Distinguishing the terms:

Latins and Romans

The Latins were an Indo-European people of the Italic branch who about the beginning of the 1st millenium BC have been settled in Central Italy, in a country south of the banks of the Tiber that was called Latium (modern Lazio). It was believed their names originated from the legendary king Latinus who ruled the city of Alba Longa in the 9th c. BC.

Politically the ancient Latium was a loose federation of city-states, such as Alba Longa, Tusculum, Lavinium, Ardea, Tibur (now Tivoli) and Praeneste (Palestrina), centered at the sanctuary of Jupiter on Albanus Mons. The city of Rome (in Latin Roma) was founded in the northern part of Latium in 754 or 753 BC by the twin brothers Romulus and Remus (it was called after Romulus) and for centuries served as a bulwark of Latinity against the Etruscan power. Starting in the late 6th c. BC the Romans gradually subjugated Italy and in the eve of the Christian era accomplished conquering the lands around the Mediterranean sea, thus creating an immense empire.

Under the Roman power the Latins had the status of socii (i.e. allies), which gave them great inner autonomy. After the so called Social war in 90-89 BC they obtained the rights of Roman citizens and subsequently all the people originating from Italy and speaking Latin as their mother thongue appealed themselves Romans. In 211 the Constitutio Antoniana de Civitate granted Roman citizenship to all the people under the rule of Rome. Since then the term Roman became a designation of a political community and as such went beyond the primary ethnic frames. It was applied to Celts, Iberians, Daco-Thracians and Illyrians who have abandoned their own languages for Latin and in this manner were completely assimilated, but also to the Greeks in the Eastern provinces who, though preserving their Greek language, adopted the name of Romans (in Greek Rhômaíoi) as a mark of their rise to political predominance in the state affairs of the East.

In the Middle ages the term Romans was used in Western Europe for making an inner distinction from Germans in the unified body of the Western Christendom. On the other hand, as Latin was the official written language in the matters of church and state, the term Latins was in common use by all Western Christians (whether Romance-, German- or Slavic-speaking nations) as distinguishing between themselves and the peoples from the rest of the world. Thus, the crusaders' states in the East were were given the name Latin. In the official political relations of Western Europe till the 11th c. the appeal of Roman was applied to the Eastern Roman empire (Byzantium), but its factual linguistic Hellenization combined with its power decline, made the Westerners to refer to it as a Greek empire and to its inhabitants as Greeks with a sense of undoubted despise. As a sign of prestige, both the empires of Charlemagne (established AD 800) and of Otho I (established AD 962) were labeled Roman.

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