|Capital||Rome: full-fledged until Diocletianic times, from then on mostly only de jure. Mediolanum and Ravenna: Imperial residences; de facto capital in the Late Empire (of the whole Empire or only the Western part)|
|Religion||Polytheistic synchretism, followed by Nicene- Chalcedonian Christianity|
|Legislature||Senate and People of Rome|
|Historical era||Classical Antiquity, Late Antiquity|
• AD 1
|estimates vary from 4 to 10 million (c.1 million in Rome)<re></ref>|
|ISO 3166 code||IT|
Italia (the Latin and Italian name for the Italian Peninsula) was the homeland of the Romans and metropole of Rome's empire in classical antiquity. According to Roman mythology, Italy was the ancestral home promised by Jupiter to Aeneas of Troy and his descendants, who were the founders of Rome. Aside from the legendary accounts, Rome was an Italic city-state that changed its form of government from Kingdom to Republic and then grew within the context of a peninsula dominated by the Gauls, Ligures, Veneti, Camunni and Histri in the North, the Etruscans, Latins, Falisci, Picentes and Umbri tribes (such as the Sabines) in the Centre, and the Iapygian tribes (such as the Messapians), the Oscan tribes (such as the Samnites) and Greek colonies in the South.
The consolidation of Italy into a single entity occurred during the Roman expansion in the peninsula, when Rome formed a permanent association with most of the local tribes and cities. The strength of the Italian confederacy was a crucial factor in the rise of Rome, starting with the Punic and Macedonian wars between the 3rd and 2nd century BC. As provinces were being established throughout the Mediterranean, Italy maintained a special status which made it Domina Provinciarum ("Ruler of the Provinces"), and - especially in relation to the first centuries of imperial stability - Rectrix Mundi ("governor of the world") and Omnium Terrarum Parens ("parent of all lands"). Such a status meant that, within Italy in times of peace, Roman magistrates also exercised the Imperium domi (police power) as an alternative to the Imperium militiae (military power). Italy's inhabitants had Latin Rights as well as religious and financial privileges.
The period between the end of the 2nd century BC and the 1st century BC was turbulent, beginning with the Servile Wars, continuing with the opposition of aristocratic élite to populist reformers and leading to a Social War in the middle of Italy. However, Roman citizenship was recognized to the rest of the Italians by the end of the conflict and then extended to Cisalpine Gaul when Julius Caesar became Roman Dictator. In the context of the transition from Republic to Principate, Italy swore allegiance to Octavian Augustus and was then organized in eleven regions from the Alps to the Ionian Sea.
More than two centuries of stability followed. Several emperors made notable accomplishments in this period: Claudius incorporated Britain into the Roman Empire, Vespasian subjugated the Great Revolt of Judea and reformed the financial system, Trajan conquered Dacia and defeated Parthia, and Marcus Aurelius epitomized the ideal of the philosopher king.
The crisis of the third century hit Italy particularly hard and left the eastern half of the Empire more prosperous. In 286 AD the Emperor Diocletian moved Imperial residence undertaking the western provinces (the later Western Roman Empire) from Rome to Mediolanum. Meanwhile, the islands of Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and Malta were added to Italy by Diocletian in 292 AD, and Italian cities such as Mediolanum and Ravenna continued to serve as de facto capitals for the West.
The Bishop of Rome had gained importance gradually from the reign of Constantine, and was given religious primacy with the Edict of Thessalonica under Theodosius I. Italy was invaded several times by the wandering Germanic peoples and fell under the control of Odoacer, when Romulus Augustus was deposed in 476 AD. Except for about more than a decade between the end of the Gothic War in mid-550s and Lombard invasion of Italy in 568 when (Eastern) Roman Empire reunited Italy, no single authority was established in Italy as a whole until 1861, when it was reunited by the House of Savoy in the Kingdom of Italy, which became the present-day Italian Republic in 1946.
After having been for centuries the heart of the Roman Empire, from the 3rd century the government and the cultural center began to move eastward: first the Edict of Caracalla in 212 AD extended Roman citizenship to all free men within the Imperial boundaries. Then, Christianity began to establish itself as the dominant religion from Constantine's reign (306–337), raising the power of Eastern metropolises, later grouped into Pentarchy. Although not founded as a capital city in 330, Constantinople grew in importance. It finally gained the rank of eastern capital when given an Praefectus Urbi in 359 and the senators who were clari became senators of the lowest rank as clarissimi.
As a result, Italy began to decline in favour of the provinces, which resulted in the division of the Empire into two administrative units in 395: the Western Roman Empire, with its capital at Mediolanum (now Milan), and the Eastern Roman Empire, with its capital at Constantinople (now Istanbul). In 402, the Imperial residence was moved to Ravenna from Milan, confirming the decline of the city of Rome (which was sacked in 410 for the first time in almost eight centuries).
