Monday, September 8, 2014


Seth Kendall, The Struggle for Roman Citizenship: Romans, Allies, and the Wars of 91-77 BCE. Gorgias Studies in Classical and Late Antiquity 2. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2013. Pp. 958. ISBN 9781611434873. $150.

Reviewed by Andrea Raggi, Università di Pisa​ (

Version at BMCR home site


The Struggle for Roman Citizenship is a history of a crucial period in the Late Roman Republic: the decades that precede the Social War, which include the revolt of Fregellae in 125 B.C. and the Gracchan reforms; the war between Rome and her Italian allies; the aftermath of the war and the Sullan reforms. The aim of the author is to follow the conduct of the allies and their relationship with Roman authorities in order to understand why the Italian peoples decided to start fighting and tried to obtain the right of Roman citizenship in so violent a way. In other terms, Kendall wants to re-examine these turbulent decades from the perspective of the Italians, a goal certainly difficult to achieve taking into consideration that all our literary sources write from a Roman point of view, and we possess no allied narrative at all.

These events—and the heated debate on them in modern historiography—are well known to scholars working in the field, and I believe there is no point in summarizing them; a brief overview of how the volume is structured will suffice. The work is divided in ten chapters. After an ‘Introduction’ (pp. 1-28), where the author provides a review of previous studies on the subject, Kendall begins (chapt. 1, pp. 29-67) with a list of the literary sources available to reconstruct the period under examination. One should not forget the fact that our only detailed narrative source is Appian, and also that this historian, whose floruit was in the imperial age, deliberately made a selection of the relevant events, especially during his account of the Social War: therefore, such evidence should be treated with caution (see the remarks by Kendall in ‘Appendix I’, pp. 750-755). In chapt. 2 (pp. 69-138) Kendall examines the causes of the Italian desires for the right of Roman citizenship, and this leads him to start considering the situation back into the 2nd c. B.C., and the question of why the war erupted only at the very end of the year 91 B.C. The issue is examined in depth in chapt. 3 (pp. 139-221), where Kendall recalls the political activity of the Gracchi and the last attempt of M. Livius Drusus to please the Italian peoples.

The last four chapters (7-10, pp. 419-674) focus again on the political activity at Rome: Kendall looks through the lives of Marius, Sulpicius Rufus, Cinna and Sulla in order to figure out if their action was sympathetic to the aims of the Italians or not; as is well known, legislation on the distribution of Italians throughout tribes was the crucial issue at stake. A brief ‘Epilogue’ (pp. 675-679) summarizes the author’s conclusions and is followed by twenty-two (!) ‘Appendices’ (pp. 681-858), named after the letters of the alphabet (A-V), where Kendall discusses major issues extrapolated from the narrative of the events and shows why he modifies or rejects the opinions of other scholars. A ‘Bibliography’ (pp. 859-866)—which could be better defined as a list of select works on the topic -, ‘Maps and Figures’ (pp. 867-873), and an ‘Index’ of subjects (pp. 875-944) end the essay; lacking is an index of sources, probably considered out of place in a work that has reached a considerable size, with a significant cost, both likely to be weighty factors in the volume’s reception.

I have chosen to consider separately chapters 4 (‘The Ignition of Hostilities’: pp. 223-286), 5 (‘War in Earnest, 90 BCE’: pp. 287-352) and 6 (‘Imperfect Defeat and Incomplete Victory, 89-88’: pp. 353-418), for the reason that they represent the core of the work, where the author explicates his ideas on the causes of the Social War. Contrary to the main thesis put forward by H. Mouritsen in his much debated book, 1 Kendall believes that in general the rebels did not attempt to reassert their autonomy, but fought primarily for the right of Roman citizenship. The lack of any Italian desire for civitas Romana in the 2nd c. B.C. and in the period leading up to the war, as Mouritsen argues, is undoubtedly questionable. K’s approach to the sources is also surely successful in claiming that allied attitudes and aims shifted rapidly before and during the war: it seems likely that Roman citizenship was not the only goal of all the Italian peoples once war broke out. However, secessio is the keyword exploited by the author to understand the development of events: in the end, Kendall believes that what the allies had planned before the war was something like the Aventine secession that took place in 494 B.C. (a faulty comparison, in my opinion, considering the fact that the word does not occur in any of the sources related to the Social War), but nevertheless the Italians had always in mind the prospect of fighting a war, even if they did not necessarily hope it would occur (pp. 284-286; see also ‘Appendix A’, pp. 683-693).

Chapters 5-6 include the events that are known to have occurred in 90-88 B.C. from the available evidence: the theater of war operations and the major battles (especially the siege and capture of Asculum Picenum), the role and strategies of the commanders in the field during the bellum sociale, the promulgation of legislation on citizenship (lex Iulia de civitate, lex Plautia Papiria). It is my belief that these chapters must be considered, together with the ‘Appendices’, the best part of the work done by the author, where Kendall examines and investigates the (frequently poor) evidence in depth, in order to offer a better reconstruction of the events than previous scholars. Moreover, the ‘Appendices’ are a useful discussion of some central themes in Late Roman Republican history related to the Social War, but a degree of indulgence is required of the reader for these lengthy digressions presented outside the main body of the volume.

