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Filippo Carlà-Uhink: The "Birth" of Italy. The Institutionalization of Italy as a Region, 3rd-1st Century BCE (= KLIO. Beiträge zur Alten Geschichte. Beihefte. Neue Folge; Bd. 28), Berlin: de Gruyter 2017, VIII + 468 S., ISBN 978-3-11-054287-5, EUR 119,95
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Roman Roth
University of Cape Town
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Matthias Haake
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Roman Roth: Rezension von: Filippo Carlà-Uhink: The "Birth" of Italy. The Institutionalization of Italy as a Region, 3rd-1st Century BCE, Berlin: de Gruyter 2017, in: sehepunkte 21 (2021), Nr. 2 [15.02.2021], URL:

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Filippo Carlà-Uhink: The "Birth" of Italy

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In this monograph - a slightly revised version of his Habilitationsschrift - Filippo Carlà-Uhink puts forward the hypothesis that Italy as a region and thus Italic as an overriding identity had been firmly embedded for several generations before the Social War (91-89 BC). As indicated in the book's title, the core of Carlà-Uhink's argument concerns what he views as the creation of Italic institutions (175-276), while other significant portions of the study address geographical definitions of Italia (29-95), the symbolic representation of this geographical construct (96-174), and the emergence and floruit of Italic identity in the Roman Republic (277-394).

The introduction (1-28) begins with an in-depth review of previous research into the formation of Roman Italy, followed by Carlà-Uhink's definition of a region in terms of historical geography. This is a promising start. For as much as the study of ancient Italy has recently been dominated by regional discourses, far too little of it has engaged with the question of what defined ancient regions, let alone of how modern observers can approach them through textual and material evidence. [1] In this discussion, Carlà-Uhink assigns especial prominence to the Human Geographer's Anssi Paasi's work on territoriality and regional identity, which is itself concerned with the contemporary globalised world and European regional discourses in particular. To summarise Paasi's model briefly (based on Carlà-Uhink's account), the institutionalisation of regions happens in four steps that are reflected by the structure of Carlà-Uhink's study. These are (1) the emergence of a clear territorial definition; (2) the genesis of symbolic shape; perhaps most importantly, (3) the creation of formalised regional institutions by a central authority; and (4) the internalisation of this institutional order by the region's inhabitants as a basic source of their identity. In view of the central importance of this model of contemporary regionalism to Carlà-Uhink's study, this section of the book might have benefitted from a more explicit justification of why Paasi's work should be considered especially relevant to the subject of Italy during the Republican period.

The first substantive chapter (29-95) deals with the definition of Terra Italia. At the core of this stands a thorough investigation of the available evidence, which includes an illuminating discussion of cartographical representations and a detailed - though chronologically debatable - analysis of the road-system as an anchor-point of Italy's regional unity.

Next, Carlà-Uhink turns to the 'genesis of a symbolic shape' (96-174). Much of this chapter is based on a detailed and largely convincing reading of Cato's Origines which represents an especially valuable source for Carlà-Uhink's argument in view of the text's relatively early date. This might be less true in the case of the laudes Italiae to which Carlà-Uhink devotes the last section of this chapter, which are later in date but frequently draw on earlier sources such as Cato's work. By contrast, Carlà-Uhink has relatively little to say about the significance of the symbolism which Italy acquired in the eyes of the rebels of 91-89 BC. If anything, he tends to be dismissive of any suggestions that anti-Roman sentiments might at least have contributed to certain notions of Italian consanguinity. This is somewhat surprising since numismatic and literary sources from the late Republican and early Imperial periods do provide clear evidence that conscious efforts were being made to reconcile Italic and Roman imagery, and there can be little dispute that the official iconography - notably on coins - of Italia had been aggressively anti-Roman at the time of the Social War. [2]

