Colonia (Roman)

A Roman colonia (plural coloniae) was originally a Roman outpost established in conquered territory to secure it. Eventually, however, the term came to denote the highest status of a Roman city. It is also the origin of the modern term colony.

Map showing the "Roman coloniae" in the second century, after Trajan.


Under the Roman Republic, which had no standing army, bodies of their own citizens were planted in conquered towns as a kind of garrison. There were two types:[1]

  • Roman colonies, coloniae civium Romanorum or coloniae maritimae, as they were often built near the sea, e.g. Ostia (350 BC) and Rimini (268 BC). The colonists consisted of about three hundred Roman families and were given a small plot of land so were probably small business owners.
  • Latin colonies (coloniae Latinae) were considerably larger than Roman colonies. They were military strongholds near or in enemy territory. The colonists were given large estates up to 35 hectares. They lost their citizenship which they could regain if they returned to Rome.

After 133 BC tribunes introduced reforms to support the urban poor to become farmers again in new colonies as agricultural settlements (e.g. Tarentum in 122 BC).

Under Caesar and Augustus thousands of Roman legionary veterans were granted lands in many coloniae in the empire[citation needed] and were responsible for the Romanization of many territories (mainly in the spread of Latin language and of Roman laws and customs).


According to Livy, Rome's first colonies were established in about 752 BC at Antemnae and Crustumerium, both in Latium.[2]

Other early colonies were established at Signia in the 6th century BC, Velitrae and Norba in the 5th century BC, and Ostia, Antium, and Tarracina in the late 4th century. In this first period of colonization, which lasted down to the end of the Punic Wars, colonies were primarily military in purpose, being intended to defend Roman territory. There were colonies of citizens and colonies of Latins, which differed in size, constitution, and region. Colonies of citizens were typically coastal and known as coloniae maritimae. These were small (three hundred families), close to Rome, and enjoyed no civic life of their own. Sherwin-White suggested that they were similar to the Athenian cleruchy.[3] The Latin colonies (coloniae juris latini), on the other hand, were much larger and populated by Latins, as well as by Romans who, however, did not retain Roman citizenship. The first Latin colonies were initially founded by the Latin league. During the Late Republic, prominent figures such as the tribune Gaius Gracchus proposed to settle Rome's landless citizens in colonies of recently conquered provinces.[4] This concept, though popular and frequently reiterated by Roman contemporaries, failed to gain traction. Large scale settlement of landless Roman citizens in provinces would never really occur in the Roman Empire.

Under the KingdomEdit

  • BC 752 at Antemnae and Crustumerium, both in Latium.
  • BC 745 (or 737) Fidenae became a Roman colony
  • BC 737 Cameria

Under the RepublicEdit

New bilateral defence contracts with Falerii, Tarquinii (Etruria) Caere (again), Pomptina and Poplilia tribus (tribes) formed in territories of Antium

  • BC 338 Capua inhabitants got Roman civil rights
  • BC 335 Cales (Latium)
  • BC 332 (two new voting tribus established): Scaptia, Maecia
  • BC 329 Anxur (Latium)
  • BC 318 Falerna tribus established, Cales made contract with Rome again
  • BC 318 Canusium (Apulia)

New Roman municipiums made from small towns around Rome: Aricia, Lanuvium, Nomentum, Pedum, Tusculum. Latin ius contracts made with Tibur, Praeneste, Lavinium, Cora (Latium) Ius comercii contracts made with Circei, Notba, Setia, Signia, Nepi, Ardea, Gabii Ius migrationi and ius connubii Ufentina tribus established (on territories of Volscus city Antium), Privernum, Velitrae, Terracia, Fondi and Fotmiae made contract with Rome (cives sine suffragio)

Under the PrincipateEdit

Colonies were not founded on a large scale until the inception of the Principate. Augustus, who needed to settle over a hundred thousand of his veterans after the end of his civil wars, began a massive colony creation program throughout his empire. However, not all colonies were new cities. Many were created from already-occupied settlements and the process of colonization just expanded them. Some of these colonies would later grow into large cities (modern day Cologne was first founded as a Roman colony). During this time, provincial cities can gain the rank of colony, gaining certain rights and privileges.[5] After the era of the Severan emperors the new "colonies" were only cities that were granted a status (often of tax exemption), and in most cases during the Late Imperial times there was no more settlement of retired legionaries.[citation needed]

Effects and legacy of colonizationEdit

Roman colonies sometimes served as a potential reserve of veterans which could be called upon during times of emergency. However, these colonies more importantly served to produce future Roman citizens and therefore recruits to the Roman army.[5]

Roman colonies played a major role in the spread of the Latin language within the central and southern Italian peninsula during the early empire.[6] The colonies showed surrounding native populations an example of Roman life.[7]


