In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Roman Italy, 4th Century bce to 3rd Century ce

  • Introduction
  • The Roman Conquest of Italy

Classics Roman Italy, 4th Century bce to 3rd Century ce
John R. Patterson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0348


The history of Roman Italy is a vast subject, so the topics highlighted and the bibliography presented here are inevitably highly selective. The geographical scope is limited to Italy south of the river Po (Sicily and Sardinia, as provinces in antiquity, are excluded); the notional starting point chosen is the late 4th century BCE (when Rome reorganized its alliances to create a structure which, in less than a hundred years, subjugated most of the peninsula); the (equally notional) conclusion is the reign of Diocletian, when Italy was subjected to taxation and subdivided into provinces. While the history of Roman Italy under the Republic can be seen as a narrative punctuated by episodes of warfare (the Samnite Wars, the conquest of Sicily, Hannibal’s invasion of Italy, the Social War, the Civil Wars), and the first sections of the article, after General Overviews and Key Background Works are roughly structured in this way, material on the history of Italy under the Empire can more appropriately be organized in thematic form. After an introduction to Rome and Italy under the Principate, much of the remainder of the article is thus divided between The Cities of Imperial Italy and The Italian Countryside. Under the first heading is gathered material on city administration, on local elites and sub-elites, and on civic buildings, as well as some key individual urban sites. The second heading covers material on rural Italy under the Republic (by way of background), on issues of population and migration, on the rural properties of the senatorial elite and the emperors, on agriculture and land division, on the archaeological techniques used to reconstruct settlement in the ancient landscape, on sanctuaries, and on the alimenta of the early 2nd century CE. The article concludes with a selection of studies of particular regions (underlining the significant degree of regional variation to be found across Italy). Publications in English are particularly highlighted where available, but (not surprisingly) many fundamental books and articles on Roman Italy have been published in Italian (or other European languages), and these too are included, so far as possible. There is some intersection between some of the topics covered here and other articles in the Oxford Bibliographies collection; in these cases, the relevant Oxford Bibliographies articles have been cited and the reader is referred to them for more bibliographical detail, while a limited number of key pieces of scholarship is cited here.

General Overviews and Key Background Works

An awareness of the geographical and cultural diversity of the peninsula is essential background to the understanding of Italy under Roman rule: for geography and cartography see Talbert 2000, Stoddart 2006, and (for a broader Mediterranean perspective on the physical environment) Horden and Purcell 2000. Bradley, et al. 2007; Bourdin 2012; and Farney and Bradley 2018 examine the peoples of pre-Roman Italy. De Rose Evans 2013 focuses on the archaeology of the republican period, and Potter 1987 too highlights the contribution of archaeology to our understanding of ancient Italy, dealing with the Principate as well. Key starting points are Cooley 2016 and Lomas 1996 (see under Sourcebooks for the latter). The Guida Archeologica Laterza series of guides to the various regions of Italy (in Italian) provides invaluable accounts of individual cities and other sites. Where these have been updated recently they are specifically referenced.

  • Bourdin, Stéphane. 2012. Les peuples de l’Italie préromaine. Identités, territoires et relations inter-ethniques en Italie centrale et septentrionale (VIIIe -1er s. av. J.-C.). Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome 350. Rome: École Française de Rome.

    An important study exploring the political and territorial organization of the peoples of central and northern Italy, of the “frontiers” of the peninsula and of mobility across these, and of issues of identity. An exhaustive dossier of evidence on these various topics is presented in a series of appendices.

  • Bradley, Guy, Elena Isayev, and Corinna Riva, eds. 2007. Ancient Italy: Regions without boundaries. Exeter, UK: Univ. of Exeter Press.

    Accessible account of the peoples of pre-Roman Italy (with the exception of some, e.g., the Umbrians and Lucanians, for which an up-to-date treatment in English was readily available elsewhere when the book was published). The concluding chapter (on “romanization”) stresses the persistence of local identities in Italy into the imperial period.

  • Cooley, Alison E., ed. 2016. A companion to Roman Italy. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    The only work in the “Companion” genre which overlaps closely with the topic of this article: a fundamental and up-to-date resource. Chronologically and thematically defined chapters are complemented by specific studies of Naples, Cosa, Pompeii, and Ostia, and on the towns of the Tiber valley.

  • De Rose Evans, Jane, ed. 2013. A companion to the archaeology of the Roman Republic. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Predominantly focuses on Italy, and provides a range of articles on landscape archaeology and material culture more generally.

  • Farney, Gary D., and Guy Bradley, eds. 2018. The peoples of ancient Italy. Boston and Berlin: De Gruyter.

    Handbook which contains up-to-date studies of (all) the individual peoples of ancient Italy, drawing on literary and archaeological evidence, together with essays on thematic topics (e.g., religion, the Roman-led army) and key historical “moments” (e.g., the Roman conquest of Italy, the Social War). Very full bibliographies are provided.

  • Horden, Peregrine, and Nicholas Purcell. 2000. The corrupting sea: A study of Mediterranean history. Oxford: Blackwell.

    Deals with the physical environment, ecology, and much else in relation to the history of Italy and the rest of the Mediterranean region, over a broad chronological perspective.

  • Potter, T. W. 1987. Roman Italy. London: British Museum Publications.

    Written by a pioneer of field survey in Italy (see in particular Potter 1979 under Studying Ancient Landcapes, the book emphasizes archaeological evidence and is extensively illustrated. It also includes a gazetteer of sites to visit.

  • Stoddart, Simon. 2006. The physical geography and environment of Republican Italy. In A companion to the Roman Republic. Edited by Nathan Rosenstein and Robert Morstein-Marx, 102–121. Malden MA, and Oxford: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470996980.ch5

    The chapter identifies the key geographical and geological features of the Italian peninsula. Relations between Rome and Italy play an important part in many of the other essays in this volume.

  • Talbert, Richard J. A., ed. 2000. Barrington atlas of the Greek and Roman world. Princeton, NJ, and Oxford: Princeton Univ. Press.

    Authoritative maps of Roman Italy (and of the classical world more generally). The maps of Italy are mostly at a scale of 1:500,000, but the one of Latium is at the larger scale of 1:150,000. The Atlas is accompanied by a Map-by-Map Directory (Vol. 1, pp. 573–708, relate to the Italian maps) which provides a gazetteer of sites and associated bibliography.

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