The third main section of the book addresses the creation of regional institutions in Italy by - or at least following the initiative of - Roman authorities. The types of institutions which Carlà-Uhink covers here vary greatly and range from normative frameworks ('institutions and mores', 175-189) to institutional entities in the more conventional sense, like the army (203-217) and colonial foundations (217-232). As a third grouping, the 'juridical and sacral meaning' of 'the Italian soil' (189-203) fall between those soft and hard categories of institution, as a few examples serve to show. Thus, Carlà-Uhink rightly points out that the prohibition on holders of certain Roman priesthoods from leaving Italy appears to have been in place since the late third century BC. To pick a well-known example, the consul and Pontifex Maximus P. Licinius Crassus was prevented from having the province of Sicily assigned to him in 205 BC (Liv. 28.38.12), on account of it being situated outside Italia (192). It went to his colleague P. Cornelius Scipio (later Africanus) instead. Yet this does not mean that the reverse argument can necessarily be made: if M. Aemilius Lepidus was able as Pontifex Maximus to be involved in the foundation of Luna in 177 BC (Liv. 41.13.4-5), this does not necessarily prove that Luna was not located outside Italia proper, as Carlà-Uhink contends in support of his view on the status of the Cisalpina (193). The situation in 205 had been exceptional and marked by a fierce contest for what could by then be expected to become a war-deciding command. By contrast, the foundation of Luna was a relatively minor matter. In addition, the colony was one of Roman citizens - thus constituting ager Romanus - and moreover located in close proximity to the border between Cisalpine Gaul and Italia proper. Finally, as Carlà-Uhink himself notes, the Roman Senate was eminently flexible in assessing the relevance of religious portents depending on where they had occurred: one may note that the list of these occurrences in Val. Max. 1 provides ample illustration of this. None of this necessarily constitutes a major problem in relation to Carlà-Uhink's main point that Italia had become a significant, conceptual and physical entity by the early second century BC. Yet these examples highlight some of the difficulties that are inherent in applying a markedly model-driven approach to a shape of the Roman order that was ultimately fluid and thus subject to internal contradiction (see also below). [3]

The next institution to undergo Carlà-Uhink's scrutiny is the Roman- or, according to the author's argument - Italic army as created by Rome. Convincingly, Carlà-Uhink sees the army as a focal point for the integration of soldiers from different parts of Italy. It is also in relation to armed service - especially when this took place outside Italy - that Carlà-Uhink's concept of symbolic 'Italic' unity perhaps works best, and more convincingly than in the case of the Italian merchants that is treated in the next chapter. Yet within the institutional framework of the armed forces, Carlà-Uhink perhaps pushes the institutionalisation of the formula Togatorum in its very rigid form too far, and more space might have been given to the possibility that those developments were far more gradual, subject to set-backs and changes in direction even - or especially - after 225 BC. [4] Rather than taking away from Carlà-Uhink's model of Italia's increasing regional identity, this could have been an opportunity to explore how these dynamics were shaped by - and also acted back upon - processes of institutionalisation within which Rome's allies were not entirely powerless.

Next in his long chapter on institutions, Carlà-Uhink offers two closely related discussions of colonial foundations (primarily those of Latin status) and migrations. Both subjects have received considerable attention from ancient historians in recent years and are not in need of extensive treatment within the limited space of this review. [5] In respect of colonisation, Carlà-Uhink rightly stresses the fact that, all involvement by allied governments and local populations notwithstanding, colonisation was in the first instance subject to Roman initiative. In addition, Carlà-Uhink persuasively points out that this type of migration also tied members of the Roman nobility to the rest of the peninsula. [6] Conversely, many readers may find it more difficult to accept his suggestion that the Roman state deliberately harnessed mobility in order to bring about a cultural mixing of the different regional populations. Since the establishment of Rome's Latin colonies was a lengthy and not entirely continuous process, it is at least questionable to what extent they had been designed as 'Italic institutions' from the outset, let alone whether or not they could be founded outside Italy (but cf. 224-232). Yet the fact that, by the second century BC, these colonies formed a key part of Rome's alliance system and had in many cases become the predominant centres in their respective region certainly lends support to Carlà-Uhink's argument that here one is dealing with a clear example of how a Roman institution decisively influenced not only the shape of Republican Italy but also the cultural integration of the peninsula's inhabitants.

The final chapter (277-394) applies the fourth phase of Paasi's model to the Italian case: this is the emergence of cultural and ethnic identity as a result of institutionalisation. Carlà-Uhink traces this among Italians both in Italy and the provinces, the latter by way of a detailed examination of the epigraphic evidence for Roman and Italic self-representation primarily in the Eastern Mediterranean. As Carlà-Uhink concedes, these modes of self-representation appear surprisingly heterogeneous, and might have depended on where the inscriptions were set up and for what intended viewership. As far as the situation in the Apennine peninsula is concerned, Carlà-Uhink strongly comes down on the side of those historians who have argued for the Italian desire for citizenship as the main cause of the Social War. According to Carlà-Uhink, this was a direct result of an Italic identity that had come about in the wake of institutionalisation and increasingly expressed itself in a drive towards 'unification' under Rome's leadership (see also below). On the other hand, Carlà-Uhink concedes that the motives among different rebel groups might have differed, especially as the war dragged on, which is very much in line with other, recent studies of the subject.

