The Main Causes Of The Social War – Essay
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Published: Tue, 11 Apr 2017
This essay will examine and consider the main causes of the social war and how each of these factors impacted on the beginnings of the war. There are three main areas which will be examined three areas in which historians argue are the key reasons behind the social war these are; the agrarian legislation, the Italians fight for citizenship and the death of Drusus. Finally the idea that the Italian’s were trying to create their own independent state to rival Rome will be examined.
Historians have argued on the main reasons for the social war since Gibbons wrote his famous work. The Social War moved Rome from a city state controlling a growing empire to full grown entity in the process of imperialism the late republic was a time of wars of expansion armed uprising and slave revolts and many more border conflicts in Rome’s growing empire. The social war however wasn’t a civil war as some historians argue but a subjected people fighting back. Was the social war simply an attempt to gain citizenship or solve the land issues or was it an attempt to destroy Rome and establish a new Italian republic with its own senate, capital and currency was the Lex Julia and other rushed legislation an attempt to stop the tide of war turning on Rome and prevent the backward relatives destroying the republic of Rome.
The Romans after they had crushed the Samnites and Etruscans during the middle Republic period had successfully subdued the Italian people and had built new Latin colonies and taken huge tracts of land by force. In an agrarian society land or the ownership of land provided great wealth and the lack of it led to famine. The land acquired by the Romans was often leased or sold, the Romans who were aware of the need for Italian allies to bolster their armies or sustain the growing towns tried to ensure that the Italians had land to farm but the opposite happened the wealthy took control of the cultivated land by force if necessary this and the use of slaves to farm the land led to the Italian people’s numbers to dwindled and taxes and military service placed an enormous amount of pressure of this subjected people  . It would take a great man to bring about change.
Tiberius Semppronius Gracchus a man eager for glory lamented that a people so valiant in war and blood relations to Rome were declining in numbers  . Gracchus then bought forward a new law which would have meant that the size of land was limited to 500 Jugera and forbade the sale of land. The rich angered by news of a new law that would end their monopoly of the land they controlled tried to prevent this law from being passed  . Bitter infighting ensued but finally the law was passed and Appian wrote the law had opened a fountain of discord in Italy. Gracchus was killed shortly after in a riot beaten to death although he had bought about change it could be argued he did so for personal glory and very little evidence that the new law actually helped any of the poor Italians, but the law would bring about the death of many more eminent Romans.
The new law dictated that the land be divided equally and new men of power were placed in charge Fulvius flaccus , Papirius Carbo with the younger Gracchus were intrusted to divide the land this process caused chaos as estates were carved apart tilled land was exchanged for uncultivated land and many contracts of land ownership were missing the process caused consternation amongst the landowners already angered by the law itself laid lawsuits against the Italians  . The Italians responded by choosing a mighty Roman to defend their cause. The master of Carthage Cornelias Scipio knowing the nature of the Italians he chose to defend them and spoke to the senate and argued for his Italian friends  but the sides were drawn and Scipio’s enemies within Rome spoke out against him. Scipio was found murdered in his home and torture of his slaves gave unsatisfactorily evidence of a plot. The lack of stimulus and the inability that the Roman’s had to enforce the law of Gracchus and new laws enabling land owners to sell their land meant that the poor once again were forced off their lands and Appian wrote the condition of the poor became worse than before  . The law passed by Gracchus seemed to have done more damage than good however be have no evidence once again about the feeling of the Italians, the well born Italians many of which had citizenship profited from the Roman system and its difficult to see the broader picture from the primary sources and especially of those feelings outside Rome what can be said is involvement with the Italians for Roman’s had a tendency to end in death this trend is evident throughout the period before the war began. The senate’s attitude to the Italians during this period may well have driven home the other main grievance or lack of said grievance, citizenship.
Citizenship it a word that floats throughout this period of history when describing the Italians aspirations to be more than subjects not simply a resource for manpower during wars but to become a part of the Roman ideal an ideal which had been created by the shedding of Italian blood as well as Roman. Appian wrote that the Italians sought citizenship over the possession of the land in 125BC Fulvius Flaccus fought for the Italians at that time many in Rome thought that the Italians out of gratitude for what they had done for Rome should be granted the right of citiziship so that they would no longer quarrel Flaccus failed as the senate were angry at the thought that their subjects should be their equals and the plan was abandoned  . The political argument over the right of citizenship carried on until the senate in 122BC ordered all non citizenship out of Rome while voting was taking place on issues concerning all of Italy the senate simply ignored the Italians pleas after this . Cicero also argued that the cause of the social war was in fact due to the discontent among the foederati and their claims to be admitted to the privileges of full citizenship which led to war  . The evidence of this period seems to point to the Italians and their grievances being used by Roman politicians to try to further their political careers the evidence we have is very good at telling us what happened in Rome and what law was passed and the political infighting and the factions and their methods but alas there is no evidence of what the Italians really wanted the histories tell us what the Romans think they wanted as in citizenship which undoubtedly some did but many of the most powerful of the Italians would have had citizenship without knowing what the Italians masses wanted it’s difficult to form any solid base to an argument that citizenship alone was the cause of war did the average Italian working the fields of fishing care about the right of citizenship ? It’s very unlikely. The issue of land ownership and citizenship were to be used once more in the fight for the Italian’s.
