As the sources do not inform us about how these early colonial enterprises were organized, we can only speculate about how this was achieved. Nevertheless, the much later writings of the Roman land surveyors do hint at archaic forms of Roman territorial organization of freshly conquered lands, which might help us to envision alternative colonial strategies. Perhaps the most interesting scenario is the process described by the Roman land surveyor for an old mechanism of territorial control known as ager arcifinius or arcifinalis As there is a maximum of 4 to 5 hectares a farmer family can cultivate without additional labor , such a self-regulatory process in theory could result in an agricultural landscape in which most farmers had holdings of roughly the same size Moreover, in case the Roman government would want to have more control over the sizes of allotments, a simple line in the colonial statutes stipulating a maximum amount of land a colonist could claim in this way would suffice.
This hypothetical scenario assumes a more active role of the colonists in the organization and control of the conquered territory, which we may assume happened under the supervision of Roman officials who mediated in conflicts between the colonists themselves and between colonists and indigenous dwellers. One could further imagine that for practical considerations the large colonial body was divided into sub-sections, possibly the enigmatic colonial vici we read about ; each of which was assigned a specific area of the territory to exploit and control.
Of course, this hypothetical scenario leaves a lot of questions unanswered, especially as this passage is usually interpreted as referring to exploitation strategies on public land only However, the point to stress here is that alternative mechanisms to organize colonial enterprises certainly existed. Unless one argues that orthogonal land division system are as old as Roman colonization and were invented by Romulus himself , we need to accept that other colonization strategies once existed in Roman society.
In this view, the annexation of vast new territories and the dissolution of the Latin League required the Romans to reconfigure their territorial control strategies, which they realized by mimicking and improving rural organizational practices of the overpowered Greek communities of northern Campania Although it does seem likely that the Roman imperial successes of this period prompted the development of new imperial strategies, it is not at all clear whether this also included a radical change of colonial land allocation strategies One would imagine that with the continuing wars and incorporation of new communities on a large scale, the Roman state had enough on its hands already.
Moreover, considering the fact that the Romans in the late fourth century B. At this point in time, there were no standing armies to control the freshly conquered area that could enable drastic landscape interventions in relative safety. The task to secure conquered land was, according to a famous passage by Cicero, one of the main goals of these colonial settlements If so, one expects a territorial strategy that supports that objective; a geometrically divided landscape dotted with regularly spaced isolated farms does not really comply.
Nevertheless, interesting clues can be derived from the few excavated pre-Roman land division systems in Italy. The well-studied cases of Metapontum and Pontecagnano, for example, show that these land division systems were positioned in the immediate hinterlands of flourishing towns, with as one of their objectives the drainage of the fertile lowland areas that otherwise suffer from hydrological problems.
Moreover, based on their chronology we can safely conclude that they were not created to accommodate for the colonization of these territories, but that they were constructed by well-established communities. This impression is further supported by the fact that these territories all have different land division systems, based on different modules or with different orientations. One thus gets the strong impression that the division of these lands was a gradual process that took decades, if not centuries to complete. We can only guess as to the precise socio-political or economic reasons that stimulated the creation of these systems.
However, it seems plausible, based on the function these systems appear to have fulfilled, to assume their construction was motivated either by scarcity of land as a result of demographic or socio-economic pressures, or by a bureaucratic government that desired more control and ordered a cadastration of its territory, or a combination of both.
However, these same sources make it perfectly clear that the resulting conflicts about land were confined to areas close to Rome. In fact, the Roman government usually had difficulty finding enough volunteers to settle in colonies which the plebs regarded an unsatisfactorily solution to their demands Thus, in geographic terms the prerequisite for the development of well-organized landscapes and for labor-intensive reclamation programs exist for the hinterlands of Rome, but not for the colonial territories where apparently there was more than enough land already.
Intriguingly, for the pre-Punic War period, the sources only mention the sizes of the allotments allocated to viritane settlers and to colonists in a few awkward colonies located in these same fertile parts of the immediate hinterlands of Rome, and for which scholars have argued they might more properly refer to viritane distribution as well For all the colonies Rome founded outside this catchment area, no information on allotment sizes is ever transmitted This pattern seems to reflect the same restricted geographic focus of the Roman administration which was interested in controlling landed property claims in its direct hinterland, but adopted less rigid control mechanisms for the organization of conquered areas further away Thus far, however, traces of regular land division systems are surprisingly rare in the suburbium of Rome and the few recorded cases most likely date to much later periods Instead, in the fertile volcanic tuff plateaus of northern Latium and southern Etruria complex drainage systems consisting of underground channels cut into the tuff-bedrock have been documented known as cuniculi which typically date to the 6 th -3rd centuries B.
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The specific geological properties of the Roman hinterland thus seem to have instigated other reclamation strategies that are difficult to detect on aerial photographs, and which are less useful for cadastration purposes In fact, in the south-eastern part of Latium, which has a very different geological character consisting of mostly alluvial deposits, systems of parallel land division lines based on the Roman actus do seem to occur see fig. Although none of these have been properly dated, it seems at least possible that some of these systems were constructed in this early period of Roman history.
