2. Son of the preceding, was born about B. C. 112.
It is remarkable that the gentile name of the Verres family is nowhere mentioned.
In more than one passage of the Verrine orations, Cicero seems on the point of giving their full appellation to the Verres, but always withholds it apparently as notorious.
It was probably Cornelius, although there seems to have been some connection also with the Caecilii Metelli. (Verrin.
2.2. 26, 56.) Sulla, or. his return from Greece B. C. 83, created a numerous body of Cornelii by emancipating slaves and filling up vacancies in the senate with aliens and freedmen (Appian, App. BC 1.100
); and at the time of the younger Verres's praetorship Cornelius was the most ordinary surname at Rome. (Cic. Corn.
p. 450, Orelli.) Now we know of no extraordinary increase of the Gens Caecilia at this period, while the augmentation of the Gens Cornelia is certain. (Comp. Appian, l.c.
with Cic. Ver. 3.28
The connection of the Caecilii Metelli with Verres, if not assumed for a temporary purpose (2.2. 26, 56), may perhaps be thus explained. If the elder Verres were originally a freedman or a kinsman of Sulla, and raised by him to senatorian rank, he would take in the one case or he would bear in the other the gentile name of Cornelius.
That he was Sulla's kinsman is not altogether improbable, since that branch of the Gens Cornelia had fallen into decay (Plut. Sull. 1
), may have contained more than one cognomen. But Sulla's fourth wife was Caecilia Metella, daughter of L. Caecilius Metellus Dalmaticus [No. 13], and through her Verres, when it suited him, may have claimed affinity with the Metelli. Verres may even have derived his relationship to this house or to the Cornelii from his mother's family, whom Cicero mentions with respect (2.1. 49). On the other hand, among Cicero's innumerable taunts, none directly reproaches Verres with a servile or even an obscure origin, although he mentions many ignoble Cornelii, e. g.
Artemidorus Cornelius, a physician and others "jampriden improbi, repente Cornelii
" (2.1. 26, 27. 3. 28, 49, 4.13.30).
The elder Verres and his kinsman Q. Verres are described as veteran bribers and corrupters (1.8. 9), but without allusion to servile or libertine birth. Verres
itself too is a genuine Italian name, like Capra, Taurus, Ovinius, Siillius, and seems to have had its proper correlate in Scrofa
(Varr. R. R.
The question probably admits of no positive solution, and it is even possible that as in the cases of Marius, Mummius, and Sertorius, who bore no family-name, the family of Verres may have borne no gentile name. (See Muretus, Var. Lect.
The impeachment of Verres derives its importance from the cause rather than the criminal. We have no evidence to his character beyond the charges of his great antagonist, and even the defence of him which Hortensius published and Quintilian read (Inst.
10.1.23), referred to some other prosecution. To depict Verres in Cicero's colours would be to draw an anomalous monster, and to transcribe the greater portion of the impeachment.
It will be more consistent, therefore, with our purpose and our limits to refer generally to the Verrine orations for the catalogue of his crimes and the delineation of his character, especially since the notorious licence of ancient invective, and the circumstances under which Cicero spoke, render exaggeration certain, while we have no means of sifting or softening it. Individually Verres was a very ordinary person, with brutal instincts, manners, and associates, conspicuous in a demoralized age, and in an incurably corrupt class of men, -- the provincial governors under the commonwealth, -- for his licentiousness, rapacity, and cruelty. Generically as the representative of that class Verres became an important personage, sinoe upon the issue of his trial depended the senate's tenure of the judicia, the prevalence of the oligarchy, and the very existence of the provincial and colonial empire of Rome. We shall, therefore, briefly give the dates and periods of Verres's public career, and dwell rather on the history of the cause than on that of the criminal.
That he took an active part in Sulla's proscription may be inferred from Cicero ( Verrin.
1.1.16), who, while exploring the darkest recesses of the defendant's life, purposely passes over his apprenticeship in crime,--" Omni tempore Sullano ex accusatione circumnscripto
"--as common to the times, and not peculiar to the man. For a like reason he excepts from exposure whatever vices and excesses Verres had displayed or committed previous to his holding a public magistracy.
