Were Romans Italians? Yes, as the Romans came from the Italian Peninsula—that is if the geographical location of the land they inhabited was the only factor to consider.
However, many factors must be taken into account when it comes to one’s ethnicity and ancestry, especially for Romans, who hail from one of ancient history’s most glorious civilizations.
Were Romans Italians? The Difference Between Roman and Italians
Geography and history have had a significant impact on Italy’s genetic history. Geographically speaking, ancient Romans were born in the land of Italy, but it all depends on how you define the term “Romans” as it has numerous definitions. It can refer to individuals who lived in the Roman Empire, people who identify as Romans, people who have Roman genetics, or those who defend Roman imperial values.
As a result, there are various explanations about what ethnicity were the Romans and how they are related to Italians.
Additionally, if Italians are modern-day Romans, how and when did this happen? What is the relationship between Romans and Italians?
To completely understand this, we must first examine history to fully know what happened in ancient Rome and how it relates to modern Italians.
– Where Did the Romans Come From?
They came from somewhere in the Italian Peninsula. Let us take a trip back to the ancient Roman Empire in Italy to dig deeper and learn where the glorious Roman Empire began and ended.
Around 2800 years ago, due to the varied topography of the Italian Peninsula, several populations of people with various cultures, linguistics, and military activities coexisted. Rome began as a small village of Italic families in the Latium region near the Tiber River. They shared borders with the Etruscans and Greek colonists, who paved the way for many of the Roman legacy’s most famous features, including aqueducts, bridges, and even gladiatorial games. Even their military and government structures resembled those of the Etruscans.
As ancient Romans thought themselves to be descendants of Romulus and Remus, two Middle Eastern immigrants who were the great-grandchildren of Aeneas, a Trojan hero, they made Rome the ancient world’s greatest open metropolis, sheltering outcasts, murderers, and fugitive slaves.
Other myths state that Romulus and Remus were the twin sons of Mars, the god of battle, and were rescued by a wolf from drowning in a river. Raised by a she-wolf, Romulus and Remus got into a fight, which resulted in Romulus killing Remus. In 753 BCE, Romulus founded and named the city “Rome” and became its first ruler. Rome was then ruled by seven kings in a sequence of Sabine, Latin, and Etruscans; however, after Romulus, all of the succeeding kings were chosen by the Senate.
– Roman Monarchy to the Republic of Rome
The monarchy of Rome came to an end with the overthrow of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the country’s seventh king, whom ancient historians regarded as cruel and dictatorial in comparison to his beneficent predecessors. In 509 BCE, Rome was shaken by a sex scandal involving Sextus, son of King Lucius Tarquinius. Sextus raped Lucretia, a noblewoman, and wife of a Roman soldier, she then exposed the crime to a number of Roman noblemen before committing suicide.
Lucretia’s subsequent suicide sparked a revolt. With the help of Lucius Junius Brutus, a Roman nobleman, the people rallied the aristocracy and exiled the monarch and his family. Brutus was supported by the Roman troops, and the king was exiled. Despite Lucius Tarquinius Superbus’ attempts to restore the monarchy, the people established a republic.
– The Republic of Rome to the Roman Empire
From 509 BCE to 27 BCE, Rome was governed by a republic. Even though Rome was meant to be a democracy, only the patricians, or those from Rome’s wealthiest families, were permitted to occupy political or religious positions. Everyone else was regarded as a plebeian and was not allowed to hold any influential role in the government. For the next 200 years, this group of plebeians battled to gain power inside the government.
At the government’s heart, the Senate provided guidance on problems connected with the city and population’s rules. Members of the patrician elite served as advisors to the republic’s various governing organizations. Two consuls were elected to govern and lead the republic. Even though their power was limited by the creation of magistrate posts, these consuls served as heads of state.
For centuries, the republic remained strong. However, its authority began to wane quickly as a result of its inability to respond to its growing power. Due to the vast disparity between the rich and the poor, a new practice emerged, in which the military was paid in gold. For that reason, soldiers were fighting for their generals rather than the republic.
Julius Caesar, a military leader, took advantage of the situation and seized power, establishing himself as the dictator of Rome and dismantling the government. This was the event that marked the start of the Roman Empire. The Senate’s decision to proclaim Caesar dictator for life was the final straw, and he was assassinated in 44 BCE.
