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History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empir

By the arbitrary and rigid administration of justice


[Footnote

181: This law is noticed by Livy (ii. 8) and Plutarch, (in Publiccla, tom. i. p. 187,) and it fully justifies the public opinion on the death of Caesar which Suetonius could publish under the Imperial government. Jure caesus existimatur, (in Julio, c. 76.) Read the letters that passed between Cicero and Matius a few months after the ides of March (ad Fam. xi. 27, 28.)]

[Footnote 182: Thucydid. l. i. c. 6 The historian who considers this circumstance as the test of civilization, would disdain the barbarism of a European court]

[Footnote 183: He first rated at millies (800,000 L.) the damages of Sicily, (Divinatio in Caecilium, c. 5,) which he afterwards reduced to quadringenties, (320,000 L.--1 Actio in Verrem, c. 18,) and was finally content with tricies, (24,000l L.) Plutarch (in Ciceron. tom. iii. p. 1584) has not dissembled the popular suspicion and report.]

[Footnote 184: Verres lived near thirty years after his trial, till the second triumvirate, when he was proscribed by the taste of Mark Antony for the sake of his Corinthian plate, (Plin. Hist. Natur. xxxiv. 3.)]

The first imperfect attempt to restore the proportion of crimes and punishments was made by the dictator Sylla, who, in the midst of his sanguinary triumph, aspired to restrain the license, rather than to oppress the liberty, of the Romans. He gloried in the arbitrary proscription

of four thousand seven hundred citizens. [185] But, in the character of a legislator, he respected the prejudices of the times; and, instead of pronouncing a sentence of death against the robber or assassin, the general who betrayed an army, or the magistrate who ruined a province, Sylla was content to aggravate the pecuniary damages by the penalty of exile, or, in more constitutional language, by the interdiction of fire and water. The Cornelian, and afterwards the Pompeian and Julian, laws introduced a new system of criminal jurisprudence; [186] and the emperors, from Augustus to Justinian, disguised their increasing rigor under the names of the original authors. But the invention and frequent use of extraordinary pains proceeded from the desire to extend and conceal the progress of despotism. In the condemnation of illustrious Romans, the senate was always prepared to confound, at the will of their masters, the judicial and legislative powers. It was the duty of the governors to maintain the peace of their province, by the arbitrary and rigid administration of justice; the freedom of the city evaporated in the extent of empire, and the Spanish malefactor, who claimed the privilege of a Roman, was elevated by the command of Galba on a fairer and more lofty cross. [187] Occasional rescripts issued from the throne to decide the questions which, by their novelty or importance, appeared to surpass the authority and discernment of a proconsul. Transportation and beheading were reserved for honorable persons; meaner criminals were either hanged, or burnt, or buried in the mines, or exposed to the wild beasts of the amphitheatre. Armed robbers were pursued and extirpated as the enemies of society; the driving away horses or cattle was made a capital offence; [188] but simple theft was uniformly considered as a mere civil and private injury. The degrees of guilt, and the modes of punishment, were too often determined by the discretion of the rulers, and the subject was left in ignorance of the legal danger which he might incur by every action of his life.


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