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Roman repubblican age

The Romanisation between the third and the second century BC

At the beginning of the third century the Veneto peoples intensified relationships with Rome that at that time dominated the entire Italian peninsula up to the Apennines and was keen on expanding further North in the big Po Valley. As early as the fourth century BC the Veneto peoples engaged in some form of collaboration with Rome. Ancient sources tell that on the occasion of Brenno’s attack on the capital (between the 390 and the 386), the Veneto peoples attacked the Celtic settlements in the Po Valley (Polybius, Historiae, II, 18, 2-3) and caused their retreat towards North. It is not certain whether there was coordination between Romans and Veneti on this occasion.

Scholars do not know the reliability of many ancient sources (e.g. Sophocles and Cato) that claim shared Trojan origins for both Romans and Veneti, the former through Aeneas and the latter through Antenor. However, very early on this tradition became very popular in Rome and was used as a means of strengthening the collaboration between these two peoples in ancient Italy. Thus, the origins of this friendship are still a mystery, but diplomatic interactions are certainly recorded from 225 BC, when Veneti and Cenomans became allies of Rome against the Gauls and offered 20.000 people to fight against them (Polybius, Historiae, II, 23, 2-3; II, 24, 7-8). After the defeat of the Gauls at Clastidium (222 a.C.), Rome founded two colonies: Piacenza and Cremona (218BC), although the second Punic War slowed down the Romanisation process in the area. Also in this circumstance it seems likely that a contingent of Veneti fought for Rome (Silvius Italicus, Punica, VIII, 602-604).

Once Rome had defeated Cartago, the Romanisation of North Italy resumed and after Piacenza and Cremona (strengthened in 190 BC), the Romans founded Bologna (189 BC), Modena and Parma (183 BC). The construction of the via Aemilia also played a very important role, because with it the Romans established a fundamental way of linking the whole Cispadane as well as strengthening agriculture and urban development (Livy, Ab urbe condita, XXXIX, 2, 10).

During the same period the Venetorum angulus (Livy, Ab urbe condita, V, 33, 10) was not subjugated militarily to Rome, and no colonies were founded ( the only exception being the Latin colony of Aquileia (181 BC), which nevertheless is not located in the Veneto region). Nevertheless, Rome displayed some forms of territorial subordination, for example, when in 175 BC the consul M. Emilius Lepidus suppressed a riot in Padova after having been called for help by the inhabitants (Livy, Ab urbe condita, XLI, 27, 3-4). The power assumed by Roman magistrates over the Veneto communities is also shown by four epigraphic documents found in the Beric-Euganeo territory. Three of these documents recorded the role held by the proconsul Lucius Caecilius Metellus Calvus, when Padova and Este were disputing a border (CIL, I2, 633 = V, 2491 = ILS, 5944a = ILLRP, 476. From Galzignano, nowadays in the National Museum of Este: CIL, I2, 2501 = ILLRP, 476 = AE 1923, 64. From Teolo, nowadays in the Civic Museum of Padova: CIL, I2, 634 = V, 2492 = ILS, 5944 = ILLRP, 476). A fourth inscription (from Lobia) records the division between the fields belonging to Vicenza and Este based on proconsul Sestus Attilius Serranus’ orders (from Lobia, nowadays in the Museum Maffeiano of Verona: CIL, I2, 636 = V, 2490 = ILS, 5945 = ILLRP, 477). It is a very significant fact that local communities had to refer to Rome in order to solve disputes in relation to territorial matters – terminos finisque ex Senati consulto statui iusit – and there is no doubt that Romans had great influence on the political issues of the Veneto peoples.

The importance of Rome in relation to the territorial management in Veneto is mirrored by the fact that around the middle of the second century the capital promoted the construction of new roads and the reparation of the old Protohistoric ways. Between 175 and 153 BC (or 131 BC) some of the roads that later became fundamental were built., For example, the Postumia connecting Genova with Aquileia and the Annia, connecting Adria to Aquileia . These roads became the preferential ways of moving goods, armies, people as well as ideas. They were decisive for the Romanisation of Veneto because of this.

When at the end of the second century BC some Germanic tribes started looking for new places to migrate in Northern Italy , the Veneto people needed a stronger presence in the territory of Rome (Florus, Epitomae, I, 38, 1). In the last years of the second century these tribes became more aggressive and the Cimbri managed to defeat the consul Quintus Lutatius Catulus along the Adige valley and invaded the northern part of the Po Valley (Plutarcus, Marius, XV, 6; XXIII, 2-7; Livy, Periochae, LXVIII; Florus, Epitomae, III, 3, 11; Frontinus, Stratagemata, I, 5, 3 e IV, 1, 14; Valerius Maximus, V, 8; Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, XXII, 6, 11). However, Gaius Marius won over the Cimbri in 101 BC at the Campi Raudii, near Vercellae next to the Po outlet.

