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δεσμωτήριον). A prison.

1. Greek

Imprisonment was seldom used among the Greeks as a legal punishment for offences. Among the Athenians, with whom we are chiefly concerned, it was practically unknown in the sense of confinement for a definite period after conviction. They had neither the appliances in the shape of walls and bars, nor were they willing to incur the expense; and they preferred either banishment or the death penalty. Capital punishment was inflicted without hesitation for comparatively trifling offences, but by more humane methods than those of modern Europe until quite recent times.

Imprisonment before trial, on the other hand, was common enough, though bail was freely accepted in cases other than capital; the terror of exile was in general thought sufficient to keep a man to his bail (ἐγγύη). The farmers of the taxes and lessees of other revenues (τελῶναι, μισθούμενοι), as well as their sureties (οἱ ἐγγυώμενοι), were liable to imprisonment if the duties were not paid by a specified time; and in cases where default was to be feared, they might even be imprisoned at the discretion of the Senate or law-courts. This was the great safeguard to insure regularity of payment. Again, persons who had been mulcted in penalties might be confined till they paid them, not only in criminal cases, but in some civil actions instituted for damages as well. Certain of the ἄτιμοι also, if they exercised the rights of citizenship, were subject to the same consequences (Demosth. c. Timocr. p. 732.103). We read, moreover, of δεσμός as a public stigma put upon disgraceful offences, such as theft; but this was a προστίμημα or additional penalty, the infliction of which was at the option of the court; and the δεσμός itself was not so much an imprisonment as a public exposure in the ποδοκάκκη or stocks, for five days and nights—called also ἐν ξύλῳ δεδέσθαι (Demosth. loc. cit., p. 700.2; pp. 732-733.103, 105; p. 736.114). One more description of imprisonment remains to be noticed, that in the interval between condemnation and execution. In this last case, owing to the insecurity of the building, the prisoner was chained, and was under the special custody of the Eleven, who were also responsible for the execution itself. See Hendeka.

There are several passages from which we might infer the existence at Athens of imprisonment as a punishment by itself—e. g. Plato, Apol. 37 C; Laws, ix. 864E, 880 B, and especially x. 908. But such vague allusions prove nothing against the persistent silence of the historians and orators. “Of imprisonment as a punishment by itself,” Schömann argues, “we have no certain example”; and this remark in his text is supported by a good note (Antiq. i. 489, Eng. trans.). The opposite and less probable opinion has, however, been maintained by K. F. Hermann (Staatsalterth. 139) and Caillemer (ap. Daremberg and Saglio).

The prison at Athens is frequently mentioned in the orators, both by its usual name, δεσμωτήριον, and the euphemistic equivalent οἴκημα. But the plural δεσμωτήρια does not seem to occur in any Attic writer, though there are passages where, if a plurality of prisons existed at Athens, we should almost certainly find them mentioned. This argument seems almost decisive in favour of the opinion of J. H. Lipsius (Att. Process, p. 73 n.), that there was only one. The authority of Hesychius and the Etymologicum Magnum is insufficient to prove, in the face of probability, that there was an Athenian prison called Θησεῖον; and there is no proof that the other names for prisons recorded by the grammarians are to be referred to Athens. Among these local names was ἀναγκαῖον or ἀνάκαιον in Boeotia, κέραμος in Cyprus, κῶς at Corinth; and among the Ionians γοργύρη, as at Samos (Herod.iii. 145); βάλαικες or βαλαίκακες, βλέορον, ἴψον, σιρός, all mentioned by Hesychius. The appearance of the Latin carcer in the Sicilian Greek κάρκαρον, and conversely of the Greek λατομίαι in the Latin lautumiae, is noticed by Mommsen as a proof of the early intercourse between the Romans and Sicily (R. H. i. 167, Eng. trans.). Some of the above names may be slang or nicknames, such as are often applied to prisons in our own day: thus γοργύρα is explained to mean “a sewer”; ἴψον may be connected with ἶπος, “a mouse-trap.” The gate through which criminals were led to execution was called χαρώνειον or θύρα χαρώνειος (Poll.viii. 102), a grim joke which can hardly have arisen at Athens, where executions were private.

The Attic expression for imprisonment was δεῖν, a word which by no means implies the use of chains or fetters. The phrase in the oath of the βουλευταί, or senators, οὐδὲ δήσω Ἀθηναίων οὐδένα, is explained by Demosthenes (c. Timocr. p. 746.147) as a security against arbitrary imprisonment by the executive government without trial. It was, in fact, the habeas corpus of the Athenian constitution. But he is careful to add ( 151) that no such words occur in the oath of the Heliastae or dicasts; the law-courts had absolute power over men's lives, liberties, and fortunes. We have also the phrase ἄδεσμος φυλακή (as in Thuc.iii. 34), like the libera custodia of the Romans, signifying that a person was under strict surveillance and guard, though not confined within the walls of a prison.

2. Roman

The oldest prison at Rome, traditionally the only one in early times (Juv.iii. 312), was called simply Carcer; and is still to be seen on the eastern slope of the Capitoline Hill, to the right of the ascent from the Forum. The name Mamertinus, usually applied to the Carcer, is mediæval and not classical. The Tullianum consists of a larger oblong upper and a smaller underground circular dungeon; the latter is that called the Tullianum, a name which has often been incorrectly explained. As the original erection of the

Section of the Tullianum at Rome.

