Thursday, April 24, 2014

Law and Order: Rome

One striking thing about Tacitus is the Roman approach to justice.  There are constant stories of crime and how justice was pursued.  The usual case goes something like this:
  • Someone is accused of a crime.  Sometimes they actually did something wrong.  In fact, lots of times.  But other times, they were simply inconvenient for someone else.
  • The servants of the accused are seized and tortured.  At some point, they spill the beans on the crime and the accused is found guilty.
  • The guilty party (or 'guilty' party) commits suicide before any kind of sentence can be carried out.  This is usually poison or stabbing.  Sometimes the guilty party is urged to do this by some handy centurions, sometimes they've brought their own weapons.
And that's it.  If they did a Law and Order series in Rome, every episode would follow these lines.  Well, the story-telling would become monotonous, so they'd have to change it up somehow.  In truth, it got a bit monotonous in Tacitus.  In joking with my wife, I suggested that a wealthy Roman could have gotten away with murder if they were simply smart enough to keep the servants out of the loop.  That would be one of the twists that they'd end up using to keep the series afloat.
In practice, the Roman system of justice was probably terrifying.  If you got ahead and gained some prominence, you were in great danger.  And not just you, but your spouse and children.  Occasionally, the grand-kids would be spared and allowed some small portion of inheritance.  But the danger and uncertainty were a daily fact of life.
Kind of a rough place and time.

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