– The Rise of the Roman Empire
After Caesar’s assassination in 44 BCE, Lepidus, Mark Antony, and Octavian (his nephew) reigned. Nevertheless, Octavian went to war against Antony in northern Africa. After his victory in the Battle of Actium, he went on to conquer the rest of the Roman world (31 BCE), and he proclaimed Augustus the first emperor of Rome. His rule, which lasted from 27 BCE to 14 CE, was marked by peace and stability.
Augustus ushered in an era of peace and authority in Rome and the rest of the empire (Pax Romana). The Roman Empire became one of the most glorious and greatest civilizations in history that lasted over a thousand years. It was at its pinnacle with authority over the North African coast, Egypt, Southern Europe, much of Western Europe, the Balkans, Crimea, and most of the Middle East, including Anatolia, the Levant, and sections of Mesopotamia and Arabia.
– How Did the Roman Empire Fall?
The Roman Empire fell apart due to its size; it had grown too huge for its benefit, making it difficult to control. The Roman Empire’s success was mainly dependent on its armed forces. Therefore, when the army began to weaken, the empire began to crumble. However, this is not something that happened overnight. Different sections of the empire slowly began to weaken as a result of the empire’s massive expansion.
Rome gradually crumbled, losing countries one by one, such as Britain around 410 and Spain and northern Africa by 430. Around 450, Attila and his savage Huns attacked Gaul and Italy, shaking the empire even further.
A German ruler named Odovacar took control of the Roman army in Italy in September 476.
His warriors proclaimed him as king of Italy after deposing the last western emperor, Romulus Augustus, bringing an ignoble conclusion to ancient Rome’s long and violent history, furthermore The Roman Empire had come to an end.
– What Happened to the Roman People After Rome Fell?
After the empire fell apart, feudalism, in which people were given land and protection by people of higher rank who would work and fought for them in return, was more organized and controlled. The ancient Roman provinces were split into feudal kingdoms by ethnic chiefs and kings, ex-Roman governors, generals, warlords, peasant leaders, and bandits.
In exchange for protection from robbers and neighboring kingdoms, peasants were permanently allocated to “manorial estates,” where they were provided food and labor to the aristocratic class of lords and knights.
Many of the Roman Empire’s regions were attacked and ruled by various invaders. Italy was administered as a Byzantine province with Gothic administrators before being taken over by direct control in the south and the German Lombards in the north. With the election of Pope Gregory, the papacy and the Byzantine Empire was divided in authority. The Byzantine Church and the Catholic Church finally parted in the eighth century.
Various German tribes had also increasingly settled in the west. The Vandals ruled Africa; the Visigoths ruled Spain and southern Gaul; the Suevi ruled northern Spain; the Burgundians ruled southeastern Gaul; the Saxons and Jutes ruled Britain; the Heruli ruled Italy.
Only in the northern portion of Gaul was the ghost of Roman power perpetuated by the governor, Syagrius, who held out against the invaders for another 10 years before succumbing to the Franks under Clovis. The new German kingdom’s commanders had begun to wield autonomous authority, whereas the Romans had been subjected to new overlords.
– Effect on the Roman People
With the dawn of the new invaders, Roman customs, manners, laws, and language were preserved, but new customs and ideas influenced by the invaders were added to them. When the Roman Empire fell in the west, it served as a transition to a new state of affairs that evolved into our modern civilization. More like the transition of the old republic to an empire, the fall of the early empire was a transition to a new phase of imperialism.
The east prospered over time, whereas the west fell. Even after the Western Roman Empire fell, the Eastern Roman Empire survived for hundreds of years as the Byzantine Empire. As a result, the “fall of Rome” truly only refers to the fall of the empire’s western half.
From what is now northern Italy, the Ostrogoths (who ruled Rome from 454 to 933) and the Lombards (who ruled Rome from 566 to 68) seized Rome. The eastern provinces grew stronger as Rome’s power declined, becoming the Byzantine Empire. As late as 1780 AD, people in Rome spoke Ostrogoth.
– What Was the Native Language of the Romans?
Latin was considered their classical language. Although Latin was used across the Roman Empire, it coexisted with a variety of other languages and dialects, such as Greek, Oscan, and Etruscan. After its form was fixed, Classical Latin, Cicero’s, and Virgil’s language became “dead,” while Vulgar Latin, the language used by the majority of Romans, grew and expanded across the western Roman Empire, eventually becoming the Roman language.
