsoever, and areas were used to bundle more important land such as settlements or resources.

Transformation of land was always a later initiative, particularly since the Augustan Franchise, in which the state rewarded settlements with tax breaks and concessions (or other important benefits) for emulating Rome, which clearly favoured urban development. The estates of the wealthy tended to be in certain regions, particularly Italy, but also Sicily, Greece, North Africa, southern France, and parts of Spain. This was as much to do with convenience as availability or suitability. OF course there were always exceptions, thus one can find large estates in the SE of England where Romanesque culture was strongest - but beware - some, if not the majority - of these provincial estates were in fact owned by wealthy locals who would have not necessarily have been exhibiting total conversion to Roman lifestyles but enjoying as much as they preferred and could afford.

War veterans were not usually well served with gifts of land. One of the complaints that led to mutinies on the death of Augustus was the poor land they knew they would get on retirement.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Map of the Roman Empire

×