Italian and Roman diasporas: Inscriptional evidence

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Italian and Roman diasporas: Inscriptional evidence,' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified March 9, 2023,

Comments:  When it comes to migrants settled in the eastern parts of the empire, Romans and Italians are most certainly the most widely attested in the inscriptions. The Roman empire was not predominantly a “settler” form of colonialism in which the colonial power controlled the area primarily by sending their own people to settle (although there were formal Roman colonies for retired soldiers), but rather an administrative one. Rome primariliy ruled through making friends with local notables or client kings. As with any empire, though, the acquisition and control of vast territories and, therefore, resources brought many opportunities for those most closely aligned with the ruling power, in this case Roman and Italian businessmen. So the main way in which we find immigrants from Rome and Italy is in the form of merchants, traders, tax-collectors, and similar. Early on we see Romans integrated within economic networks at the important trade centre on Delos island (see the inscriptions below). The relationship between the Roman and Italian settlers and the locals could most certainly be a tense one at times, as the extreme case of the mass slaughter of Romans in Asia Minor by Greeks in 88 BCE shows (with key organization by the king of Pontos, Mithridates VI Eupator). Yet, as the inscriptions below demonstrate, Romans and Italians could be well integrated within social and economic life at other times and places, particularly by the Roman imperial period.

If you’d like to read more on associations of Romans and Italians including the inscriptions mentioned below, see Harland’s article: Dedication to Roma by Roman Businessmen”.


Asia Minor

Delos island

Other Greek islands

Macedonia and Moesia

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