Verres was quaestor to Cn. Papirius Carbo (No. 7) in his third consulship B. C. 82.
He was therefore at that period of the Marian faction (Schol. Gronov. in Verrin.
p. 387, Orelli), which he quitted for that of Sulla, betraying Carbo by desertion, and the republic by embezzling the monies with which as quaestor he was intrusted for the administration of Cisalpine Gaul. Sulla sent his new adherent to Beneventum, where he was allowed a share of the confiscated estates, but at the same time narrowly watched by the veterans.
He was, however, called to account for his receipts from the treasury by the quaestores aerarii for B. C. 81, with what result is unknown. Verres next appears in the suite of Cn. Cornelius Dolabella (No. 6), praetor of Cilicia in B. C. 80-79, and one of the most rapacious and oppressive of the provincial governors. On the death of the regular quaestor C. Malleolus, Verres, who had been Dolabella's legatus, became his pro-quaestor. In Verres Dolabella found an active and unscrupulous agent, and, in return, connived at his excesses.
But the proquaestor proved as faithless to Dolabella as he had been to Carbo; turned evidence against him on his prosecution by M. Scaurus in B. C. 78, and by shifting his own crimes to the praetor's account, and stipulating for a pardon for himself, mainly contributed to the verdict against Dolabella. During this pro-quaestorship Verres first acquired or affected a taste for the fine arts.
It is not clear, indeed, whether Cicero believed him to possess a genuine relish for the beautiful, or whether he considered the legate's appropriations as a mere brutal lust of pillage, and a means of purchasing the support of the oligarchy at Rome.
The criminality of the acts was the same. But Cicero at one time describes Verres, ironically, as a fine gentleman and a connoisseur ; and, at another, as better fitted for a porter than an artist (Verrin.
2.4. 44, 57).
The wealth Verres acquired in Achaia and Asia, he employed in securing a praetorship in B. C. 74.
The lot assigned to him the urbana jurisdictio, and he rehearsed at Rome the blunders, the venality, and the licence, which afterwards marked his Sicilian administration. His official duties were mostly discharged by his clerks and his freedwoman and mistress Chelidon. Without the interest of the latter, indeed, nothing could be obtained from him, and she, accordingly, charged high for exerting it.
The city-praetor was the guardian of orphans; the curator of public buildings, civil and religious; the chief judge in equity; and the sitting magistrate within the bounds of the pomaerium, during his year of office.
In each of these departments, according to Cicero, Verres violated a trust.
He defrauded the son of his predecessor in the Cilician quaestorship, C. Malleolus, of his patrimony : he exacted from the heir and executors of P. Junius a heavy fine for neglecting to repair the temple of Castor; and intercepted the fine from the state's coffers; and, instead of rebuilding, whitewashed the defective columns of the temple; his edicts varied with the person or rather with the price, and were drawn in defiance of precedent, law, and common sense; and unless his political preferences were for the moment suspended by his avarice or his lust, his summary decisions were invariably favourable to the oligarchical party. In B. C. 74, occurred the notorious Judicium Juniannm
[JUNIUS, No. 5].
In this transaction, Verres was not so deeply involved as others of his party; but neither was he exempt from the ignominy attached to the verdict, since he declared that the list of the judices had been tampered with, and their signatures forged, him self having previously subscribed the list, and sanctioned the verdict officially.
The repeal of Sulla's laws had been guarded against by the dictator himself, who imposed a mulct on any person who should attempt to abrogate or modify any portion of the Cornelian constitution.
But in B. C. 75, M. Aurelius Cotta as consul brought forward a bill for exempting the tribunes of the plebs from that clause of the Lex Cornelia which excluded them from the higher offices of the commonwealth, and Q. Opimius, tribune of the plebs, introduced it to the comitia. Opimius, in the following year, was condemned and fined by Verres for this offence : his property was put up to auction, and Verres enriched himself equally at the expense of the defendant and the treasury. On the expiration of his praetorship, Verres obtained the wealthiest and most important province of the empire. Sicily was not merely the granary of Rome, but from its high civilisation, its productive soil and vicinity to Italy, had long been the favourite resort of Roman capitalists.
