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VIS Laws were passed at Rome for the purpose of making various acts of violence criminal. The LEX PLOTIA or PLAUTIA, perhaps named after M. Plautius Silvanus, B.C. 89, appears to have first made vis the subject of a special judicium publicum, crimes of violence having previously only been punished when they could be brought under the head of majestas or of the crimen de sicariis et veneficis. The Lex Plautia was enacted against those who devastated houses, or who occupied public places and carried arms, or who attempted to influence the magistrates and senate by assembling bodies of armed men (Cic. Att. 2.2. 4; de harusp. Resp. 8, 15; pro Cael. 1, 1; the dissertation of Waechter, Neues Archiv des Criminalrechts,, vol. xiii., reprinted in Orellii Onomasticon).

Besides other subsidiary laws under the Republic on the subject of vis, the nature of which is doubtful, there was a Lex Julia of the dictator Caesar, which made certain kinds of vis subject to aquae et ignis interdictio (Cic. Phil. 1.9, 21). Under Augustus the law concerning vis was the subject of two Juliae leges, which consolidated previous enactments and became the basis of subsequent laws. These leges were respectively entitled de vi publica and de vi privata. There has been considerable difference of opinion as to the meaning of the distinction thus made between vis publica and vis privata. The explanation of some writers is that vis publica was vis exercised by public persons, as by magistrates, while vis privata was that of private individuals. Another view is that vis was publica when deadly weapons were employed, privata when they were not. The most probable explanation is that originally vis publica meant such vis as was an open violation of a right of the state; vis privata, on the other hand, would be vis which seemed mainly to affect an individual right, though it was made criminal as interfering with the function of the state in maintaining public order (cf. Rein, cit. infr.). It is to be remembered, however, that various acts of vis which under the Julian laws were treated as vis privata, were subsequently made vis publica, in order to punish them with greater severity. Hence we find acts mentioned by Paulus (cit. infr.) as vis privata included in the Digest under vis publica.

The Lex de Vi Publica did not apply, as the title might seem to import, exclusively to acts against the public peace, and it is not possible to define it except by enumerating its chief provisions (cf. Paul. l.c.; Dig. cit. infr.). According to the law of the Digest, it was vis publica to collect arms (tela) in a house or in a villa except for the purpose of hunting, or going a journey or a voyage, the word tela being extensively interpreted so as to be equivalent to arma; to attack houses with armed men; to evict a person with an armed force (hominibus armatis); to appear in court or in a public ssembly with arms for the purpose of intimidation; for a candidate to attempt to influence an election by assembling a mob (turba) or a gang of slaves; to cause a mob to assemble for various unlawful purposes; to interfere in various ways with the due administration of justice, as by preventing judices from exercising their functions in security, or by forcibly hindering an accused person from going to Rome to take his trial on the day fixed for it ( “ne quis reum vinciat impediatve, quominus intra certum tempus adsit” ); to assault or insult ambassadors; for a magistrate to abuse his power by causing a Roman citizen to be tortured (cf. Acts 23.25), or to be executed without allowing an appeal to Rome (cf. Acts 25.10-12); for a magistrate to compel people to pay illegal taxes ( “qui nova vectigalia exercet” ); to interfere by force with the burial of a person; to commit rape; to compel a person by force to promise games or gifts to the people, &c.

The punishment for the violation of the Lex Julia de vi publica was aquae et ignis interdictio (subsequently deportatio in insulam), except in the case of attacking and plundering houses or villas with an armed band, in which case the punishment was death; and the penalty was the same for carrying off a woman, married or unmarried. The cases enumerated in the Digest as falling within the penalties of the Lex Julia de vi privata, are cases where the act was of less atrocity: for instance, if a man got a number of men together for a riot, which ended in the [p. 2.972]beating of a person, but not in his death, he came within the penalties of the Lex de Vi Privata.

It was also a case of vis privata when persons assembled in order to prevent a person being brought before the Praetor. The SENATUSCONSULTUM VOLUSIANUM extended the penalties of the lex to those who maintained another in his suit, with a view of sharing the damages awarded to him. The penalty of the law was also extended by imperial enactments to the offence of wrecking ships. It was vis privata to take the law into one's own hands by an act of violence. Thus a creditor who entered on the property of his debtor, which was not hypothecated to him, unless under judicial authority, was guilty of this offence. The penalties of this lex were the loss of a third part of the offender's property; and he was also declared to be incapable of being a senator, or decurio, or a judex; by a senatusconsultum, the name of which is not given, he was incapacitated from enjoying any honour, quasi infamis. (Dig. 48, 6, 7; Cod. 9.12, 13; Paul. Sent. rec. 5.26; Rein, Das Criminalrecht der Römer, p. 732, &c.; Walter, Geschichte d. R. R.; Stephen, History of the Criminal Law of England, i. pp. 16, 17.)

[G.L] [E.A.W]

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