On account of the special place which Italy was to hold within the Roman Empire for the next centuries, Carlà-Uhink's investigation into its origins not only fills an important gap but also presents its reader with an innovative approach to regionalism in the ancient Mediterranean, which draws on an impressive range of literary, epigraphic and numismatic material. The "Birth" of Italy moreover provides a rich source of up-to-date bibliographical discussion. This will be especially useful to junior postgraduate students, as well as to those readers with limited knowledge of languages other than English.

An unfortunate weakness of Carlà-Uhink's book is the extent to which he at times forces the evidence to fit Paasi's model, for the compatibility of which with the ancient world he does not make a convincing case. Thus, while Carlà-Uhink's discussion of the institutions of (mainly) second-century BC Italy is largely sound, he is much less successful at showing how this led to the emergence of an Italic identity that became the driving force behind 'unification' - itself a problematic concept in respect of this period, to say the least. [7] Yet as Carlà-Uhink's own analysis of the Eastern Mediterranean inscriptions suggests, this identity was fraught with contradictions. Similarly, Carlà-Uhink's insistence on the 'Italicness' of Cisalpine Gaul not only leads him to propose circular arguments - e.g., that Latin colonies were by definition Italic institutions, thus proving that the North was part of Italia since 218 BC (with the foundations of Cremona and Placentia), and, in turn, that Latin colonies could therefore not exist outside Italia (231-232). It also causes Carlà-Uhink to underestimate the structural diversity and contradictions that continued to exist across Italy down to the Social War and beyond, and which contributed significantly to bringing about the catastrophe of this conflict and its lengthy aftermath.

Other weaknesses of the book are hardly the author's fault: the English text is extremely difficult to follow in places; many sentences are of paragraph-length and syntactically impenetrable; and the conspicuous use of quotation marks - beginning with the book's title - is hardly suited to improving the argument's readability and clarity. One would have expected better from a publisher like De Gruyter, especially in a series that is as prestigious as the Klio Beihefte. It can only be hoped that these infelicities will be eliminated before the book's second edition goes to press.

These criticisms aside, The "Birth" of Italy should be highly recommended to anyone interested in Republican history but it may also provide inspiration to historians of ancient Mediterranean regionalism more generally. Carlà-Uhink's work is truly innovative in applying a long-term perspective to a set of questions that are frequently reduced to the explanation of individual events like the Social War. It is in this respect that its influence is most likely to be felt for many years to come.


[1] Cf. R. Roth: Regionalism. Towards a new perspective on cultural change in central Italy, c. 350-100 BC, in: Processes of Integration and Identity Formation in the Roman Republic, ed. by S. Roselaar, Leiden / Boston 2012, 17-34.

[2] See now the useful summary by F. Santangelo: The Social War, in: The Peoples of Ancient Italy, ed. by G. Farney / G. Bradley, Berlin / Boston 2018, 231-253.

[3] See now R. Gargola: The Shape of the Roman Order. The Republic and Its Spaces, Chapel Hill 2017. Gargola's monograph appeared too late for Carlà-Uhink to take his findings into account.

[4] Obvious examples from the Second Punic War include the defection of Capua and the refusal of the Twelve Coloniae to provide troops ex formula. The gradual development of the alliance system is cogently discussed by P. Kent: Reconsidering socii in Roman armies before the Punic Wars, in: Processes of Integration and Identity Formation in the Roman Republic, ed. by S. Roselaar, Leiden / Boston 2012, 71-83.

[5] E.g., G. Bradley / J.-P. Wilson (eds.): Greek and Roman Colonization. Origins, Ideologies and Interactions, Swansea 2006; T.D. Stek / J. Pelgrom (eds.): Roman Republican Colonization. New perspectives from Archaeology and Ancient History, Rome 2014; E. Isayev: Migration, Mobility and Place in Ancient Italy, Cambridge 2017, with my review in sehepunkte 19 (2019), Nr. 1 [15.01.2019], URL:

[6] For the early phase of this see N. Terrenato: Private vis, public virtus. Familiy agendas during the early Roman expansion, in: Roman Republican Colonization. New perspectives from Archaeology and Ancient History, ed. by T.D. Stek / J. Pelgrom, Rome 2014, 54-59; and now N. Terrenato: The Early Roman Expansion into Italy. Elite Negotiation and Family Agendas, Cambridge 2019.

[7] Cf. H. Mouritsen: Italian Unification. A Study in Ancient and Modern Historiography, London 1998. Mouritsen's critique of unification-based approaches remains valid, even if one disagrees - as Carlà-Uhink does - with his view of the origins of the Social War.

Roman Roth