The yoke of conquest pressed more lightly on this island than on any other of the state's dependencies.
The ancient Greek nobility had rather gained than lost by their change of rulers : the fiscal regulations of the Hieros and Gelos were retained : the exemptions which the Marcelli had granted and the Scipios confirmed, were respected; and the Sicilians hardly regretted their turbulent democracies in the enjoyment of personal freedom and social luxury. Verres and his predecessor Sacerdos came to the government of that province at a critical period. Two servile wars had recently swept over the island, and during the two years of Verres's administration, Italy itself was ravaged by Spartans, and the Mediterranean swarmed with the Cilician pirates.
The loss or the retention of Sicily was, therefore, an object of higher moment than ever to Rome; and even an ordinary praetor might have risked by supineness or caprice this portion of the state demesnes.
But in Verres, Sicily received a governor, who, even in tranquil times, would have tried its allegiance or provoked disaffection. Accompanied by his son, his daughter's husband, and a suite of rapacious clerks, parasites and pandars, he began his extortions even before he landed in the island. No class of its inhabitants was exempted from his avarice, his cruelty, or his insults.
The wealthy had money or works of art to yield up; the middle classes night be made to pay heavier imposts ; and the exports of the vineyards, the arable land, and the loom, be saddled with heavier burdens.
By capricious changes or violent abrogation of their compacts, Verres reduced to beggary both the producers and the farmers of the revenue. On the native Greeks, he accumulated worse evils than the worst of their ancient despots, the worst of their mobs, or the worst of their previous praetors had inflicted. His three years' rule desolated the island more effectually than the two recent servile wars, and than the old struggle between Carthage and Rome for the possession of the island. Messana alone, where he deposited his spoils and provided for himself a retreat, was spared by Verres; but even Messana sighed for the mild government of Sacerdos, and for the arrival of the new praetor Arrius, whom the war with Spartacus detained in Italy, and whose detention added eighteen months to the sufferings of the Sicilians. Verres, therefore, instead of returning to Italy in B. C. 72, remained nearly three years in his government, and so diligently employed his opportunities, that he boasted of having amassed enough for a life of opulence, even if he were compelled to disgorge two-thirds of his plunder in stifling inquiry or purchasing an acquittal.
The remainder of Verres's life is contained in the history of the Verrine orations
, which we shall presently examine. On his condemnation, he retired to Marseilles, retaining so much of his ill-gotten wealth, as to render him careless of public opinion, and so many of his treasures of art, as to cause, eventually, his proscription by M. Antonius in B. C. 43.
Before his death, Verres had the consolation of hearing of the murder of his great enemy Cicero, and during his long exile of twenty-seven years, had the satisfaction of witnessing from his retreat the convulsions of the republic, and the calamities of the friends who abandoned, and of the judges who convicted him. Verres married a sister of a Roman eques, Vettius Chilo (Verrin.
2.3. 71, 72), by whom he had a son, whom, at fifteen years of age, he admitted as the spectator and partner of his vices (lb.
9. 68 ; Pseudo Ascon. in loc.
), and a daughter, who was married at the time of her accompanying Verres to Sicily. (Sen. Suas.
p. 43, Bip. ed.; Lactant. Div. Inst.
Prosecution of Verres by Cicero
The trial of Verres was a political as well as a judicial cause. From the tribunate of the Gracchi (B. C. 133-123), when the judicia were transferred to the equites, to the dictatorship of Sulla (B. C. 81-79), who restored them to the senate, there had been an eager contest at Rome for the judicial power.
The equites and the senators had proved equally corrupt, and the Marian party, supported by the Italians and the provincials, clamoured loudly for a reform of the courts. Verres was a criminal whose condemnation might justify Sulla's law, whose acquittal would prove the unfitness of the senate for the judicial office. Cicero, accordingly, in his introductory speech. ( Verrin.
i.), puts "this alternative prominently forward." In Verres's condemnation, he urges upon the senatorian bench of judices, "lies your order's safety; in his acquittal, your degradation now and henceforward."