The name Italia covered an area whose borders evolved over time. According to Strabo's Geographica, before the expansion of the Roman Republic, the name was used by Greeks to indicate the land between the strait of Messina and the line connecting the gulf of Salerno and gulf of Taranto (corresponding roughly to the current region of Calabria); later the term was extended by Romans to include the Italian Peninsula up to the Rubicon, a river located between Northern and Central Italy.
In 49 BC, with the Lex Roscia, Julius Caesar gave Roman citizenship to the people of the Cisalpine Gaul; while in 42 BC the hitherto existing province was abolished, thus extending Italy to the north up to the southern foot of the Alps.
Under Augustus, the peoples of today's Aosta Valley and of the western and northern Alps were subjugated (so the western border of Roman Italy was moved to the Varus river), and the Italian eastern border was brought to the Arsia in Istria. Lastly, in the late 3rd century, Italy came to also include the islands of Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia, as well as Raetia and part of Pannonia. The city of Emona (modern Ljubljana, Slovenia) was the easternmost town of Italy.
At the beginning of the Roman Imperial era, Italy was a collection of territories with different political statuses. Some cities, called municipia, had some independence from Rome, while others, the coloniae, were founded by the Romans themselves. Around 7 BC, Augustus divided Italy into eleven regiones, as reported by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia:
- Regio I Latium et Campania
- Regio II Apulia et Calabria
- Regio III Lucania et Bruttium
- Regio IV Samnium
- Regio V Picenum
- Regio VI Umbria et Ager Gallicus
- Regio VII Etruria
- Regio VIII Aemilia
- Regio IX Liguria
- Regio X Venetia et Histria
- Regio XI Transpadana
Italy was privileged by Augustus and his heirs, with the construction, among other public structures, of a dense network of Roman roads. The Italian economy flourished: agriculture, handicraft and industry had a sensible growth, allowing the export of goods to the provinces. The Italian population may have grown as well: three census were ordered by Augustus, also assuming role of Roman censor, in order to record the number of Roman citizens throughout the empire. The surviving totals were 4,063,000 in 28 BC, 4,233,000 in 8 BC, and 4,937,000 in AD 14, but it is still debated whether these counted all citizens, all adult male citizens, or citizens sui iuris. Estimates for the population of mainland Italy, including Cisalpine Gaul, at the beginning of the 1st century range from 6,000,000 according to Karl Julius Beloch in 1886, to 14,000,000 according to Elio Lo Cascio in 2009.
Diocletianic and Constantinian re-organizations
During the Crisis of the Third Century the Roman Empire was on the verge of disintegration under the combined pressures of invasions, military anarchy and civil wars, and hyperinflation. In 284, Emperor Diocletian restored political stability. He carried out thorough administrative reforms to maintain order. He created the so-called Tetrarchy whereby the empire was ruled by two senior emperors called Augusti and two junior vice-emperors called Caesars. He decreased the size of the Roman provinces by doubling their number to reduce the power of the provincial governors. He grouped the provinces into several dioceses (Latin: diocesis) and put them under the supervision of the Imperial Vicarius (vice, deputy), who was the head of the diocese. During the Crisis of the Third Century the importance of Rome declined because the city was far from the troubled frontiers. Diocletian and his colleagues usually resided in four Imperial seats. The Augusti, Diocletian and Maximian, who were responsible for the East and West respectively, established themselves at Nicomedia, in north-western Anatolia (closer to the Persian frontier in the east) and Milan, in northern Italy (closer to the European frontiers) respectively. The seats of the Caesars were Augusta Treverorum (on the River Rhine frontier) for Constantius Chlorus and Sirmium (on the River Danube frontier) for Galerius who also resided at Thessaloniki.