Carcer was attributed to Ancus Marcius (Livy, i. 33), it was conjectured by the etymologists that the name Tullianum must have been derived from Servius Tullius, “evidently a double mistake, as the lower chamber would certainly not have been added after the upper one” (Middleton, Anc. Rome, p. 80). It is now agreed that it is from the tullii, or springs for whose waters it formed a reservoir; that it was built in the first instance simply to protect the water supply of the Capitol; and was only in later times used as a part of the prison when a captive, as in the well-known instance of Iugurtha, was doomed to be killed by cold and starvation (Festus and P. Diac. s. v. tullii, pp. 352-353, Müller; Plut. Mar. 12; Burn, Rome and the Campagna, p. 81). The name therefore originally meant “wellhouse.” Thus Livy speaks of the infamous Pleminius as deiectus in Tullianum (xxix. 22), which in another passage is expressed by the words in inferiorem demissus carcerem necatusque (xxxiv. 44). It was here, too, that Lentulus and the other accomplices of Catiline were strangled by order of the triumviri capitales; and Sallust describes it as sunk twelve feet in the earth, strongly walled, and with a roof vaulted with stone arches ( Cat. 55). In reality, as modern investigations have shown, the construction is so old that it points to a time when the arch was not used in Roman architecture, standing next among existing remains to the prehistoric walls on the Palatine; the roof being of stone slabs, each overlapping the one beneath it, an approximation to the true arch found also in the well-known treasury of Mycenae and other primitive buildings. The upper chamber is also of very early date, but later than the Tullianum; and it is not in its primitive condition. A projecting string-course on the outside records a restoration in the reign of Tiberius by the consules suffecti for the year A.D. 22. Another name for this part of the prison was Robur, in old Latin Robus. The Robur is spoken of as a place of execution in several passages (Livy, xxxviii. 59; Tac. Ann. iv. 29), and is spoken of by Middleton as “the scene of countless butcheries and slow torture such as the Romans delighted in.” During each triumph, in his course up to the Capitol, the victorious general paused for a while near the Tullianum till word was brought him that some of his principal captives had been put to death in its gloomy vault. The Scalae Gemoniae (called by Gradus GemitoriiPliny , “stair of sighs”) led from the Forum to the door of the upper prison, and here the dead bodies of Sabinus, of Vitellius, of Seianus, and many other noted persons were exposed. (Cf. Tac. Hist. iii. 74, 85; Suet. Tib. 61; Vitell. 17; and the touching story in Pliny , Pliny H. N. viii. 145, of the faithful dog who there watched his master's body night and day and brought it food.)

The name Robur was given to the Tullianum from the oaken beams (robora) that lined it in early times. Plutarch (Marius, 12) calls the lower dungeon τὸ βάραθρον. A tradition of the Roman Church makes St. Peter and St. Paul to have been imprisoned here in the time of Nero, and declares the spring which still exists to have sprung up miraculously for the baptism of the jailers by St. Peter. The building has therefore been named S. Pietro in Carcere. See Middleton, Remains of Ancient Rome, i. pp. 151 foll., where a plan and section are given (London, 1892); and Mommsen, Hist. of Rome, i. 308 (American ed. 1888).

Sallust, in the passage already cited, gives an impressive picture of the lower vault in which Iugurtha and also Vercingetorix perished. “There is,” he says, “in the prison a chamber named the Tullianum, about twelve feet below the surface of the earth. It is surrounded by walls, and covered by a vaulted roof of stone; but its appearance is repulsive and fearful, because of the neglect, the darkness, and the stench.” Access to the lower dungeon was originally possible only through the hole in the ceiling. The exact proportions of the vault are 19 feet in length, 10 feet in width, and 6 1/2 feet in height.

The name Mamertinus, often applied to this prison, was bestowed upon it in the early part of the Middle Ages from a statue of Mars (Mamers) which stood near it on the Clivus Argentarius. From the same statue is derived the modern name of the street, Via del Marforio.

This prison was obviously too small to contain any number of prisoners, and probably from the first was appropriated to those condemned to death. The earliest mention of another prison is in the days of the Decemvirate, B.C. 450. Appius Claudius is said to have built one for political purposes, to overawe the champions of plebeian liberties (Livy, iii. 57). It was into this prison that he was himself thrown, and committed suicide while awaiting his trial. At a later period we find an additional prison called Lautumiae, or stone-quarries, in the immediate neighbourhood of the original Carcer. It is not likely that there were ever any quarries on this spot, which was to the northwest of the Forum; but it may have been named after the Syracusan λατομίαι mentioned above, which were thus used. Varro (L. L. v. 151, Müll.) identified the Lautumiae with the Tullianum, and has been followed by some of the moderns; but they are distinguished by the best writers on Roman topography (Becker, Röm. Alterth. i. 262-268; Burn, p. 80).

With the growth of the city other prisons became necessary; but the words of Roman historians generally refer to these alone. Close to the Carcer, and between it and the Temple of Concord, were the Scalae Gemoniae (q.v.), where the bodies of criminals were exposed after execution.

hide References (11 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (11):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.145
    • Plato, Laws, 9.864e
    • Plato, Apology, 37c
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.34
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.29
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 61
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 3, 57
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 33
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 38, 59
    • Sallust, Catilinae Coniuratio, 55
    • Plutarch, Caius Marius, 12
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