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Latins


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Inhabited Latium Vetus. They formed a unified ethnic group with a common name a common sentiment, and a common language; they worshipped the same gods and had similar political and social institutions. Archaeological evidence shows that a distinctive form of material culture spread throughout Latium Vetus from c.1000 bc. The Latins' sense of kinship was expressed in a common myth of origin: they traced their descent back to Latīnus (the father‐in‐law of Aeneas), who after his death was transformed into Jupiter Latiaris and worshipped on the Alban mount (see albanus mons). His annual festival was ancient. The main ritual event was a banquet, at which representatives of the Latin communities each received a share of the meat of a slaughtered bull (see sacrifice, roman). Participation in the cult was a badge of membership; it was regularly attended by all the Latin peoples, including the Romans, well into the imperial period.

It is probable that the Latins formed a community long before the emergence of organized city‐states in the 6th cent. bc. It is probable also that the rights that the Latin peoples shared in historical times were a relic of this pre‐urban period. These shared rights, unparalleled elsewhere, include conubium, the right to contract a legal marriage with a partner from another Latin state; commercium, the right to deal with persons from other Latin communities and to make legally binding contracts; and the so‐called right of migration, the capacity to acquire the citizenship of another Latin state simply by living there.

Acc. to tradition, Rome became dominant under the later kings (see rex), who established some kind of hegemony over much of Latium. After the fall of the monarchy, however, the Latins rebelled from Rome, and formed an alliance centred at Aricia (25 km. (16 mi.) SE of Rome) The struggle between Rome and the Latin alliance culminated in the battle of Lake Regillus, and was finally resolved by the treaty of Cassius Vecellinus (493), which established peace and a defensive military alliance on equal terms between Rome and the so‐called Latin League.

The alliance persisted into the 4th cent., and probably saved Latium from being overwhelmed by the encroachments of the Aequi and Volsci. Successful campaigns that resulted in conquest of territory allowed the allies to found colonies, in which Romans and Latins both took part. The newly founded colonies became independent communities, with the same rights and obligations as the existing Latin states; they were therefore known as Latin colonies.

During the 4th cent. Roman territorial ambitions began to be seen as a threat by the Latins, who in 341 finally took up arms together with their southern neighbours. The ensuing ‘Latin War’ ended in disaster for the Latins and their allies, and in 338 the Romans imposed a settlement whereby some Latin and Volscian cities were incorporated in the Roman state with full citizenship (e.g. Aricia and Antium). The other Latins remained allies and continued to share mutual privileges with Rome, but were forbidden to have any dealings with each other. The Latin League was thus finally dissolved. From now on Latin status meant that the city in question had a distinctive relationship with Rome, rather than being part of a wider community. The Romans also embarked on a new programme of colonization after the Latin War, and conferred Latin status on the newly founded colonies, even though they were outside Latium. By 200 the few remaining independent communities in Latium were only a small minority of the Latin name; most Latins lived in the colonies, which were spread throughout Italy. After the Social War, when the Latins received full Roman citizenship, ‘Latin’ ceased to be an ethno‐linguistic term and became a purely juridical category (see ius latii). See colonization, roman.

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Subjects: Classical Studies — Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500).


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