The crime of falsum is not defined by Roman legal writers, but it consisted of acts of
fraud which were injurious to fides publica
, such as forgery,
counterfeiting money, and perverting the course of justice by fraud and perjury. The oldest
legislative provisions at Rome against any acts of this description are those of the Twelve
Tables, to the effect that a person who gave false testimony should be thrown from the
Tarpeian Rock (Gell. xxi. 53
), and that a judge
who took a bribe should be liable to capital punishment (Gell. xxi.
); but there were trials for false testimony before the enactment of the Twelve Tables
(Livy, iii. 24, 25, 29
; iv. 21
). The next legislation in falsum, so far as is known, was contained
in one of the Leges Corneliae passed in the time of the dictator Sulla , which was divided,
according to Cicero, into two heads, the Lex Testamentaria and the Lex Numaria
ii. 1, 42), with reference to the two species of the crime the statute
was directed against. Paulus, who gives its provisions, entitles it Lex Cornelia
Testamentaria; it is also known by the more general title Lex Cornelia de Falsis.
The Lex Cornelia appears to have included only two specific kinds of falsum:
forgery and suppression of wills, and
adulteration of the coinage.
An offence against either branch of this law was a crimen publicum
and was under the cognizance of a standing quaestio.
The punishment of
falsum under the law (at least when Paulus wrote) was deportatio in
) for the
“honestiores,” and the mines, crucifixion, or other degrading punishment
for the “humiliores.” In place of deportatio in
the punishment, according to the statute itself, was probably the old form of
banishment, known as ignis et aquae interdictio
(q. v.). The property of
a convicted person was confiscated.
The penalty of the Lex Cornelia was extended by piecemeal legislation to cases not
comprised in the lex, but all of a similar kind. This supplementary law is sometimes referred
in legal treatises to the Lex Cornelia, as if it had been an original part of that law. The
instrument fabricated or falsified might be either public or private, as e. g. a rescript or
edict of the emperor, an account book, or an instrument of sale.
Persons guilty of falsifying documents are called falsarii.
precaution against such persons, it was enacted in the time of Nero that tabulae
or written contracts should be pierced with holes and a triple thread passed
through the holes, in addition to the signature ( Suet. Ner.
c. 17; Paul. v. 25, 6
). In the time of Nero it
was also provided that the first two parts (cerae
) of a will should have
only the testator's signature, and the remaining one those of the witnesses. Likewise, in
order to prevent fraud, it was enacted under the emperor Claudius that a person who was
employed by a testator to write a will should be liable to the penalty of the Lex Cornelia if
he inscribed a legacy to himself, although he did so at the dictation of the testator (Cod.
ix. 23, 3; Suetonius,
, attributes this law to Nero). The Lex de Falsis was further
extended to fraudulent assumptions of names and rank, and to false pretences, as in the case
of a contract to sell a thing to a person, when the vendor had already contracted to sell the
same thing to some one else. The crimen falsi
was also made to include
perjury, the corruption of judges, and other kindred offences. By a senatusconsultum in the
fourteenth year of Tiberius, the penalties of the law were extended to those who for money
undertook to maintain causes, or to procure testimony; and by a senatusconsultum passed
somewhat earlier, conspiracies for the ruin of innocent persons were comprised within the
limits of the law.
According to Paulus (v. 25, 1), the refusal to accept in payment genuine coin stamped with
the head of the princeps was on the same footing as the adulteration of the coinage, though
in this case the element of fraud seems wanting. The use of false measures and weights was
punished as falsum. It appears from numerous passages in the Roman writers that the crime of
falsum in its different forms was very common, and especially in the case of wills. See Rein,
Das Criminalrecht der Römer
, p. 774, etc.