In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Colonization in the Roman Empire

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Sources
  • Colonies in the Roman Civil War
  • Local Culture and the Development of Roman Urbanism
  • Local Administration
  • The Legal Status of Colonists and Locals
  • Colonies in Gaul, Britain, and Germany
  • Colonies in Hispania
  • The Lex Coloniae Genetivae Iuliae Ursonensis
  • Colonies in Africa
  • Colonies in the Balkan Peninsula and Dacia
  • Honorific Coloniae
  • Colonies in Later Political Thought

Classics Colonization in the Roman Empire
Saskia T. Roselaar
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 March 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 March 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0244


In the 1st century BCE, the role of colonization gradually changed. Up to the Gracchan period, colonization had been under the control of the Senate, but the Gracchi had tried to establish colonies solely by the vote of the popular assembly. In the 1st century, colonies became the most important way for generals to reward their veteran soldiers: when they retired, they were settled in a colony founded by the general. This ensured their loyalty to their erstwhile generals and created a pool of loyal followers for the general. Since there was very little land available in Italy, Caesar and Augustus established many colonies in the provinces. The Flavian emperors also settled many colonists in various areas of the empire, as did Hadrian. The legal status of these colonies was quite different from the Republican configuration; as time progressed, colonia became an indication of a certain legal status, rather than a term to indicate a settlement consisting of settlers from elsewhere. The status of colonia carried with it specific privileges, such as a favorable tax status, as well as social prestige. As the expansion of the Roman Empire ceased, no more land was conquered from defeated peoples, so that less land was available for the settlement of colonies. Gradually a new form of colonization became more common: granting the honorary title of colonia to existing towns, without an actual influx of new settlers. In total about four hundred towns are known to have been granted the status of colonia at some point in their history, most of them as an honorific title.

General Overviews

There is no single monograph about Roman colonization in the imperial period, but some good overviews of more specific issues exist. Keppie 1984 lists the basis details of colonization in Italy after Augustus, which was fairly limited due to a lack of available land. Mann 1983 presents the details of veteran settlement, which was the basic reason for colonization in the 1st century and early 2nd century CE. Demougin and Scheid 2012 offers thematic and local studies on colonization; Sweetman 2011 likewise offers local studies as well as discussions on thematic issues such as local identity, colonial elites, geopolitics, and imperial cult.

  • Demougin, Ségolène, and John Scheid, eds. 2012. Colons et colonies dans le monde romaine. Rome: École Française de Rome.

    This volume contains local studies on individual colonies (Italica, Valence, Philippi, Tergeste, Uchi Maius, Antioch-in-Pisidia, Dyrrachium, and London), as well as two thematic studies on the ownership of colonial property and colonial magistrates. The second half publishes new epigraphic material from colonies around the Roman world. It offers interesting new insights into the individual cases studies, but does not offer a complete overview of imperial colonization.

  • Keppie, Lawrence. 1984. Colonisation and veteran settlement in Italy in the first century A.D. Papers of the British School at Rome 52:77–114.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0068246200008746

    This article lists all colonies founded in Italy from Augustus onward. Very little land was available in Italy, so that colonization mostly took the form of adding small numbers of new settlers to existing towns. The state also tried to reclaim ager publicus that had been occupied by private individuals. These measures caused so much opposition, however, that colonization in Italy ended in the Flavian period.

  • Mann, J. C. 1983. Legionary recruitment and veteran settlement during the Principate. Edited by Margaret M. Roxan. London: Univ. of London.

    Mann gives a very clear overview of the settlement of veterans during the principate, presenting the information in tables for settlement per legion and over time. He argues that the location of settlement was decided mostly by the availability of land, rather than strategic, economic, or cultural “civilizing” reasons. Veteran settlement therefore ceased when no more land was available.

  • Sweetman, Rebecca J., ed. 2011. Roman colonies in the first century of their foundation. Oxford: Oxbow.

    This volume collects ten papers, some about individual colonies (Mérida, Medellín, Cordoba, Butrint, Corinth, and Cnossus) and some on more general topics such as local identity, colonial elites, geopolitics, and imperial cult. The last paper, by Woolf, draws useful general conclusions about the role of colonies in redistribution, relocation, and urbanization developments in their respective regions and the chronological development of colonization from Republic to empire.

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