chapter  14
13 Pages

Space-time in Roman Italy

The unity of Roman Italy depended on a system of roads. The road was as much a part of a definition of the Roman cultural landscape as that of the city or the villa. The roads of Italy bisected the mountains of the Apennines to link the peoples of the Po plain to the rest of Italy. The physical geography of Italy was fundamentally altered by road building, whether to the south by the building of the Via Appia through the Pontine marshes or to the north by the building of the Via Flaminia across the Apennines to the Adriatic sea. A new geographical space was created that was founded on the linear connection of Rome to other places. This new Rome-centred geography ignored the traditional divisions between cities or regions. If we were to take the mountain ranges of Roman Italy as a means to define a region, we would fail to take note of the alteration of geography and create a simplified imagined community that ignored the application of a transport technology in the definition of geographical space. The reorganisation of space caused a concentration of power in Rome, rather than in the cities of her Italian allies (maybe with the exception of Capua). Rome conquered Italy as much by the production of space as by the utilisation of armies for the suppression of her Latin and Italian allies. The key elements of this conquest were the roads, the cities and a system of landholding that together created a unique landscape which was different from the cities of Greece or barbarian Europe. Under­ pinning it all was a system of land transportation to complement commu­ nications by sea or river. The effect was to create over a period of two centuries a unity for Italy that defies definition. Certainly we cannot regard

Italy as Mommsen did, as a nation state, nor should we regard the cities of Italy as acting as independent city states. Roman Italy does not conform to either of these definitions and should be seen as a unique form of political space. In terms of political entities, Italy was composed of a large number of self-governing cities that were connected together to form a larger political system through their focus on Rome via communications and citizenship. These two elements cannot be separated if they are to have any historical meaning. Citizenship implies a level of common concern that could only be achieved through knowledge of a common bond between places. In the case of Italy, unlike that of Greece, this was not achieved through common myths of descent or a common ethnicity.