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(from latus, “the level land”). A country of Italy, lying south of Etruria, from which it was separated by the Tiber. The earliest records of Italian history, as we are assured by Dionysius of Halicarnassus (i. 9), represented the plains of Latium as first inhabited by the Siculi, a people of obscure origin, but who would be entitled to our notice from the circumstance above mentioned, even had they not acquired additional historical importance from their subsequent migration to the celebrated island from them named Sicily. (See Siculi.) Ancient writers do not seem agreed as to the name of the people who compelled the Siculi to abandon Latium. Dionysius informs us that Philistus ascribed their expulsion to the Umbri and Pelasgi. Thucydides refers the same event to the Opici; while Antiochus of Syracuse, a still more ancient writer, represents the Siculi as flying from the Oenotri. Notwithstanding this apparent discrepance, it is pretty evident that under these different names of Umbri, Opici, and Oenotri, the same people are designated whom Dionysius and the Roman historians usually term Aborigines (Ant. Rom. i. 10). The Aborigines, intermixing with several Pelasgic colonies, occupied Latium, and soon formed themselves into the several communities of Latini, Rutuli, Hernici, and Volsci, even prior to date of the supposed arrival of Aeneas.

The name Prisci Latini was first given to certain cities of Latium (see Pagus), supposed to have been colonized by Latinus Silvius, one of the kings of Alba, but most of which were afterwards conquered and destroyed by Ancus Marcius and Tarquinius Priscus (Livy, i. 3). In the reign of Tarquinius Superbus the Latin nation was united under the form of a confederate Republic, and acknowledged that ambitious king as the protector of their league (Livy, i. 50). After the expulsion of the tyrant from Rome, we are told that the Latins, who favoured his cause, experienced a total defeat near the Lake Regillus, and were obliged to sue for peace (Dion. Hal. vi. 18). According to this historian, the Latins received the thanks of the Roman Senate, some years afterwards, for having taken no advantage of the disturbances at Rome, which finally led to the secession of the people to Mons Sacer, and for having, on the contrary, offered every assistance in their power on that occasion; he adds, also, that a perpetual league, known as the Latin League, was formed at that time between the Romans and the Latins. However, about 143 years afterwards, we find the latter openly rebelling, and refusing to supply the usual quota of troops which they had agreed to furnish as allies of Rome. Their bold demand, which was urged through L. Annius Setinus, in the Roman Senate, that one of the consuls at least should be chosen out of their nation, led to an open rupture. A war followed (B.C. 340-338), known as the Latin War, which was rendered remarkable from the circumstances of the execution of the young Manlius by order of his father, and the devotion of Decius. (See Decius.) After having been defeated in several encounters, the Latins were reduced to subjection, with the exception of a few towns, which experienced greater lenity, and Latium thenceforth ceased to be an independent State (Livy, viii. 14; Pliny, xxxiv. 5). At that time the rights of Roman citizens had been granted to a few only of the Latin cities; but at a later period the Gracchi sought to level all such distinctions between the Latins and the Romans. This measure, however, was not carried. The Social War followed; and though the confederates were finally conquered, after a long and desperate contest, the Senate thought it advisable to decree that all the Latin cities which had not taken part with the allies should enjoy the rights of Roman citizens. Many of these towns were, however, deprived of their privileges by Sulla ; and it was not till the close of the Republic that the Latins were admitted generally to participate in all the rights and immunities enjoyed by the Quirites. See Foederatae Civitates.

The name of Latium was at first given to that portion of Italy only which extends from the mouth of the Tiber to the Circeian promontory, a distance of about fifty miles along the coast; but subsequently this latter boundary was removed to the river Liris, whence arose the distinction of Latium Antiquum or Vetus and Novum or Adiectum (Pliny , Pliny H. N. iii. 59). At a still later period, the southern boundary of Latium was extended from the Liris to the mouth of the river Vulturnus and the Massic Hills. See Italia.

hide References (4 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (4):
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 34.5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 3
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 50
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