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Through the conquests of their most populous city-state, Rome, the original Latins culturally "Romanized" or "Latinized" the rest of Italy, and the word Latin ceased to mean a particular people or ethnicity, acquiring a more legal and cultural sense.
In the late 15th–16th centuries, a millennium after the fall of the Western Roman Empire (of which they were members), Portugal, Spain, and France began to create world empires. In consequence, by the mid-19th century the former American colonies of these Latin nations became known as Latin America and this region's inhabitants as Latin Americans and Latins. In the present day, a common demonym for Latin Americans of Latin descent is "Latino" and "Latina".
The Latins were an ancient Italic people of the Latium region in central Italy, (Latium Vetus - Old Latium), in the 1st millennium BC, after migrating there perhaps from the Danube Region. Though they lived in independent city-states, the Latins spoke a common language (Latin), held common religious beliefs, and shared a close sense of kinship, expressed in the myth that they all descended from Latinus. Latinus was worshiped on Mons Albanus (Monte Albano) during an annual festival attended by all Latins, including those from Rome, one of the Latin states. The Latin cities extended common rights of residence and trade to one another.
Rome's territorial ambitions united the rest of the Latins against it in 341 BC, but the final victory was on Rome's side in 338 BC. Consequently, some of the Latin states were incorporated within the Roman state, and their inhabitants were given full Roman citizenship. Others became Roman allies and enjoyed certain privileges. Gradually, with the spread of Roman power throughout Italy, Latin ceased to be an ethnic term and became a legal category.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, many Europeans held on to the "Latin" identity, more specifically, in the sense of the Romans, as members of the Empire.
In the Byzantine Empire or East Roman Empire, and the broader Greek-Orthodox world, Latins was a synonym for all people who followed Roman Catholic Christianity. It was generally a negative characterization, especially after the 1054 schism. Latins is still used by the Orthodox church communities, but only in a theological context.
The Holy Roman Empire was founded after the fall of Rome but brandished the name of the Roman people and honoured the king with the title "King of the Romans". Despite this, the Holy Roman Empire was largely a Germanic affair with German kings, although its territory was considerably greater than present day Germany. At times, the Holy Roman Empire did not even include the city of Rome.
The term "Latin" is sometimes used in reference to European people whose cultures are particularly Roman-derived, generally including the use of Romance languages. Strong Roman legal and cultural traditions characterize these nations. Latin Europe is a major subdivision of Europe, along with Germanic Europe and Slavic Europe.
Of all world regions, the Americas have been most significantly influenced by Romance-speaking European countries in regards to culture, language, religion, and genetic contribution to the population. The Latin European-influenced region of the Americas came to be called Latin America in the 19th century. The French Emperor Napoleon III is often credited with this naming. The term is usually used to refer to Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries, namely Hispanic America and Brazil. Most Latin Americans have Latin European ancestry, notably Spanish and Portuguese.