Challenging the evidence and posing new questions on the history of Italy in the Late Republic is a type of research which has even recently been conducted by scholars with varying degrees of success;2 without doubt this research field, for the reasons said above, is not easy to master. Kendall’s intention to adhere more closely to sources and to provide an explanation when there is a variance or a departure from ancient authors in modern studies is welcome, and in several cases he presents various and different interpretations on issues of importance. As a matter of fact, the questions raised by this essay are several and diverse, and the reviewer recalls the fact that it is impossible to follow all the speculative arguments issued by the author: in general, the conclusions Kendall does draw from his study are partially sound, others more fragile. For example, due to the lack of evidence, the interpretations given by the author on the causes of the Social War cannot be considered, as such, much more consistent than the opinions offered by other scholars.3 This fact is confessed by Kendall, who when discussing many hypothetical reconstructions of events and Italian motivations openly states: “whether such was the Allied plan cannot ever be known for certain” (p. 285). Hence a feeling of precariousness that pervades the entire essay. As the author states from the beginning: “These answers will be conjectural, to be sure: again, none of the sources were written by the Allies themselves” (pp. 74-75), and in the ‘Appendices’, when raising major issues: “In the absence of such precision, leave may perhaps be granted to employ conjecture” (p. 718); “It is patent that this construction is extremely speculative” (p. 735). Eventually, the author follows Mouritsen in the same (faulty) methodological modus operandi (Mouritsen, cit., p. 142 admits that in practice he is “writing history without sources”) and argues basically from insecure arguments e silentio and hypothesis (“it has seemed worthwhile to employ conjecture”, again Kendall at p. 271).

Furthermore, one cannot really define this work as a new approach on the topic, as claimed by the author in the ‘Introduction’. In some parts (for example when discussing the career of Roman political major figures) the treatment is necessarily cursory; in other parts (the central chapters), Kendall follows entirely the work of four scholars (Salmon, Brunt, Keaveney, Mouritsen in chronological order) without any attempt to discuss more up-to-date secondary literature (e.g. E. Bispham, A. Coşkun). Sometimes it is even difficult to differentiate between the thoughts of these authors and Kendall’s opinion, or to understand on which source his own assumptions rely. Moreover, the use of English written secondary literature is predominant, and this is indeed disappointing in a essay whose main aim is to present an in-depth discussion of a part of Roman Republican history in Italy.4 There is also much other material which Kendall might have consulted, especially in the field of epigraphic research. Typos are frequent, in all probability caused by the length of the volume. More disturbing are errors in Latin: foedus inequum (p.77, n. 11), hospitum publicum (p. 83, n. 27), ius adipiscendi civitatem Romanum per magistratum (pp. 282, 716-720 and 726), archpirata (pp. 302 and 329), singulatim (for singillatim, p. 358), Mariuni (p. 488, n. 12), C. Vettius … ad romanum imperatorem (p. 397: no presence of a C in the source), viators (p. 486), ciusdam (p. 529, n. 82), Ovtavianum (p. 556), neclexit ae (p. 697), populous (p. 697, n. 6). To sum up, whilst this essay presents several shortcomings in its relationship with up-to-date secondary literature, it still offers an informative discussion of the events which took place in the Social War, and it can be certainly exploited by English speaking undergraduates and graduates as a useful guidebook to part of the history of Italy in the last two centuries B.C.


1.   H. Mouritsen, Italian Unification. A Study in ancient & modern Historiography (BICS Suppl. 70), London 1998, esp. chapts. III.1 and III.2. 2.   See G. Bradley’s review discussion of Mouritsen, Italian Unification, cit., in JRA 15 (2002), pp. 401-406; C. Letta on E. Bispham, From Asculum to Actium. The Municipalization of Italy from the Social War to Augustus, Oxford 2007, in Gnomon 82 (2010), pp. 51-57; C. Ando on Bispham, op. cit., BMCR 2009.04.38. 3.   A few more examples. The mention in Orosius 5.18.18 of one Fraucus, imperator Marsorum, is taken by Kendall as a mistake for ‘commander of the Frentani’; moreover, Kendall places the battle where Fraucus was defeated near Asculum (pp. 370-371, 746-747, and ‘Appendix M’, pp. 785-792). Since Orosius is the only source to mention Fraucus, this reconstruction must be considered entirely conjectural: for a more precise account of the event, and especially on the location of the battle, see N. Criniti, L’epigrafe di Asculum di Gn. Pompeo Strabone, Milano 1970, pp. 53-54; U. Laffi, Storia di Ascoli Piceno nell’età antica, in Asculum I, Pisa 1982, pp. xxx-xxxi. Another questionable conjecture is Kendall’s claim that in late 89 or early 88 B.C. Roman “commanders could enfranchise, not just soldiers, but whole communities” (p. 414); this assumption is again not supported by the available sources. 4.   A list of unmentioned studies would take too much space to be recorded here. It is enough to remind that missing are significant works by, among others, F. Hinard (on proscriptions), G. Firpo, E. Gabba (works written in Italian), M. Humbert (noteworthy his recent article on status civitatis in A. Corbino, M. Humbert, G. Negri (eds.), Homo, caput, persona: la costruzione giuridica dell’identità nell’esperienza romana dall’epoca di Plauto a Ulpiano, Pavia 2010), A. La Regina (on Italian peoples), G. Luraschi (on the leges de civitate), U. Laffi (Studi di storia romana e di diritto, Roma 2001), and M. Torelli. On single topics (e.g. Italians on Delos, trials at Rome, epigraphic evidence, allied coinage), the cited secondary literature is out-of-date. ​

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