In conclusion, it is possible to state that at the end of the second century BC Rome had assumed control of the Veneto region, but not through conflict or impositions. This smooth collimation of the Italic world with the Veneto was guaranteed by the fact that Rome had recognized the solidity of the socio-economic structure and politic life of Veneto protourban entities, and in this way made the inevitable transformations according to Roman standards easier.

The integration in the Roman state during the first century BC

The events of the second century BC created the premise for the incorporation of Veneto into the Roman state, which made the region one of the more socio-economically and culturally influential areas of the Roman empire.

Very recently scholars have argued in favour of a complex and articulated process of Romanisation as against a sudden external imposition over the territory. They have claimed that there was a proper cultural exchange between the Latin world and that which had developed in Veneto and that the latter was attracted by the Italic cultural models long before the concession of the municipal rights in 50-40 BC.

After the social war, which had traumatic effects on the whole Italic territory (90-89 BC), specific happenings constituted the strongest turning point. The Roman government granted Latin rights to all communities located between the Po river and the Alps. . The main cities of Veneto became Latin colonies (Asconius Pedianus, Argumentum in M. Tullii Ciceronis orationem Pisonianam, 2-3: … Cn. Pompeius Strabo, pater Cn. Pompei Magni, Transpadanas colonias deduxerit. Pompeius enim non novis colonis eas constituit sed veteribus incolis manentibus ius dedit Latii). They also had the privilege of Roman residence, Roman vote and the chance of obtaining full citizenship after having held public office in the city of origin. Furthermore, the acquisition of the ius commercium, became fundamental, thanks to which the Veneto communities could have direct relationship with the world of Roman trade.

These concessions encouraged the acquisition of socio-cultural and technical models proper to the Italic world, so that scholars have defined this process as “autoromanisation”. The adoption of Roman-italic architectonic typologies is emblematic in this sense. Another fundamental factor in this process of natural transformation according to Roman standards was the settlement of Italic people in the local communities (e.g. at Altino and Concordia). Such people stimulated the acquisition of Italic models in every field of social life.

Moreover, the administrative framework of the first half of the first century displays the establishment of the Cisalpine province under the imperium of a Roman magistrate (perhaps in 81 BC). When Caesar took control over the Cisalpine Gaule for 10 years, he lived there repeatedly thus gaining huge influence among the people. During these years Caesar promoted the so called causa Transpadanorum (Cicero, De officis, III, 22, 88; Sallust, Historiarum fragmenta, I, 77, 14-15), a large political movement that as early as 77 BC aimed at giving full citizenship to the inhabitants of the northern regions of Italy. This devotion to Caesar was manifested more than once during the military deeds of the general and particularly in the battle of Curicta (Veglia in Illiria) in 49 BC against Pompey, whose army committed suicide in order not to become Caesar’s prisoners (Florus, Epitomae, II, 13, 30-33). Thus, Caesar’s political strategy produced a legislative course (Lex Rubria de Gallia Cisalpina, Lex Roscia, Lex Iulia municipalis), which led to the concession of citizenship to all members of Veneto communities.

In the years that followed the assassination of Caesar (44 BC), some of these communities faced very difficult moments because of loyalty to the Senate against Antony. Padova suffered the worse reprisals, but also other communities had similar destinies as demonstrated by numerous treasures with coins dated between the 44 and the 42 centuries, discovered at Altino, Oderzo e Montegrotto.

Immediately after, with the pacification that followed the battle of Actium (31 BC), they obtained full citizenship, and this accelerated the process of transformation of society, territory and cities as shown by the archaeological evidence of much urban modification which dates to this period. It is worth noticing that these modifications took place in respect of continuity with the past as shown by the preservation of all the sanctuaries of the region between the first century BC and the first century AD. Plus, we have attestation of just two episodes of traumatic change in the composition of the population of the cities: the first is concerned with the introduction of new citizens belonging to an unknown legion, in the colony of Concordia between 42 and 40 BC; the second is concerned with the arrival of many veterans in Ateste after the naval battle of 31 BC.
Additionally, between 50 and 40 BC, the borders of the municipia were defined and probably at this time the centuriation of the territory started taking place. Velleius Paterculus refers to the fact that ‘big and splendid actions’ (Velleius Paterculus, Historiae Romanae, II, 76, 2) were taken by Gaius Asinius Pollio around Altino and other cities of the region and this note fits into the context described above.

Il testo e le immagini (con referenze fotografiche) sono tratti da:
J. Bonetto, I. Venturini, L. Zaghetto, Veneto, Archeologia delle Regioni d’Italia, Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Roma 2009.