A legal term having two meanings in ordinary use: (a
) a punishable
offence; and (b
) the accusation brought against the person by whom the
offence is committed. In the first of these senses crimina were, in the oldest period of Roman
history, regarded as wrongs against religion and the gods, and their punishment as an
expiation offered to heaven (Serv. ad
Verg. Aen. i. 632
). In the Twelve Tables this
implication of penal law with religion and religious sanctions has become
less prominent, and we find a distinction between offences which are punished by a solemn
legislative act of the State and offences atoned for by a fine paid to the injured person in
satisfaction of his resentment, as to the amount of which the parties might come to terms (
Fest. s. v. talio
). From this distinction arose another, of more
scientific value, between delicta privata
21, 1, 17, 18), which is adhered to with tolerable
consistency in the writings of the jurists and the later law. Delicta privata
simply, are civil offences, or what we call
“torts”; crimina publica
are what we call
“crimes,” offences against the State or community, the subject of
prosecution before a criminal tribunal. But occasionally a delict is spoken of as a crimen (e.
g. extra furti crimen videri
, Gaius, iii.
Inst. iv. 1, 7
), and in other
passages (e. g. Dig.
48, 19, 1) a person who commits a crime is said delinquere.
Crimes punishable by death, loss of libertas
, by interdictio aquae et ignis
, or deportatio
were called capitalia.