The trial of Sextus Roscius for parricide was the first causa publica 1 or criminal case in which Cicero was engaged. It took place in his twenty-seventh year, B.C. 80. The circumstances were as follows.

Sextus Roscius, the father of the accused, was a wealthy 2 and respected 3 citizen of the municipium of Ameria (the modern Amelia) in Umbria, situated about 50 miles north of Rome. He was intimate with several noble families,4 and usually lived 5 in Rome, leaving his thirteen estates under the management of his son Sextus.6 In the summer or autumn of B.C. 81 the elder Roscius, while returning at night from a supper-party in Rome, was attacked near the Pallacinian baths 7 and murdered. The son was not in Rome; but a relative and fellow-townsman of the deceased, T. Roscius Magnus, who was in Rome,8 sent news of the murder to Ameria, immediately 9 after it was committed, by a courier, one Mallius Glaucia; not however to the house of the son, but to that of another relative, T. Roscius Capito.10 Both these relatives, Magnus and Capito, had been on bad terms with their late kinsman, owing to a dispute about property.11 Within the next four days, news of the murder was brought--probably by Magnus and Capito 12 --to L. Cornelius 13 Chrysogonus, a freedman and favourite of the dictator Sulla, who was with Sulla in his camp at Volaterrae.14


It was now but a few months after the Sullan reign of terror and the Proscription. Sulla had doomed to death all who had publicly taken part against him in Italy, and all such persons were proscribed; i.e. a formal list of their names was made out and published. Now, since the property of the proscribed was confiscated by Sulla to reward his agents, those who coveted the possessions of others had but to contrive to have their names placed on the proscription list: thus many innocent persons fell victims merely to avarice or to private enmity. 'The slaughter did not cease,' says Sallust, 'until Sulla had enriched all his followers.' 15 In this way Chrysogonus had already acquired immense wealth 16 and power.17 On hearing of the murder of Sex. Roscius and of the large property which he had left, and learning further that the only heir, his son, a rustic person of unsuspicious nature and not known in Rome, could easily be set aside,18 Chrysogonus united with his two informants, Magnus and Capito, in a plot for getting that property into his possession.


The scheme was carried out as follows. Chrysogonus contrived, though the deceased had been a partisan of Sulla and the aristocracy,19 and though the proscription list had been closed some months,20 to get his name placed on the list; 21 so that his entire property fell in to the State.22 It was then sold by public auction 23 and as no one dared to bid against the dreaded favourite, Chrysogonus bought it at the nominal price of 2,000 sesterces 24 , though the real value is said to have been six million sesterces 25. Three of the best estates were given 26 to Capito as his share of the spoil; 27 the ten remaining estates and the personal effects were taken possession of by Chrysogonus through Magnus, whom he had appointed steward.28 The latter came to Ameria, hunted the rightful heir Sextus out of house and home, and began to give away, sell,29 and appropriate the movable property.


This caused the greatest indignation in Ameria.30 The decuriones 31 of the town resolved to send the decem primi, of whom Capito was one,32 to the camp of Sulla, to give evidence of the aristocratic tendencies of the deceased,33 and to get his name taken off the list and the sale of his property annulled.

But Capito baffled their efforts.34 He let Chrysogonus know the object of the mission, and showed him how great a loss he would suffer if the sale were annulled; he prevented the embassy coming before Sulla, and contrived to put them off with the promises of Chrysogonus that their wishes should be carried out. Finally they departed without addressing their request to Sulla at all.35


Thus the conspirators remained in possession of their spoil. But they could not feel secure of it. The Amerini might make new efforts for their unfortunate fellow-townsman; or, as time went on, he might be reinstated through some political movement.36 Unless he were entirely got rid of, they could not feel at ease.37 Accordingly they began to make plots against his life. Sextus, by the advice of his friends, fled to Rome,38 where he found shelter and protection with Caecilia,39 a noble lady and a friend of his father: 40 thus he was safe from assassination. Magnus and Capito now formed the atrocious design of taking advantage of the crime through which the father had been got rid of, for the removal of the son. They resolved to accuse the son himself of the murder.41


This plan for several reasons offered hopes of success. The father and son seem not to have been on the best of terms with one another; 42 the trouble taken by Cicero to contradict any such idea goes to show that it had some foundation, and we may infer from the assertions of the accuser that the somewhat boorish manners of the son may have offended the father's aristocratic tastes.43 Again, the witnesses who could throw most light on the murder were two slaves, who had been with the elder Roscius in Rome; they had now passed with the rest of the property into the hands of Chrysogonus, and could not be examined without his consent.44 The time, too, was favourable:45 as the trial would be the first held for murder after a long interruption of all judicial business, so that the strictest procedure could be expected from the jury, the voice of justice having been silent so long. 46 But the accusers built still greater hopes on the powerful influence of Chrysogonus. Through fear of the dictator, as they calculated, the accused would find no one to defend him; at any rate, no advocate would dare to say a word about the shameful sale of the property, nor to reveal the criminal plot of which the accused was to be the victim.47


To open the prosecution one Erucius, a professed accuser,48 was suborned; 49 a man of some education, but of low descent and bad character.50 Bribed witnesses 51 were to support the charge, among others perhaps Roscius Magnus himself,52 who had been present in Rome at the time of the murder.

