446 BCE was a busy year for the Romans. According to the historian Livy, it was a year that played host to both military glory and diplomatic shame. The former lauded feat came from Rome’s victory over a Volscian and Aequian invasion. As for the latter scandal, it resulted from the Roman people’s part in a land dispute between allies. At the heart of the conflict were the feuding cities of Aricia and Ardea, both of which were members of the Roman alliance network and were located just to the southeast of Rome. Aricia and Ardea had an ongoing heated feud about a piece of land, and tiring of their endless arguments, both cities reportedly decided to send representatives to Rome in order to have the Romans decide which of the cities had a better claim to the disputed land. When the representatives arrived, they were given an audience by the Roman government, the members of which listened to the arguments of both Aricia and Ardea. After the presentations were concluded, the Roman governing officials reportedly called an assembly of the political tribes of Rome to let the people decide the fate of the disputed land. It was in this latter phase when the land arbitration took a turn into controversy.
According to Livy, the disputed land that was in question happened to have once belonged to a city called Corioli, which the Romans were said to have occupied and burned in 493 BCE. As Aricia and Ardea were fighting over that land decades later, Rome obviously did not put much effort into settling or defending that region, allowing for other nearby cities to expand into the territory once held by Corioli. Nevertheless, an elderly Roman citizen reportedly brought up Rome’s past campaign in the region and insisted that the Romans had just as much right to the land as did Aricia and Ardea. Such talk reportedly won over the expansionist Roman masses, and when the representatives from the petitioning cities were called back to hear the verdict, the diplomats from Aricia and Ardea were told that it was Rome that would be taking the disputed land, to which the allied diplomats could do little but grumble. Livy, for his part, decried the move as shameful, “for an arbitrator to convert disputed land to his own use was a crime revolting in itself, and would set a precedent even worse” (History of Rome, 3.72).
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Wall painting from Pompeii (before 79 AD) – Naples, Archaeological Museum, [Public Domain] via flickr.com and Creative Commons).
- The History of Rome by Livy, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002.