Modern name Latin name Modern country Roman province Foundation or Promotion Founder or Promotor additional Info
Arles Colonia Iulia Paterna Arelatensis Sextanorum France Gallia Narbonensis 45 BC Julius Caesar
Belgrade Singidunum Serbia Moesia Superior 239 AD founded by Celts c.279 BC, conquered by Romans in 15 BC
Budapest Aquincum Hungary Pannonia 41-54
Carteia Carteia Spain Hispania Ulterior 171 BC Roman Senate
Colchester Colonia Claudia Victricensis Camulodunum United Kingdom Britannia / Britannia Superior / Maxima Caesariensis 49 Claudius
Köln Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium Germany Germania Inferior 50 Claudius
Jerusalem (on the site of) Colonia Aelia Capitolina Hierosoloma Israel and Palestine Judaea After Bar Kokhba's revolt Hadrian
Lincoln Lindum Colonia or Colonia Domitiana Lindensium United Kingdom Britannia / Britannia Inferior / Flavia Caesariensis 71 Domitian
Narbonne Colonia Iulia Paterna Claudius Narbo Martius Decumanorum France Gallia / Gallia Narbonensis 118 BC Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus refounded by Caesar in 45 BC[8]
Patras Colonia Augusta Achaica Patrensis Greece Achaia After the battle of Actium Augustus
Şebinkarahisar Colonia (Κολώνεια) Turkey Bithynia et Pontus 1st century BC Pompey [9]
Colonia Iulia Concordia Apamea Turkey Bithynia-Pontus ca. 45 BC Iulius Caesar
York Eboracum United Kingdom Britannia / Britannia Inferior / Britannia Secunda early 3rd century [10] Caracalla
Mérida Colonia Emerita Augusta Spain Hispania / Lusitania 25 BC Augustus for war veterans of V Alaudae and X Gemina legions
Sarmizegetusa Colonia Ulpia Traiana Sarmizegetusa Romania Dacia 106-110 Trajan
Alba Iulia Apulum Romania Dacia 180-192 [11] Commodus
Cluj Napoca Napoca Romania Dacia 2nd half of 2nd century Commodus
Drobeta-Turnu Severin Drobeta Romania Dacia 198-208 [12] Septimius Severus
Gigen Oescus Bulgaria Moesia Inferior 106-112 Trajan
Ljubljana Colonia Iulia Aemona Slovenia Illyricum 35 BC
Debelt Colonia Flavia Pancensis Deultum Bulgaria Thracia After the Year of the Four Emperors Vespasian for veterans of VIII Augusta

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ E.T. Salmon, The Coloniae Maritimae, Athenaeum, N.S.41 (1963) 3-33
  2. ^ Livy, Ab urbe condita, 1:11
  3. ^ A.N. Sherwin-White, The Roman Citizenship, 86
  4. ^ "Gaius Gracchus | Biography, Facts, Laws, & Significance". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-07-02.
  5. ^ a b Nigel., Rodgers (2006). Roman Empire. Dodge, Hazel. London: Lorenz Books. ISBN 0754816028. OCLC 62177842.
  6. ^ "History of Europe - Romans". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-07-03.
  7. ^ "Colonia - Livius". Retrieved 2018-07-02.
  8. ^ "CHRONOLOGIE - Les grandes dates - Narbo Martius" (in French). Retrieved 4 February 2017.
  9. ^ Procopius De Aedificiis 3.4.6-7
  10. ^ "EBORACUM or Eburacum or Eburaco (York) Yorkshire, England". Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  11. ^ "APULUM (Alba Iulia) Romania". Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  12. ^ "DROBETA or Drubeta (Drobeta-Turnu Severin) Romania". Retrieved 4 May 2021.

Further readingEdit

  • Bradley, Guy, and John-Paul Wilson, eds. 2006. Greek and Roman Colonization: Origins, Ideologies and Interactions. Swansea, UK: Classical Press of Wales.
  • Broadhead, William. 2007. "Colonization, Land Distribution, and Veteran Settlement." In A Companion to the Roman Army. Edited by Paul Erdkamp, 148–163. Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • Crawford, Michael H. 2014. "The Roman History of Roman Colonisation." In The Roman Historical Tradition: Regal and Republican Rome. Oxford Readings in Classical Studies. Edited by James H. Richardson and Federico Santangelo. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Curchin, Leonard A. 1991. Roman Spain: Conquest and Assimilation. London: Routledge.
  • Fuhrmann, Christopher J. 2012. Policing the Roman Empire: Soldiers, Administration, and Public Order. Oxford and New York: Oxford Univ. Press.
  • Salmon, Edward T. 1955. "Roman Expansion and Roman Colonization in Italy." Phoenix 9.2: 63–75.
  • Stek, Tesse D. and Gert-Jan Burgers eds. 2015. The Impact of Rome on Cult Places and Religious Practices in Ancient Italy. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies Supplement 132. London: Institute of Classical Studies, University of London.
  • Sears, Gareth. 2011. The Cities of Roman Africa. Stroud, UK: History Press.
  • Termeer, Marleen K. 2010. "Early Colonies in Latium (ca 534–338 BC): A Reconsideration of Current Images and the Archaeological Evidence." Bulletin Antieke Beschaving 85:43–58.
  • Woolf, Greg. 1998. Becoming Roman: The Origins of Provincial Civilization in Gaul. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

External linksEdit