Book Review: The Early Roman Expansion into Italy: Elite Negotiation and Family Agendas


by Nicola Terrenato

Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019. Pp. xx, 230. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $99.99. ISBN: 1108422675

How Rome Conquered Italy

Prof. Terrenato (Michigan), a specialist in early Roman history, takes a fresh look at the rise of Roman dominance in Italy through the early Second Century BC He finds that most accounts, including ancient ones, focus too much on the notion of the Romans as “dominators by nature” pushing around and subduing hapless weaker statelets through war and devastation, thereby missing the “subtler strategies” that were also at work, mutual defense against “terrifying” Gallic and Carthaginian threats, diplomacy, and, the particular focus of this work, transnational commonalities of interest and blood ties among the elites of the numerous city-states of western and southern Italy.

Terrenato not only looks at trends from the Roman perspective, but also from those of the other peoples involved. Making full use of the sources, he shows that the urban states across the Mediterranean world – Etruscan, Italiot, Greek, Punic – shared similar social structures, and in Italy, the elites mostly continued in power after they had become allied with or annexed by Rome, and in many cases great families moved to Rome and soon found places in the Senate. He also notes that men from such families were often given military commands – “provinciae” – in the regions in which their ancestors originated, strengthening the idea of familial networks.

In examining accounts of Roman battlefield slaughter, brutal sacks, mass enslavement, and even obliteration of cities, Terrenato notes many anomalies. Few urban centers disappeared; Veii, “razed” in 396 BC, remained sufficiently livable that after the Gallic sack of Rome a few years later, the Romans fled there, and even proposed relocating to the site.

Looking at the non-urban states – or “tribes” – of Italy, Terrenato sees a much different pattern, with less commonality in social structure and little familial networking, such as the Samnites, who required centuries to subdue.

There’s much more here, of course. For example, Terrenato observes that that the high body counts found in accounts of battles are rather improbable, given the likely populations of these statlets, particularly when we hear of multiple bloody slaughter over several years, suggesting that numbers may have been inflated to make generals eligible for a triumph.

The Early Roman Expansion into Italy is a very important read for those interested in early Roman history, in historiography, or in the relationship of history and myth.


Note: The Early Roman Expansion into Italy is also available in several e-editions

StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

Buy it at



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close