This rather than the weight of evidence adduced was the à priori ground for Verres's condemnation.
The defendant himself had neither previous reputation nor ancestral honours to recommend him.
At first, guilty compliance, and afterwards unblushing corruption, had been his steps to preferment.
He was supported by the Metelli, the Scipios, and Hortensius, because their interests were accidentally involved with his.
But the reasons which detract from the individual importance of Verres add historical value to the impeachment. Verres was the representative of the grosser elements of a revolutionary era, as Catiline was of its periodical crimes and turbulence. And with every allowance for exaggeration on Cicero's part, Verres was a type of Roman provincial governors, and, as such, his career forms no unimportant chapter in the annals of the expiring commonwealth.
Cicero had been Lilybaean quaestor in Sicily in B. C. 75, and on his departure from that island had promised his good offices to the Sicilians, whenever they might demand them. They committed to him the prosecution of Verres. For a rising advocate at the bar, depending on his own exertions alone for preferment, the opportunity was critical, whether for advancement or defeat. On the one hand, Cicero's attack on the aristocracy would win for him the equites and the people ; on the other, it closed upon him an effective source of patronage, and involved him with a party which he deserted on the first occasion.
He seems, however, without scruple to have redeemed his promise to the Sicilians, and to have heartily entered into their cause. The Verrine trial is one of the three eras of Cicero's life, and perhaps that in which his cause was best, and his motives were most pure.
He may have amplified the vices of Verres; he could scarcely exaggerate the faults of the provincial government of Rome.
In the conduct of the prosecution, he infringed upon no law : on obtaining his verdict, he displayed no offensive vanity. In Catiline and Antonius, he was opposed to political rivals : in Verres, he encountered the enemy of the law, of social and domestic sanctities, of the faith of compacts, and the security of life and property. Neither during his administration, nor after his return to Rome, had Verres neglected to enlist for himself staunch and numerous supporters.
With some, a bribe in its crudest form sufficed; but in many cases it was accompanied with some choice production of the chisel, the easel, or the loom.
But his services were most in demand when his partisans in their official characters exhibited games in the forum. Hortensius and the Metelli were thus enabled to exhibit, for the first time, to a Roman mob many of the most exquisite specimens of Mentor, Myron, and Polycleitus, collected from nearly every province from the foot of Mount Taurus to the Lilybaean promontory.
The practice of borrowing works of art from the provincials with which to adorn the capital on festivals, was not indeed peculiar to Verres or his age.
But neither the refined Cornelii nor the rude Mummii had, when the occasion ended, adorned their own villas with these treasures, or distributed them among the galleries of their friends and adherents.
Meanwhile, neither threats nor offers were spared. Hortensius and Verres at Rome, and M. Metellus, the successor of Verres in Sicily, alternately flattered and bullied the deputies of that island, and Cicero more than once insinuates that money was indirectly offered to himself.
The prosecutors, however, had nothing further to lose, and were desperate; Cicero had reputation to win, and was firm. Upon this, Hortensius changed his tactics.
The impeachment could not be stopped entirely; but it might be parried. Q. Caecilius Niger had been quaestor to the defendant, had quarrelled with him, and had the means of exposing officially his abuse of the public money. To this prosecutor, said Hortensius, we do not object; he is seeking redress; but Cicero, notoriety.
But the Sicilians rejected Caecilius altogether, not merely as no match for Hortensius, but as foisted into the cause by the defendant or his advocate.
By a technical process of the Roman law, called Divinatio, the judices, without hearing evidence, determined from the arguments of counsel alone, who should be appointed prosecutor. They decided in Cicero's favour. Of all the Verrine orations, the Divinatio in Q. Caecilium
is the most argumentative, and the most in accordance with modern practice.
The orator demonstrates that the Sicilians rejected Caecilius, and demanded himself : that a volunteer accuser is as objectionable as a volunteer witness : that Caecilius cannot come into court with clean hands, since, as quaestor, he must officially have been cognizant of the peculations of his principal : and that his quarrel with Verres -- the ground of his alleged fitness for prosecutor -- was all a pretence. [NIGER, Q. CAECILIUS.]
