In ancient times, Latium was a small region in central Italy, located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Apennine Mountains. Bounded on the north by the Tiber River, the region was centered in the river valley and ringed by hills to the north and south. Latium was the site of the city of Rome.
Originally, Latium was the homeland of the Latin-speaking peoples of Italy, and the name Latium comes from the Latin word for “broad,” perhaps because Latium consisted of a broad coastal plain. In ancient times, this fertile, well-watered plain produced cereal crops and grass for sheep and goats. Trees and other building materials were also abundant. Although parts of the region were swampy, Latium came to support a large population.
It is not known for certain when Latin-speaking peoples first occupied Latium. However, by the 900s B.C., they were well established in the region and later formed a league of Latin cities. Around 600 B.C., Etruscans from Etruria took over Latium and occupied Rome, which quickly grew in size and power. Then, around 475 B.C., the Etruscans were driven out of Latium by a coalition of Greeks and Latins. This was followed by a period of poverty throughout Latium and a decline in the prominence of Rome.
Starting in the 400s B.C., Rome once again grew in size and power. Tired of being exploited for the benefit of Rome, the cities of the original Latin league reunited and revolted against Rome in the Great Latin War, which lasted from 340 to 338 B.C. The Latin cities were defeated and their league dissolved, and Rome maintained its leadership role throughout Latium. In 89 B.C., all Latins were given Roman citizenship, and a few decades later Latium was combined with the adjoining region of Campania to form the first of 14 regions of Italy. (See also Peoples of Ancient Greece and Rome.)