Marcus Livius Drusus was according to Livy a plebeian tribune who gaining the confidence of the Italians and the allies by promising them the right of citizenship. Live them wrote it was found afterwards that freedom on which Drusus had promised could not be conferred upon them which angered and incited them to revolt. Livy then slanders Drusus writing he was obnoxious and on account of his actions considered the cause of the war and was slain  . Appian however talks more about Drusus actions concerning the senate and the knights and the law he was trying to pass to end the power of the senate and thus he was killed by a shoemakers knife  . The contrasting options of Appian and Livy are interesting Livy seems to be using Drusus as a scapegoat for the war rather them admit that the Romans could have easily averted the war and the evidence seems to suggest that the Italians were used in the ever more turbulent political life of Rome. The death of Drusus did indeed lead to war but Appian wrote the Italians were angered at the fact that so many who had been labouring for their political advancement should be killed and seeing no other means of acquiring citizenship decided on war. The death of Drusus could be argued as simply the excuse the Italians had been waiting for the declare war on Rome or indeed as many Roams had died fighting their corner but as mentioned earlier in this essay although many died mysteriously many of these deaths were most probably carried out for other reasons rather than simply the fight for Italian rights. The road to war had started and Italy was split as the sides began to fight for control of Italy.
The Italians were quick to take up arms Appian wrote the Marsi. the Peligni, the Vestini, the Marrucini and many more including the Samnites who had always been hostile towards Rome were quick to martial their forces and march to war.  The Italians were quick to create their own league which the new capital being called Italica and was to be the centre and home of the new Italian state a senate was elected and coins struck  . The Italians had some early successes but ultimately it was the senate that was able to end the war by passing a new law which granted citizenship to all that had no fought and to any who would throw down their arms and for many still fighting this new law meant that many gave up and simply laid down their arms  . The fighting carried on but without the full support of all the Italians the social war came to an abrupt end and the sting in the tail was that the although the senate had passed a law granted citizenship the senate had made sure that the original number of 35 tribes voted first and so the most important element in a democracy the vote was although not lost made useless and this in itself caused more unrest  . The social war was fought seemingly over the right of citizenship and the senate was able to prevent the formation of a new super Italian state by creating a law which wasn’t all it was meant to be but the war itself leaves many questions the Romans must have been unsure of victory to made a drastic u turn on a policy that had been prevalent for many years. The failure of the senate to pass the new law may of realistically meant the roman republic falling the republic was stretched in its ability to govern and police its new territories and were seemingly unprepared for war and had to free slaves and give them citizenship in order to prevent Rome from being cut off  this speaks of desperation and grasping at anything to save the Republic from being taken over by the Italians.
The origins of the social war are difficult to extrapolate from the information remaining which is a Roman way of thinking there’s little evidence from the Italian point of view and as historians know the victors write the histories. This essay has tried to explore the main points in the build up to war without getting too focused on the political system or the way in which politics worked in Rome at this time which is arguably unimportant. The essay has looked at the main parties behind various laws and the battle for Italian rights of citizenship although many of the Romans died untimely deaths it could be argued from the evidence that there were many issues around each of the death and the discourse on the Italian struggle for the rights they believed is very scant and arguably there were many other reasons behind the deaths mentioned rather than simply that they were fighting for the Italians cause. Roman history has taught us one thing politics is a deadly game and for the losers as well as the victor death wasn’t far off. It’s also very hard to see how the agrarian law or Gracchus effected the poorer classes in Italy and little evidence how this law affected these people directly it’s the evidence seems to suggest that the wealthy Italy families simply wanted a bigger slice in accordance with their believed status and the law was ultimately pushed aside long before the onset of war. The cause of the social war seems more complicated the Roman were unprepared for war and had to recall military forces from their new territories and as mentioned even using slaves to fight for them the idea that the thought behind the war was simply citizenship begs the question if the Italians simply wanted this why create their own capital elect a senate and indeed mint coins it smacks of a bigger ideal the creation of a new state and the war was simply a way of ending the hegemony of Rome the Samnites and Marsi and indeed others had no love for the Romans and it seems citizenship would of been far from the thoughts of many of these people fighting, revenge or simply removing the Romans would be a simple explanation behind the war. The senate quickly passing legislation to prevent many from joining the fight seems a gamble and on this occasion worked but it could be argued that the Roman republic came close to losing all that they had fought for and a successor state an independent Italian state very nearly succeeded. The cause of the social war is indeed a difficult summary to make the agrarian law and the unwilling senate to grant citizenship to all Italians played a huge part but it seems that the war was simply an expression of overwhelming frustration by the Italians on the roman political system and so they elected to create their own state.
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