The pretensions of Caecilius were thus set aside. Yet hope did not yet forsake Verres and his friends. Evidence for the prosecution was to be collected in Sicily itself. Cicero was allowed 110 days for the purpose. Verres once again attempted to set up a sham prosecutor, who undertook to impeach him for his former extortions in Achaia, and to gather the evidence in 108 days. Had this been really done, the effect would have been, that the false impeachment would have taken precedence, and the Sicilian cause either been referred to a packed bench, or indefinitely adjourned.
But the new prosecutor--one Piso or Damianus--never went even so far as Brundisium in quest of evidence, and the design was abandoned. (Verrin.
1.2 ; Schol. Gronov. p. 388, Orelli; 2.1, 11; Pseud. Ascon. p. 165, ib.
) Instead of the 110 days allowed, Cicero, assisted by his cousin Lucius, completed his researches in 50, and returned with a mass of evidence and a crowd of witnesses gathered from all parts of the island, from the rich and the poor, the agriculturist and the artisan, in differently. At Syracuse and Messana alone did Cicero meet with reluctance or opposition.
At the former city he completely overcame Verres's partisans, carried away with him a huge budget of vouchers and documents, and procured the erasure from the public register of an honorary decree, which had been extorted by Verres from the Syracusans. At Messana he was less successful.
That city had, comparatively, been favoured by the ex-praetor. Here also Cicero encountered his old enemy Caecilius Niger, and the praetor L. Metellus, an alleged kinsman of Verres.
The praetor forbade the Messanese to aid or harbour the orator or his suite : reproached him for tampering with Greeks, and addressing them in their own tongue ; and threatened to seize the documents he brought with him. Cicero, however, eluded the praetor and all attempts of Verres to obstruct his return, and reached the capital nearly two months before either friends or opponents expected him.
Hortensius now grasped at his last chance of an acquittal, and it was not an unlikely one. Could the impeachment be put off to the next year, Verres was safe. Hortensius himself would then be consul, with Q. Metellus for his colleague, M. Metellus would be city-praetor, and L. Metellus was already praetor in Sicily. For every firm and honest judex whom the upright M. Acilius Glabrio [No. 5], then city praetor, had named, a partial or venal substitute would be found. Glabrio himself would give place as quaesitor or president of the court to M. Metellus, a partisan, if not a kinsman of the defendant; public curiosity would cool; the witnesses be frightened or conciliated ; and time be allowed for forging and organising a chain of counter-depositions.
It was already the month of July.
The games to be exhibited by Cn. Pompey were fixed for the middle of August, and would occupy a fortnight; the Roman games would immediately succeed them, and thus forty days intervene between Cicero's charge and the reply of Hortensius, who again, by dexterous adjournments, would delay the proceedings until the games of Victory, and the commencement of the new year. Cicero therefore abandoned all thought of eloquence or display, and merely introducing his case in the first of the Verrine orations, rested all his hopes of success on the weight of testimony alone. The "king of the Forum," -- so Hortensius was called -- was disarmed. His histrionic arts of dress, intonation, pathos, and invective, found no place in dry cross-examinations.
He was quite unprepared with counter-evidence, and after the first day, when he put a few petulant questions, and offered some trivial objections to the course pursued, he abandoned the cause of Verres.
Before the nine days occupied in hearing evidence were over, the defendant was on his road to Marseilles.
The impeachment of Verres presented a scene for the historian and the artist.
The judices met in the temple of Castor-already signalised by one of the defendant's most fraudulent acts ( Verrin.
2.1, 49, ff.). They were surrounded by the senate, whose retention of the judicia depended on their verdict. They were watched by the equites, whose recovery of the judicia rested on the same issue.
But neither the senate nor the equites were probably the most anxious spectators of the proceedings.
The range of the defendant's extortions had been so wide, that the witnesses alone formed no inconsiderable portion of the audience. From the foot of Mount Taurus, from the shores of the Black Sea, from many cities of the Grecian mainland, from many islands of the Aegean, from every city and market-town of Sicily, deputations thronged to Rome.
