The Romans established colonies for a variety of reasons. The primary one was to secure strategic defenses for the Italian peninsula. The secondary reason was to resettle the poor and to find homes for discharged veterans. Colonization reached its peak under Caesar and Augustus, and came to an end during the reign of Hadrian.
As the Romans pushed invading Gauls from the Italian peninsula in the 300s B.C., they established colonies in the region. These colonies were located on the borders of Latium, the area surrounding Rome. The people living in these communities included allies as well as Romans. They gave up their existing citizenship and became citizens of the colony. These communities were known as Latin colonies. Other people—those who had fought against Rome—were given only half-citizenship. This latter group had to serve in the army and pay taxes to Rome, but had no vote in the assemblies and could not hold office.
Minor settlements established along the coast of Italy took the place of a navy in helping to defend the peninsula. These strongholds were too small to be self-governing, and inhabitants kept their Roman citizenship. These settlements became known as “colonies of Roman citizens.” After 338 B.C., the Romans founded more colonies in the area south of Rome. The settlers of these colonies were drawn mainly from Rome and had to give up their Roman citizenship in exchange for generous parcels of land in the new colony. Called “Latin colonies” like the older colonies, these settlements contributed to the eventual unification of Italy under Rome. Latin colonies ceased being founded after 181 B.C., however. At that time, Rome found it increasingly difficult to persuade colonists to give up their Roman citizenship. There were other reasons as well. By 177 B.C., the strategic lands in the Po River valley had been secured and most of the suitable land had been distributed.
Gaius Gracchus revived the practice of colonization as a means of relieving the poverty among the landless and as a way to provide for the resettlement of soldiers. He attempted to establish the first overseas colony at Carthage in northern Africa, but he was killed before his plans for large-scale colonization could be put into effect. Emigration of Roman citizens to colonies was revived by Caesar, who settled more than 80,000 citizens, including the poor and veterans, in more than 30 colonies. Caesar’s policy was greatly expanded by Augustus, who founded approximately 75 colonies in faraway regions of the empire such as Africa, Sicily, Macedonia, Spain, and Asia Minor.
Eastern colonization continued under the emperors Claudius and Vespasian, but it came to an end under the emperor Hadrian. The title of colonia became a mark of status for an existing city. (See also Cities, Roman; Citizenship; Economy, Roman.)