– Was Italian Spoken by the Ancient Romans?
The answer is no, as the Italian language that we know now did not exist back then. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, the Italian language underwent a lengthy and gradual evolution, and Romans started speaking the Italian language. Latin had spread and been imposed as the “Madre Franca” or shared language throughout the empire.
As Latin was the language of the ancient Romans and due to the presence of numerous invaders and conquerors, communication became impossible. Consequently, the original language used by the Romans began to gradually adapt and be influenced by different languages. The Italian language that we know today arose in central Tuscany and was formalized in the early 14th century through the writings of Tuscan writer Dante Alighieri.
– Are Romans the Modern Italians?
The Italians are descendants of the Romans, Greeks, Etruscans, Ligures, Raetians, and Veneto-Illyrians, as well as numerous Celtic and Italic tribes, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Arabs, Ostrogoths, Lombard and Normans, Franks, and Catalans, among many others.
The Romans, who originated in the city of Rome, were similar but not identical to the Italians. People were more devoted to their city than to their country before nationalism and nationhood, which is why the “Roman Empire” was established rather than the “Italian Empire.”
The more accurate way to identify whether ancient Romans are linked to the Italians is to look at their genetics. Ancient Romans genetically resembled groups from the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East at the height of their empire. This is the defining factor of who are the Romans today and how they evolved from these events.
– Do Italians Carry Roman Genetics?
To fully understand this, we must first determine the genetic makeup of the Romans. Ancient Rome was the capital of a large empire by historical standards and still is by modern ones. At that time, Rome was home to more than 70 million people from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
We know that Rome never imposed its culture on conquered people and that regular contact between conquerors and conquered people resulted in a mutual exchange of knowledge, customs, and traditions that immensely enriched the Eternal City. The same genetic variety and intermingling occurred, according to recent studies from Stanford, Vienna, and Rome La Sapienza universities.
However, one important thing to think about when considering our genetic background is time. Two millennia have passed between the time of the Roman Empire and the present. In these two millennia, history created and destroyed countries and witnessed invasions, conquests, and changed languages. Machiavelli, one of the most enlightened political thinkers, used to say that the first true Italians were the Lombards, who defeated the Romans but also fully embraced their culture and mixed with them through marriages.
– When Were Romans Called Italians?
Let’s start with why the people there were called Romans. The thinking during that time was more concerned about tribal regions, hometowns, and villages than with governments and nations. The identity of a person or a family was established by their home tribe. Despite having huge swathes of land and sea under their control, the Romans’ identity was based on their “home”—Rome.
The Italy that we know today was the land on the lower peninsula of what was known as the Italian Peninsula, although it only referred to the geographical mass and not the people. The term “Roman” was never used to apply to the entire Italian Peninsula. Instead, like the Romans after Augustus, they referred to the peninsula as a whole as Italy. However, it was not until 1861 that Italy became a unified country when the Kingdom of Italy was founded from a collection of states and territories.
In the first century BC, Italians and Romans merged into one. Even though Romans and many other Italian populations have a lot in common, Romans used to make up a small percentage of the Italian population.
The Romans were people who originated from the Italian Peninsula. During the ancient times, portions of Europe, including Gaul (modern-day France), Greece, and Spain, parts of North Africa, and parts of the Middle East were all under the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire, which was centered in Rome.
- Rome started as a small Italic tribe in the Italian Peninsula and was ruled by a monarchy before transitioning to a republic and eventually becoming an empire.
- Rome’s expansion reached as far as Britain, North Africa, Portugal, and Syria, along with the invaders who conquered them when the empire fell. These led to the intermingling of customs, traditions, and even genetics.
- The Italian language that we know today was first used in the early 14th century. Latin was the language used by ancient Romans.
- The Kingdom of Italy, of which the city of Rome is still a part, was founded in 1861, and finally, Italians and Romans were merged.
Almost all people are genetically mixed.
Therefore, if the question is whether Romans were Italians, then the answer is a definite yes!
Of course, the Romans were genetically mixed, as were medieval Italians, just like most of us are. It only shows how we are all genetically diverse and lovely as the land from which we came.