chapter  11
19 Pages

Ager publicus

Land as a spoil of war in the Roman Republic *
WithSaskia T. Roselaar

The taking of spoils from a defeated enemy was a critical aspect of Roman warfare. From c. 400 BC, land became an increasingly important spoil of war. Land taken from conquered peoples in Italy either became ager publicus or was distributed in viritane distributions. Between 400 and 338, land was typically shared out in viritane allotments. Between 338 and 200 viritane distributions declined, as the Roman state preferred to hold land as ager publicus, although this was occasionally privatized to raise funds for the state. This shift in practice reflected both strategic and political concerns. After the Second Punic War, after a brief period of renewed colonial foundations, the distribution of land largely stopped. Moreover, the Romans generally declined to confiscate land from the conquered overseas, preferring instead to utilize more efficient forms of material extraction (e.g., war indemnities). From the fourth through second centuries, different pressures and socio-political contexts led to different approaches to the acquisition and distribution of land as war spoils. Rome’s evolving use of ager publicus in particular is indicative of the tensions between the interests of the Roman state and personal (typically elite) concerns; tensions which roiled through the fall of the Republic.