In its origins, the colonization of land was done for the sake of national security. Latin colonies (colonae) were strongholds established in the lands of recently conquered Italian peoples. They were a means to exert control. For instance, in 201 BC the Senate decided to distribute land in Samnium and Apulia (discussed by Livy 31.4.1-3j 31.49.5). These towns were fortified self-governing communities, owing allegiance to Rome. Living in the colonies was considered a form of military service. The colonists policed the local populace and could be quickly called war if the need arose. Colonies tended not to be established outside of Italy. This would place them too far from Rome’s center of control.
The first colony of retired soldiers was established after the defeat of Hannibal. The Roman commander, Scipio, asked the Senate to establish settlements in the south of the Italy. Scipio’s men received plots of land, two lugera (.68 of a modern acre) for each year fought in Spain and Africa. These settlements were collection of neighbors, lacking the fortifications or self-government of earlier colonies.
In the Later Republic
By the second century BC the Italian peninsula was at peace, so there was no need for new settlements. In addition, there was little public land available for disbursement. Only the Senate held the authority to establish such sites. However, military commanders increasingly put pressure on the Senate to award land to their troops. In 103 BC Marius demanded land for for his veterans of the African campaign. The Senate was opposed to this. Their concern was that in such a move would weaken the soldiers’ allegiance to the Republic, transferring loyalty instead to their commander. Marius’ tribune, L. Appuleius Saturninus, resorted to threatening the senators with violence. The presedent now set, the veterans of Marius’ German campaigns also were awarded land in 100 BC. In 82 BC Sulla sidestepped the Senate, taking land away from the Italian cities which had supported his rivals, Marius and Cinna. In 70 BC Pompey successfully appealed to the Senate to receive land for his men. Julius Caeser was another general intent on rewarding his men. He avoided conflict with the Senate by dispensing land outside of Italy. In the 40s BC he founded veteran settlements in Gaul, Africa, and Spain. After the Battle of Philippi in 42BC Octavian removed the people of 18 Greek towns to create space for his veterans. In 43 BC the Triumvirs, Ocatvian, Lepidus, and Antony held conference at the island of Bonomia. The result was that the Senate was officially stripped of its control of forming settlements.
In the Empire
During the Empire awarding of land to retired Roman soldiers continued, although it was not standard compensation for military service. Veteran settlement was quite problematic for the commander. In order to provide land for his soldiers, he would need to displace the citizens already living there—an unpopular move to be sure! Consequently, the aftermath of a civil war was the ideal opportunity for land grabs. A victorius emperor was free to take property from the supporters of his defeated rival, awarding the land to his loyal troops.
1. Broadhead, Will. “Colonization, Land, and Veteran Settlement”. p148-163 in Erdkamp, Paul. A Companion to the Roman Army. Blackwell, 2007.
2. Keppie, Lawrence. Colonisation and veteran settlement in Italy, 47-14 B.C. London : British School at Rome, 1983.
Lawrence Keppie published a number of writings on the subject of Roman military settlements.
1. Keppie, Lawrence. Colonisation and Veteran Settlement in Italy in the First Century A. D. London, 1984.
2. Keppie, Lawrence. Colonisation and official veteran settlement in Italy from Caesar to Nerva. Vol. 1.2 1978