These systems too have been connected with late fourth-early third century viritane land division programs, and colonial foundations of Roman citizens. Although we cannot exclude this course of events , it is worth exploring the validity of another scenario suggested by Siculus Flaccus who seems to suggest that the practice of delimitating equally sized plots of lands in a durable manner, using limites , developed first in the context of the sale or lease of public land in Sabinum Surely, the selling or leasing of land on a large-scale to private individuals required clear procedures and might have stimulated the development of more durable and rigid property delimitation techniques In such a situation, the time and energy invested in the creation of these systems was easily compensated by the money the Roman State acquired in return.
The fact that Flaccus mentions specifically the sale of Sabine lands in this context might suggest these lands were the first to have been merchandized in this way, thus suggesting the practice started in the third century B.
By this time Rome was the uncontested hegemonic power of central-southern Italy and it is not hard to imagine the Romans would be able to control and reorganize Sabine lands, especially those closest to Rome. C onwards Rome experimented with different strategies to make profit from the selling or leasing of its most fertile public lands We know for example that an unknown amount of public land in a radius of 50 miles around Rome was privatized in the late third century B.
This in theory could well have included the public and partly unreclaimed land in the Pontine plain land as well as that of the Reate plain Additionally, the sources also mention for this period a practice of leasing public land, known as ager censorious that was land which was being taxed. Although it is impossible to securely connect these practices to any of the known early orthogonal grids individually , it is significant that the literary sources provide us with a general image of a Roman State experimenting in the third and second centuries B.
It is not difficult to see how this situation might have triggered new ways of organizing and recording property claims Moreover, the literary evidence suggests other incentives might also have contributed significantly to the improvement of land division strategies and reclamation works, such as selling and leasing activities of the state.
The prospect of having good returns might have stimulated the state to invest money and energy in such labour intensive projects. That these profitable lowlands required a lot of energy to reclaim and maintain is clear from the fact that Livy records as a key achievement of the consul Cethegus in B. This passage may be taken to imply that parts of the Pontine marshes were reclaimed only in this period, but it could also refer to an initiative to restore an earlier system that was not functioning properly anymore in this period.
In both cases, the passage underlines an important aspect of these lowland landscapes, namely that they require serious investments to reclaim. The point is, however, that these systems are not necessarily connected directly with the colonization phase of these lands, but were either already constructed by the pre-Roman communities living in the areas, or developed later on when socio-economic necessity demanded it and the organizational capacity of the colonial community could handle taking on such infrastructural works.
This understanding of Italian rural history, albeit rooted in a long intellectual tradition, is unconvincing as it aprioristically assumes that Italic societies were fundamentally different from Rome in terms of their socio-economic organization.
As I have argued, this conviction is not based on a critical analysis of the available evidence, but is more likely the fruit of an ancient topos that was armored in modern times by socio-evolutionary theory that presupposes a causal relationship between imperial success and a specific, more advanced form of socio-economic organization. This belief naturally required Rome, as the successful imperial society par excellence , to have been the most developed socio-economic polity and also needed to date the birth of this effective form of socio-economic organization to the period before Rome started its astonishingly successful conquests.
The archaeological evidence deriving from field surveys as well as from paleo-botanic studies strongly suggest that the introduction of intensive agricultural farming strategies in Italic societies, in most cases, predates the Roman conquest phase. Whether this process is the result of new socio-economic regimes, based on more equal distribution of land and with more secure property claims for the lower classes, cannot be deduced from this data. However, what this data does suggest is that Italic societies fully participated in the dynamic socio-economic developments that characterized the Mediterranean region in the Classical and Hellenistic periods.
From this perspective, we need to scrutinize the view which has exclusively connected land division systems with Roman colonial strategies. More likely these systems are created by a wide range of Italic polities with the aim to improve the agricultural revenues of their territories. The little archaeological information we have suggests these land division lines were irrigation and drainage channels, which we might assume, could also, but not necessarily, function to record property claims more effectively.
Furthermore, the excavations seem to indicate these systems were constructed by well-established communities, rather than colonial pioneers whose resources and energy more likely were invested in safeguarding tactics and economic survival strategies that did not required risky long term investments.
This, however, was the result of Roman imperial success, and not a precursor for it as the conquering peasant state paradigm assumed. With regard to the land division strategies, it is clear that Rome in this period adopted strategies that in terms of scale and skill were unique in Italy. The vast territories in the Po-valley that became centuriated in this period are a clear example of this. Interestingly, however, the incentive to start framing landscapes in orthogonally laid-out grids might initially not have come from colonization activities, but was possibly developed in the context of the selling, leasing, or viritane distribution of public land.
It is clear that orthogonal land division systems at some point during the Republic became important tools for organizing colonial resettlement programs. However, the point to stress is that colonization might not have been the phenomenon that triggered the introduction of this practice in Roman society.
For agricultural investors, possessing fertile land close to Rome must have been attractive, while the Roman State could legitimize the massive time and energy investments needed to reclaim and reorganize these lands by the prospect of good returns.
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In theory, the reclamation function of these land division systems could be combined with colonial resettlement programs, but this is surely not restricted to such enterprises. Reclamation of land is first and foremost a strategy to increase agricultural potential without the need for territorial expansion. As such, it is rather an alternative or complementary strategy to colonization; one that enhanced economic and demographic growth through innovation rather than through exploitation of newly conquered lands.
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Appendix II. Thesauri in Peninsular Italy
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