In the porticoes and on the steps of the temple, in the area of the Forum, in the colonnades that surrounded it, on the house-tops and on the overlooking declivities, were stationed dense and eager crowds of impoverished heirs and their guardians, bankrupt publicani and cornmerchants, fathers bewailing their children carried off to the praetor's harem, children mourning for their parents dead in the praetor's dungeons, Greek nobles whose descent was traced to Cecrops or Eurysthenes or to the great Ionian and Minyan houses, and Phoenicians whose ancestors had been priests of the Tyrian Melcarth, or claimed kindred with the Zidonian Iah. " All these and more came flocking," and the casual multitude was swelled by thousands of spectators from Italy partly attracted by the approaching games, and partly by curiosity to behold a criminal who had scourged and crucified Roman citizens, who had respected neither local nor national shrines, and who boasted that wealth would even yet rescue the murderer, the violator, and the temple-robber from the laws of man and from the nemesis of the Gods.
The provincials scrupled not to avow that if Verres were acquitted, they would petition the senate to rescind at once the laws against malversation, that so for the time to come provincial governors might plunder, merely to enrich themselves, and not also to provide the means of averting penalties which were never enforced.
The fact that of the seven Verrine orations--for the Divinatio in Caecilium
belongs to them -- two only, the Divinatio
and the Actio Prima,
were spoken, while the remaining five were compiled from the depositions after the verdict, may seem at first sight to detract from their oratorical if not from their literary value.
But so perfectly has Cicero imparted to the entire series the semblance of delivery, and so rarely did the orators of antiquity pronounce extempore speeches, that we probably lose little by the course which necessity imposed on the orator. For while following the various moods and evolutions of this great impeachment, it seems almost impossible to believe that Verres was not actually writhing beneath the scourge, that Hortensius was not listening in impotent dismay, that the judices were not hurried along by the burning words and the glowing pictures of vice, ignominy, and crime, that the senate was not panic-struck, that the equites and the plebs were not hailing the dawn of retribution, and that the provincials were not gazing in fear and wrath upon the panorama of malversation exhibited by Cicero.
In the Catilinarian orations the invective is perhaps more condensed, and the tone of the speech more strictly forensic : in the Philippics the assault is deadlier since the struggle was internecine.
But in neither does the imagination of the orator embrace so wide a range of topics, expatiate so genially on whatever was collateral to the cause, or wield with such absolute sway the powers of language and rhetoric as in the Verrine orations.
It is almost needless to point out instances of satire, invective, argument, and description which have ever since furnished works of rhetoric with examples and the practical orator with studies in his art.
A few of the most striking in each kind may be ranged under the following heads.
Remarkable aspects of the Verrine Orations
The details of this crime are summed up in the peroration of the 5th book of the 2d. Pleading.
The peroration itself may be compared with Burke's conclusion to his general charge against Warren Hastings. Special narratives of sacrilege are found (2.1. 18, 19, 20), and throughout the oration De Signis.
2. Tampering with law and ignorance of precedents.
See the whole account De Praetura Urbana
(2.1. 40-60); the introduction to Jurisdictio Siciliensis
(2.2. 7ff.) and (2.3) Leges Decumanae Hieronicae.
3. Extortion of money, works of art, &c.
(2.1. 17, 34, 2. 6. 22-28); and the oration de Signis
4. Corruption of morals
(2.124), and the oration de Suppliciis
5. Negligence in administration
(2.5. 23-46), and "Praetura Urbana.
Cicero's own division of the impeachment is the following :
||In Q. Caecilium or Divinatio |
||Proemium -- Actio Prima -- Statement of the Case. |
These alone were spoken.
||Orations founded on the Depositions.
||Verres's official life to B. C. 73. |
||Jurisdictio Siciliensis. |
||Oratio Frumentaria. |
||------ De Signis. |
||------ De Suppliciis. |
These were circulated as documents or manifestoes of the cause after the flight of Verres.
A good abstract of the Verrine Impeachment is given by Drumnann (Geschichte Roms,
vol. v. p. 263-328, Tullii.