Text #9670Editorial comment by Laura Knight-Jadczyk
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.
The Romans’ policy of land distribution had led to great inequality of land-ownership and wealth. This led to the “Italic people declining little by little into pauperism and paucity of numbers without any hope of remedy.”
A number of political proposals had attempted to address the growing discrepancy whereby Italians made a significant contribution to Roman’s military force, while receiving disproportionately small shares of land and citizenship rights.
In 91 BC Marcus Livius Drusus was elected tribune and proposed a greater division of state lands, the enlargement of the Senate, and a conferral of Roman citizenship upon all freemen of Italy. His program was presented as a plan to strengthen senatorial domination but that seems to have been a ruse. To gain support of the plebeians, he set up a commission to grant them more land, both around Rome and in new colonies (which was one of only two that was approved by the Senate during the late republic) and reduced the price of grain which he proposed to pay for by using devaluation of the currency. Everything was fine and good up to this point. However, when he wanted to grant citizenship to the Italian allies, he lost the support of the senate, the equestrians, and all others who held Roman citizenship. Citizenship was only for those who had “ancestors” (specifically, Roman). When it was revealed that the whole of non Roman Italy had sworn an oath to enter into his clientele if he managed to enfranchise them which would have given Drusus enormous power, things went rapidly South. He was soon assassinated and the Italian allies revolted starting what was called the Social War 91–88 BC. Marius took command (following the deaths of the consul, Publius Rutilius Lupus, and the praetor Quintus Servilius Caepio) and fought along with Sulla against the rebel cities, but retired from the war in its early stages – probably due to poor health (it has been suggested that he suffered a stroke.)
The Social War was bloody and destructive over all of Italy. The Romans actually almost lost. Their hides were saved by Lucius Julius Caesar who proposed the Lex Julia during his consulship which he carried before his office ended. The law offered full citizenship to all Latin and Italian communities who had not revolted. 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 state could obtain Roman citizenship by presenting himself to a Roman praetor within 60 days of the passing of the law. This statute enabled inhabitants of towns disqualified by the Lex Julia to apply for citizenship if they desired.
Roman citizenship and the right to vote was limited, as always in the ancient world, by the requirement of physical appearance on voting day. After 8 BC, candidates regularly paid the expenses (at least partially) for their supporters to travel to Rome in order to vote.