2 SEX. ROSCIUS, of Ameria, a town in Umbria, now Amelia, was accused of the murder of his father in B. C. 80, and was defended by Cicero in an oration which is still extant, and which was the first that the orator delivered in a criminal cause.
The following are the circumstances under which the prosecution arose. Sex. Roscius had a father of the same name, who was one of the most wealthy citizens of Ameria.
The father bore an unblemlished character, but had for certain reasons incurred the enmity of two of his relations and fellow-towvnsmen, T. Roscius Magnus and T. Roscius Capito, who not onlly hated the person, but coveted the wealth of their neighbour. Sextus frequently visited Rome, where he lived on terms of intimacy with Metellus, Servilius, and other Roman nobles. On one of these visits to the capital he was assassinated near the Palatine baths, as he was returning in the evening from a banquet. His enemy, Magnus, who was at Rome at the time, and who had doubtless hired the assassins, immediately diately despatched a messenger with the news to Capito at Ameria, but without informing the younger Sextus, who was likewise at Ameria, of the death of his father. Four days afterwards Chrysogonus, the freedman and favourite of Sulla, who was at Volaterrae in Etruria, was likewise acquainted with the event.
He learnt that the property whlich Roscius had left behind him was considerable, consisting of not less than thirteen farms, lying for the most part on the Tiber, as well as of ready money and other valuables. Forthwith a bargain was struck between Chrysogonus and the two Roscii; and the name of Sextus was placed on the proscription list, notwithstanding an edict of Sulla, that none of the proscribed should be pursued after the first of June, B. C. 81.
But as the name of Sextus was now on the list, his property was confiscated; Capito obtained three of the farms, and the remaining ten were purchased by Chrysogonus for 2000 denarii, though they were worth in reality 250 talents; and Magnus was likewise well rewarded for his share in the business. Such a barefaced act of villany excited the utmost indignation at Ameria.
The decuriones of the town accordingly sent ten of the principal citizens to Sulla to acquaint him with the real state of the case, and to beg that the name of Roscius might be erased from the proscription list, in order that his son might thus regain possession of his hereditary property. Alarmed at the turn that matters were taking, Chrysogonus had an interview with the deputation, and pledged his word that their request should be complied with; and they, probably more than half-afraid of facing the dictator, were contented to receive the promise, and returned home without seeing Sulla.
These half-measures, how. ever, only exposed the younger Roscius to still greater peril.
The robbers saw that they had no security for their property as long as he was alive. They therefore laid snares for his life, and he only escaped the fate of his father by flying to Rome and taking refuge in the house of Caecilia, the daughter of Metellus Balearicus. here he was quite safe from private assassination. Disappointed of getting rid of him secretly, his enemies resolved to murder him judicially. They accordingly hired a certain C. Erucius to accuse him of the murder of his father, and they paid a sufficient number of witnesses to swear to the fact. They felt sure of a verdict against the accused, as they did not believe that any person of influence would undertake his defence; and even if he could obtain an advocate, they were convinced that his counsel would not dare, by speaking of the sale of the proprty, to bring any accusation against the powerful freedman of Sulla.
In this, however, they were disappointed. Cicero, who was burning for distinction, saw that this was a most favourable opportunity for gaining glory, and readily undertook the defence.
He did not hesitate to attack Chrysogonus with the utmost severity, and so evident was the guilt of the accusers, and so clear the Innocence of the accused, that the judices had no alternative left but the acquittal of Roscius.
It was the first trial for murder that had come before the judices since the judicia had been taken from the equites and restored to the senators by Sulla, and they were unwilling to give to the popular party such a handle against them as the condemnation of Roscius would have supplied. Besides which Sulla allowed the court to exercise an unbiassed judgment, and did not interfere for the sake of gratifying the wishes of his favourite. Cicero's speech was greatly admired at the time, and though at a later period he found fault with it himself, as bearing marks of youthful exaggeration, it displays abundant evidence of his great oratorical powers. (Comp. Cic. Ora>t.
30, de Off
2.14 ; Plut. Cic. 3
; Drumann, Geschichte Roms,
vol. v. pp. 234-244.)