Social War (91–88 BC)

The Social War (from socii ("allies"), thus in Latin: Bellum Sociale;[4] also called the Italian War, the War of the Allies - a more correct translation of what the Latin name meant - or the Marsic War) was a war waged from 91 to 88 BC between the Roman Republic and several of the other cities and tribes in Italy, which prior to the war had been Roman allies for centuries. The Italian allies wanted Roman citizenship, and the power, influence and the right to vote at Rome itself that came with it.[5] The Romans ignored their demands and refused to grant them citizenship, thus leaving the Italian groups with fewer rights and privileges. This led to a devastating war, which lasted three years and caused many casualties. The war eventually resulted in a Roman victory. However, Rome granted Roman citizenship to all of its Italian allies, to avoid another costly war.[5]

This war also led to a complete Romanization of Italy. The Etruscans and other Italic people quickly integrated themselves into the Roman world, after gaining Roman citizenship. Their own languages and cultures became extinct in the process, and the term "Roman" came to refer to all inhabitants of Italy.[6][7][8] The Romans did not consider Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica part of Italy during this period. Cisalpine Gaul was also not considered Italian territory until 42 BC, when it was merged into Roman Italy as indicated in Caesar's will (Acta Caesaris).[9][10]

Roman victory in the Samnite Wars resulted in effective Roman dominance of the Italian peninsula. This dominance was expressed 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 2nd century BC the Italian allies contributed between one half and two-thirds of the soldiers in Roman armies. Rome also had virtual control over the allies' foreign policy, including their interaction with one another. Aside from the Second Punic War, where Hannibal had limited success in turning some Italian communities against Rome, for the most part the Italian communities were content to remain as client states of Rome in return for local autonomy.

The Romans' policy of land distribution had led to great inequality of land-ownership and wealth.[11] This led to the "Italic people declining little by little into pauperism and paucity of numbers without any hope of remedy."[12]

A number of political proposals had attempted to address the growing discrepancy whereby Italians made a significant contribution to Rome's military force, while receiving disproportionately small shares of land and citizenship rights. These efforts came to a head under the impetus of Marcus Livius Drusus in 91 BC. His reforms would have granted the Italian 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. The response of the Roman senatorial elite to Drusus' proposals was to reject his ideas and assassinate him. This brusque dismissal of the granting of rights that the Italians considered to be long overdue greatly angered them, and communities throughout Italy attempted to declare independence from Rome in response, sparking a war.

The Social War began in 91 BC when the Italian allies revolted. The Latins as a whole remained largely loyal to Rome, with the one exception of Venusia. The Etruscans and Umbrians, who were the most powerful people amongst Socii, mostly stayed neutral at the beginning. They were soon offered citizenship by Rome to prevent them from joining the rebellion.[13] The rebellious allies not only planned a formal separation from Rome but also the re-organisation of Italia (the Roman term for the peninsula) as its own independent federation, with its own capital at Corfinium (in modern Abruzzo) that was renamed Italica.[14] To pay for the troops, they created their own coinage that was used as propaganda against Rome. The coins depict eight warriors taking an oath, probably representing the Marsi, Picentines, Paeligni, Marrucini, Vestini, Frentani, Samnites and Hirpini.[15]

The Italian soldiers were battle-hardened, most of them having served in the Roman armies. The 12 allies of Italia were originally able to field 120,000 men. The Italians divided this force according to their positions within Italy.[16]

The Roman strategy focused on surviving the first onslaught, while simultaneously trying to entice other Italian clients to remain loyal or refrain from defection, and then meet the threat of the revolt with troops raised from 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.

By the end of 89 BC most of the rebel leaders were dead. In the north the last pockets of resistance were being mopped up by Pompeius Strabo and in the south only the Samnites remained a threat.

At the beginning of 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 for some time had Rome not made concessions to their allies. Rome could now return their focus on the rest of their empire. In the East a new threat loomed; Mithridates, the king of Pontus, invaded the Roman province of Asia and slaughtered Romans and Italians alike.[55] Rome's generals contended for the honour (and profit) of commanding the war against the eastern king.[56] Unfortunately for the Republic, this led to a new civil war. Eventually the Samnites would become major players in the second round of that civil war.

Lucius Julius Caesar sponsored the Lex Julia during his consulship, which he carried out before his office ended. The law offered full citizenship to all Latin and Italian communities who had not revolted. This was mainly done to prevent the Etruscans and Umbrians from joining the rebellion.

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 Italian state could obtain Roman citizenship by presenting himself to a Roman praetor within 60 days of the passing of the law. This law granted Roman citizenship to Italians who had rebelled against Rome.