Under Diocletian Italy became the Dioecesis Italiciana. It included Raetia. It was subdivided the following provinces:
- Liguria (today's Liguria and western Piedmont)
- Transpadana (eastern Piedmont and Lombardy)
- Rhaetia (eastern Switzerland, western and central Austria, part of southern Germany, and part of northeastern Italy)
- Venetia et Histria (today's Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige and Istria county)
- Aemilia (Emilia-Romagna)
- Tuscia (Etruria) et Umbria (Tuscany and Umbria)
- Flaminia (Picenum and the former Ager Gallicus, in today's Marche)
- Latium et Campania (the coastal parts of Lazio and Campania)
- Samnium (Abruzzo, Molise and Irpinia)
- Apulia et Calabria (today's Apulia)
- Lucania et Bruttium (Basilicata and Calabria)
- Sicilia (Sicily and Malta)
- Corsica et Sardinia
Constantine subdivided the empire into four Praetorian prefectures. The Diocesis Italiciana became the Praetorian prefecture of Italy (praefectura praetoria Italiae), and was subdivided into two dioceses. It still included Raetia. The two dioceses and their provinces were:
Diocesis Italia annonaria (Italy of the annona - its inhabitants had the obligation to provide the court, the administration and the troops, first allocated in Milan and then in Ravenna, supplies, wine and timber)
- Alpes Cottiae (modern Liguria and western part of Piedmont)
- Liguria (western Lombardy and eastern part of Piedmont)
- Venetia et Histria (Istria [which is now part of Croatia, Slovenia and Italy], Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto and eastern and central Lombardy)
- Raetia I (eastern Switzerland and western Austria)
- Rhaetia II (central Austria, part of southern Germany, and part of northeastern Italy)
- Aemilia (the Emilia part of Emilia-Romagna)
- Flaminia et Picenum Annonarium (Romagna and northern Marche)
Diocesis Italia Suburbicaria (Italy "under the government of the urbs", i.e. Rome)
- Tuscia (Etruria) et Umbria (Tuscany, Umbria and the northern part of coastal Lazio)
- Picenum suburbicarium (Piceno, in southern Marche)
- Valeria Sabina (the modern province of Rieti, other areas of Lazio and areas of Umbria and Abruzzo)
- Campania (central and southern coastal Lazio and coastal Campania except for the modern province of Salerno)
- Samnium (Abruzzo, Molise and the mountain areas of modern Campania; i.e., the modern provinces of Benevento and Avellino and part of the province of Caserta)
- Apulia et Calabria (today's Apulia)
- Lucania et Bruttium (modern Calabria, Basilicata and the province of Salerno in modern Campania)
- Sicilia (Sicily and Malta)
In 330, Constantine completed the rebuilding of Byzantium as Constantinople. He established the Imperial court, a Senate, financial and judicial administrations, as well as the military structures. The new city, however, did not receive an urban prefect until 359 which raised it to the status of eastern capital. After the death of Theodosius in 395 and the subsequent division of the Empire, Italy was home base of the Western Roman Empire. As a result of Alaric's invasion in 402 the western seat was moved from Mediolanum to Ravenna. Alaric, king of Visigoths, sacked Rome itself in 410; something that hadn't happened for eight centuries. Northern Italy was attacked by Attila's Huns in 452. Rome was sacked in 455 again by the Vandals under the command of Genseric.
According to Notitia Dignitatum, one of the very few surviving documents of Roman government updated to the 420s, Roman Italy was governed by a praetorian prefect, Prefectus praetorio Italiae (who also governed the Diocese of Africa and the Diocese of Pannonia), one vicarius, and one comes rei militaris. The regions of Italy were governed at the end of the fourth century by eight consulares (Venetiae et Histriae, Aemiliae, Liguriae, Flaminiae et Piceni annonarii, Tusciae et Umbriae, Piceni suburbicarii, Campaniae, and Siciliae), two correctores (Apuliae et Calabriae and Lucaniae et Bruttiorum) and seven praesides (Alpium Cottiarum, Rhaetia Prima and Secunda, Samnii, Valeriae, Sardiniae, and Corsicae). In the fifth century, with the Emperors controlled by their barbarian generals, the Western Imperial government maintained weak control over Italy itself, whose coasts were periodically under attack. In 476, with the abdication of Romulus Augustulus, the Western Roman Empire had formally fallen unless one considers Julius Nepos, the legitimate emperor recognized by Constantinople as the last. He was assassinated in 480 and may have been recognized by Odoacer. Italy remained under Odoacer and his Kingdom of Italy, and then under the Ostrogothic Kingdom. The Germanic successor states under Odoacer and Theodoric the Great continued to use the Roman administrative apparatus, as well as being nominal subjects of the Eastern emperor at Constantinople. In 535 Roman Emperor Justinian invaded Italy which suffered twenty years of disastrous war. In August 554, Justinian issued a Pragmatic sanction which maintained most of the organization of Diocletian. The "Prefecture of Italy" thus survived, and was reestablished under Roman control in the course of Justinian's Gothic War. As a result of the Lombard invasion in 568, the Byzantines lost most of Italy, except the territories of the Exarchate of Ravenna - a corridor from Venice to Lazio via Perugia - and footholds in the south Naples and the toe and heel of the peninsula.
Under Basil II the Romans managed to regain control of more of the south of Italy, and the emperor even planned a campaign to retake Sicily, although he died before this could take place. In 1038 a general named George Maniakes managed to temporarily wrest a part of Sicily from the Arabs until he was recalled by the emperor Michael IV. The Romans would lose their Italian territories to the Normans beginning in 1040, and would lose their last stronghold of Bari in 1071. In 1155 however, emperor Manuel Komnenos took advantage of the instability of the Norman realm and launched an initially successful campaign to reconquer southern Italy. Unfortunately for the emperor the campaign lost momentum as one of the dispatched generals was recalled to Constantinople and the mercenaries hired for the campaign demanded a huge payment increase and deserted, as did the local barons. Now heavily outnumbered, the Battle of Brindisi broke the campaign permanently. A relief force failed to retrieve the Roman position and in 1158 the army departed. This was the last time Roman forces set foot in their ancestral homeland ever again.
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