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Roman Period

Regions of the Roman Republic and Empire

The name of Italy was originally applied only to the southernmost part of the peninsula, and was only gradually extended so as to comprise the central regions, such as Latium and Campania, which were designated by writers as late as Thucydides and Aristotle as in Opicia. The progress of this change cannot be followed in detail, but there can be little doubt that the extension of the Roman arms, and the gradual union of the nations of the peninsula under one dominant power, would contribute to the introduction, or rather would make the necessity felt, for the use of one general appellation.

At first, indeed, the term was apparently confined to the regions of the central and southern districts, exclusive of Cisalpine Gaul and the whole tract north of the Apennines, and this continued to be the official or definite signification of the name down to the end of the republic. But the natural limits of Italy are so clearly marked that the name came to be generally employed as a geographical term at a much earlier period. Thus we already find Polybius repeatedly applying it in this wider signification to the whole country, as far as the foot of the Alps; and it is evident from many passages in the Latin writers that this was the familiar use of the term in the days of Cicero and Caesar. The official distinction was, however, still retained. Cisalpine Gaul, including the whole of northern Italy, still constituted a province, an appellation never applied to Italy itself. As such it was assigned to Julius Caesar, together with Transalpine Gaul, and it was not until he crossed the Rubicon that he entered Italy in the strict sense of the term.

According to Strabo (Geographia, v 1), at the beginning the name indicated the land between the strait of Messina and the line connecting the gulf of Salerno and gulf of Taranto; later Italia was extended to include the whole Italian peninsula, as well as the Istrian town of Colonia Pietas Iulia (Pola); finally, Julius Caesar gave Roman citizenship to the people of the Gallia Transpadana — that part of Cisalpine Gaul that lay "beyond the Po"—, thus extending Italia up to the Alps.

With the end of the Social war (2nd century BC), Rome allowed the Italian allies to enter with full rights in the Roman society, giving the Roman citizenship to all the Italic peoples.

At the beginning of the Empire, Italia was a collection of territories with different statuses. Some cities, called municipii, had some independence from Rome, others, the colonies, were founded by the Romans themselves. Around 7 BC, Augustus Caesar divided Italia into eleven regiones, for administrative purposes, as reported by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia (iii 46). These continued in official use until the reign of Constantine, was based mainly on the territorial divisions that had previously existed, and preserved with few exceptions the ancient limits.

The regions were:

  1. Latium et Campania - Latium (in the more extended sense of the term, as including the land of the Volsci, Hernici and Aurunci), together with Campania and the district of the Picentini. It thus extended from the mouth of the Tiber to that of the Silarus (see LATIUM).
  2. Apulia et Calabria - (the name by which the Romans usually designated the district known to the Greeks as Messapia or lapygia), together with the land of the Hirpini, which had usually been considered as a part of Samnium.
  3. Lucania et Bruttiu[in] - bounded on the west coast by the Silarus, on the east by the Bradanus.
  4. Samnium - all the Samnites (except the Hirpini), together with the Sabines and the cognate tribes of the Frentani, Marrucini, Marsi, Peligni, Vestini and Aequiculi. It was separated from Apulia on the south by the river Tifernus, and from Picenum on the north by the Matrinus.
  5. Picenum - solely Picenum, extending along the coast of the Adriatic from the mouth of the Matrinus to that of the Aesis, beyond Ancona.
  6. Umbria, in the more extended sense of the term, as including the Ager Gallicus, along the coast of the Adriatic from the Aesis to the Ariminus, and separated from Etruria on the west by the Tiber.
  7. Etruria - which preserved its ancient limits, extending from the Tiber to the Tyrrhenian Sea, and separated from Liguria on the north by the river Macra.
  8. Aemilia - Gallia Cispadana, comprised the southern portion of Cisalpine Gaul, and was bounded on the north (as its name implied) by the river Padus or P0, from above Placentia to its mouth. It was separated from Etruria and Umbria by the main chain of the Apennines; and the river Ariminus was substituted for the far-famed Rubicon as its limit on the Adriatic.
  9. Liguria - extending along the seacoast from the Varus to the Macra, and inland as far as the river Padus, which constituted its northern boundary from its source in Mount Vesulus to its confluence with the Trebia just above Placentia.
  10. Venetia et Histria - Venetia from the Padus and Adriatic to the Alps, to which was annexed the neighboring peninsula of Istria, and to the west the territory of the Cenomani, a Gaulish tribe, extending from the Athesis to the Addua, which had previously been regarded as a part of Gallia Cisalpina. In 173 A.D., this region was subdivided into 17 compartments.
  11. Transpada - Gallia Transpadana, included all the rest of Cisalpine Gaul from the Padus on the south and the Addua on the east to the foot of the Alps.

The Italian "province" was privileged by Augustus and his heirs, with the construction, among other public structures, of a dense mesh of roads. The Italian economy flourished: agriculture, handicraft and industry had a sensible growth, allowing the export of goods to the other provinces. The Italian population grew as well: Three census were ordered by Augustus, to record the presence of male citizens in Italia. They were 4,063,000 in 28 BC, 4,233,000 in 8 BC, and 4,937,000 in AD 14. Including the women and the children, the total population of Italia at the beginning of the 1st century was around 10 million.

The arrangements thus established by Augustus continued almost unchanged until the time of Constantine, and formed the basis of all subsequent administrative divisions until the fall of the Western empire.

See:  Roman Roads


  • The Crusades and the Military Orders: Expanding the Frontiers of Medieval  Latin Steven Runciman, Zsolt Hunyadi, József Laszlovszky, Central European University Dept. of Medieval Studies. Contributor Zsolt Hunyadi, József Laszlovszky, p 127.]
  • Various texts -
  • Via Annia (image) -
  • Via Annia -
  • Via Claudia Augusta -
  • Via Latina -*/Via_Latina.html
  • Regions map -

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Created: Sunday, September 27, 2009; Last Updated: Wednesday, February 11, 2015  
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