Sex. Roscius was not left in the lurch by his father's friends.53 The party of the nobles though closely attached to Sulla's interests, could not but feel in the highest degree aggrieved at the overpowering influence and the revolting pride of an upstart favourite, and were glad to support the Cause of Sextus.54 From fear of offending Sulla, no prominent man dared conduct the defence himself; but young Cicero consented to undertake it,55 at the request of the noble friends of Sex. Roscius, especially the youthful M. Messalla.56

1 § 59. A causa publica was one which concerned the State (populus), and dealt with an offence not against an individual (privatus), but against the whole citizen-body. Willful murder was such an offence, as it threatened the public safety.

2 § 20: nam fundos decem et tres reliquit, qui Tiberim fere omnes tangunt.

3 § 15.

4 § 15 : cum Metellis, Serviliis, Scipionibus erat ei non modo hospitium, verum etiam domesticus usus et consuetudo. Cp. §§ 27, 77, 148 sq.

5 § 16.

6 §§ 18,42sqq.

7 These were situated close to the circus Flaminius.

8 §§ 18, 92.

9 § 97.

10 §§ 19, 96 sqq.

11 § 87: inimicitias tibi fuisse cum Sex. Roscio et magnas res familiaris controversias concedas necesse est. Cp. §§ 17 , 19, 86, 88.

12 12. § 107: ipsos certo scio non negare ad haec bona Chrysogonum accessisse impulsu suo.

13 13. He received this name because he owed his freedom to L. Cornelius Sulla. See Verr. 2. 4. 25, and cp. App. Bell. Civ. n 100: 'Sulla set free and distributed among the people the youngest and strongest of the slaves of the proscribed, in number more than 10,000, and declared them Roman citizens, and called them Cornelii after himself, in order that he might have 10,000 men among the citizens ready to carry out his orders.' The name Chrysogonus often occurs in inscriptions as that of freedmen, and was also borne by a slave of Verres; see Verr. 2. 1.92.

14 Volaterra was one of the last towns which (after a two years' siege, B.C. 80) surrendered to Sulla. Cp. Strabo, 5.2.6: "There some of the Etruscans and those who were proscribed by Sulla assembled; they formed four cohorts of an army, were besieged for two years, and then surrendered the place under a truce."

15 Sall. Cat. 51. 32: nostra memoria victor Sulla cum Damasippum et alios eius modi, qui malo rei publicae creverant, iugulari iussit, quis non factum eius laudabat? homines scelestos et factiosos, qui seditionibus rem publicam exagitaverant, merito necatos aiebant. Sed ea res magnae initium cladis fuit: nam uti quisque domum aut villam, postremo vas aut vestimentum alicuius concupiverat, dabat operam ut is in proscriptorum numero esset . . . neque prius finis iugulandi fuit, quam Sulla omnes suos divitiis explevit.

16 § 133 sqq.

17 § 6: adulescens vel potentissimus hoc tempore nostrae civitatis.

18 § 20.

19 §§ 16, 21, 126.

20 The day of closing was June 1, B.C. 81. Cp. § 128, aliquot post menses et homo occisus est et bona venisse dicuntur; and § 21.

21 Tabula proscriptionis. The publication of the list was supported by a 'lex de proscriptione'125). Cicero, referring there to this lex, says: 'sive Valeria est sive Cornelia, non enim novi. . . 'and in § 128 he disclaims exact knowledge of it: 'opinor esse in lege . . .' Why this vagueness? It is certain that a lex Valeria existed, having been duly passed in the Comitia Centuriata on the motion of L. Valerius Flaccus as interrex, conferring the dictatorship on Sulla and ratifying Sulla's acts (Cic. de Leg. Agr. 3. 5). Was there, as Cicero implies, a lex Cornelia on the same lines, so that the one might be confused with the other? Two views have been held: (1) Sulla may have issued an autocratic enactment, together with the proscription-list, regulating its operation; afterwards the phrase 'lex Cornelia' may have been applied to this enactment when it had been legalised by the lex Valeria; (2) Sulla may have supplemented the lex Valeria by a subsequent lex Cornelia announcing further regulations as to the proscribed persons, e.g. the regulations (§ 126) as to men slain within the outposts of Sulla's opponents, and (§ 128) as to the day up to which the list held good: together with other provisious (Verr. 2.1.123; Livy, Epit. 89). Whichever view is correct, the two titles would refer to closely allied ordinances, both virtually due to Sulla; Cicero refers to them as not needing to be distinguished, for he is as it were speaking thus: 'My duty does not require me to be acquainted with the exact basis of legality on which my opponents justify their treatment of my client. I only say that nothing in their lex--whatever its title--that has reached my ears, justifies them at all.' Possibly, as editors have suggested, he is speaking of this lex with veiled sarcasm as a piece of autocracy, a parody of law.

