properly the diminutive form of liber,
and therefore means a small book-roll [see LIBER
]; but as regards its use in
that sense, it belonged particularly to books of poetry. There are other
technical meanings which require notice in this place. We find libellus most
frequently used in writers under the Empire for a memorial
of any kind, either an accusation (whence our libel
), or a petition; and also to official
notifications of any kind. In all these senses the libellus implies a roll
made up of very few pages, or it might be only a single page. (Cf. Birt,
p. 22.) It was used by the Romans as a
technical term in the following cases:--
1. Libelli accusatorum
were the written accusations which in some cases a
plaintiff, after having received the permission to [p. 2.57]
bring an action against a person, drew up, signed, and sent to the
judicial authorities, viz. in the city to the praetor, and in a province to
the proconsul. (Cod. 9, 2, 8; Dig. 48
.) The form in which a
was to be written, is
described by Ulpian in a case of adultery (Dig. 48
). The accuser had
to sign the libellus, and, if he could not write, he was obliged to get
somebody else to do it for him. If the libellus was not written in the
proper legal form, it was invalid, but the plaintiff had still the right to
bring the same action again in its legal form. (Juv.
, &c.; Tac. Ann.
; Plin. Ep. 7.27
Brisson, de Form.
2. Libelli famosi
were what we call libels or
pasquinades, intended to injure the character of persons. A law of the
Twelve Tables inflicted very severe punishments on those who composed
defamatory writings against any person (Cic.
de Re Pub. 4.1. 0
, 33; Arnob. iv. p. 151).
During the latter part of the Republic this law appears to have been in
abeyance, for Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 1.72
that previous to the time of Augustus libels had never been legally punished
(compare Cic. Fam. 3.1. 1
), and that
Augustus, provoked by the audacity with which Cassius Severus brought into
disrepute the most illustrious persons of the age, ordained, by a lex majestatis,
that the authors of libelli famosi
should be brought to trial. On this
occasion Augustus, who was informed of the existence of several such works,
had a search made at Rome by the aediles, and in other places by the local
magistrates, and ordered the libels to be burnt; some of the authors were
subjected to punishment (D. C. 56.27
). A law
quoted by Ulpian (Dig. 47
) ordained that the author of a
should be intestabilis,
and during the later period of the
Empire we find that capital punishment was not only inflicted upon the
author, but upon those persons in whose possession a libellus famosus
was found, or who did not destroy it as soon
as it came into their hands (Cod. 9, 36). For further information on this
subject see Rein, Das Criminalrecht der Römer,
378, &c., 531.
3. The “comites in fasce libelli” (Juv.
; see Mayor's note) are the extracts from laws and other
matters connected with his brief,
barrister brought into court. (Cf. Juv. 6.244
is used by Roman jurists as
equivalent to Oratio Principis.
5. The word libellus
was also applied to a
variety of writings, which in most cases probably consisted of one page
To any short letters or reports addressed to
the senate or private individuals (Suet. Jul.
84; Cic. Fam.
To the bills or programme called libelli gladiatorii,
which persons who gave gladiatorial exhibitions
distributed among the people. [GLADIATORES
To petitions to the emperors (Juv. 14.194
; Suet. Aug.
; Mart. 8.31
The emperors had their especial officers or secretaries who attended to all
petitions (libellis praefectus,
or magister libellorum,
or a libellis,
), and who read
and answered them in the name of the emperor (Suet. Domit.
14). Such a libellus is still extant. See Gruter, Inscript.
p. DCVII. 1.
To the bill of appeal called libellus appellatorius,
which a person who did not acquiesce
in a judicial sentence had to send in after the lapse of two or three days.
To the bills stuck up in the most frequented
parts of the city, in case of a debtor having absconded (Cic. pro Quint. 6
, 15, 19;
Rein, Röm. Privatr.
p. 499). Such bills were also
stuck up on the estates of such a debtor, and his friends who wished to pay
for him sometimes pulled down such bills (Senec. de Benef.
To bills in which persons announced to the public
that they had found things which had been lost, and in which they invited
the owner to claim his property (Plaut. Rud.
&c.; Dig. 47
). The owner gave to the finder a reward
) and received his property
back. Sometimes the owner also made known to the public by a libellus what
he had lost, stating his name and residence, and promising to give a reward
to the person who found his property and brought it back to him. (Propert.
3.21, 21, &c.)