22 § 126. Because proscribed persons were looked on as public enemies.

23 The property of a proscribed person was sold as public property sub hasta (originally the symbol of booty won in battle), i.e. by public auction, and was always sold as an undivided whole. Such a sale was called sectio; the purchaser, sector: cp. Gaius, Inst. 4. 146, sectores vocantur qui publica bona mercantur. The meaning of the word sector is very obscure, and was so even to the ancient grammarians, who derived it froni sequi, sectari, and explained sectores as sectatores bonorum. The derivation from secare80, sectores bonorum et collorum) seems more correct; but the theory that the purchasers were called sectores because they used to 'cut up' the entire property which they had bought into small divisions so as to sell it again, is surely a false one. (It is expressly contradicted by § 103: testimonium dicturus est is, qui et sector est et sicarius, hoc est, qui et illorum ipsorum bonorum, de quibus agitur, emptor atque possessor est, et eum hominem occidendum curavit de cuius morte quaeritur.) Since the purchaser of a property had to undertake the debts with which it was encumbered, Mommsen explains the word, with great probability, in reference to the percentage which was deducted from the price of a property, in consideration of its being saddled with debts. Thus purchasers who, instead of the full price, offered 50 per cent. of the price, would justly be called 'cutters off' (sectores). The property of Milo, for instance, on account of its indebtedness, was sold semuncia, i.e. for 1/24th of its value.

24 Plutarch, Cic. 3, says δισχιλίων δραχμῶν, misunderstanding the phrase nummum (i.e. sestertium) in § 6, since the drachma was worth more than four times the sesterce.

25 § 6.

26 In § 17 Cicero only says possidere audio: but later on (§§ 21, 99, 108, 115, 117) he asserts it as a fact. We must, however, suppose that Capito did not come into possession of the three praedia immediately after the sale; for, if so, he could hardly have appeared amongst the decem primi of Ameria in Sulla's camp.

27 § 107 sub fin

28 §§ 21, 108.

29 Sc. by auction; see § 23. Auctio, as opposed to sectio, meant the sale of individual articles of property.

30 § 24.

31 In municipia and colonias the Senate (variously named senatus, ordo, curia) usually consisted of 100 members, divided into decuries (decuriones), whence the whole body was called ordo decurionum. The decem primi who stood at the head of the decuries formed a special committee, and used to represent the community on embassies.

32 § 109.

33 § 25: doceantque eum (Sullam), qui vir Sex. Roscius fuerit.

34 §§ 109 sqq., 116 sqq. The account in § 25 is different, where Capito's share in the affair is only touched on in passing.

35 § 26, re inorata, which phrase is distinguishable from re infecta; see note.

36 Sulla's own enactment provided against this; cp. Vell. Pat. 2. 28. 4, adiectum etiam, ut bona proscriptorum venirent exclusique paternis opibus liberi etiam petendorum honorum iure prohiberentur. But Cicero himself suggests that his opponents anticipated such an occurrence; §§ 145 sub fin., 146.

37 § 6: quoniam ei pecuniae vita Sex. Roscii obstare atque officere videatur.

38 § 27.

39 See §§ 27, 147, notes.

40 § 27, qua pater usus erat plurimum.

41 It is remarkable that Cicero has not noticed the inconsistency involved in this plan of his opponents. If the elder Roscius had really been proscribed, his murder could not legally be punished, for the lex Cornelia promised even rewards to those who killed the proscribed, 'even if it be the slave who slays his master, or the son who slays his father,' Plut. Sull. 31 ; while if he had not been proscribed, the sale of his property must have been illegal. (Richter.)

42 §§ 40 sqq., 52 sqq.

43 § 74: hunc hominem ferum atque agrestem fuisse.

44 §§ 77, 119-123.

45 § 28: ut quoniam crimine non poterant, tempore ipso pugnarent.

46 §§ 11, 28.

47 §§ 28, 58.

48 Accusator vetus, § 28: cp. § 55, note.

49 That Erucius was assisted by additional accusers (subscriptores) cannot be inferred from § 17, sedere in accusatorum subselliis, and § 87, qui cum accusatoribus sederes, where the plural refers generally to his opponents (cp. 6.30): see on the contrary, § 95, sederes cum accusatore; § 110, si accusator voluerit testimonium iis denuntiare. Nor does the singular prove that Erucius acted alone.

50 § 46.

51 § 30; testes in hunc et accusatores hujusce pecunia comparant.

52 §§ 17, 84, 85, 95, 104. We learn also that Capito intended to appear as witness; §§ 84, 100 sqq.

53 §§ 1 sqq., 15 sub fin.,77.

54 Cp. §§ 136-142.

55 § 4.

56 § 149. It is generally supposed that the consul of B.C. 61 is meant, who attained to this office only two years later than Cicero; but Drumann (Rom. Hist. v.237, note 84), with greater probability, thinks that the consul of B.C. 53 is meant, "who was now sixteen years of age, reckoning from the age at which the consulship was usually obtained, and had only lately assumed the toga virilis."

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