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CARCER (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

Carbatina, from bronze foot of a statue. (British Museum.)

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 (Demosth. c. Timrocr. p. 739.125; p. 741.131 ; ENGYE). 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 (Demosth. l.c. p. 713, § § 40, 41; BOULÉ, p. 312 b). This, as Demosthenes insists throughout the speech in question, 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 (Lex ap. Demosth. c. Mid. p. 529.47), but in some civil actions for damages as well, especially when the ἐπωβελία had been incurred (Demosth. c. Lacr. p. 939.46; c. Dionysod. p. 1204.4; EPOBELIA). 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 δεσμὸς 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 δεσμὸς itself was not so much an imprisonment as a public exposure in the ποδοκάκκη or stocks, for five days and nights--called also ἐν ξύλψ δεδέσθαι (Demosth. op. cit., p. 700.2; pp. 732-3, § § 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.

There are, no doubt, several passages from which we might infer the existence at Athens of imprisonment as a punishment by itself: e. g. Plat. Apol. 37 C; Laws, 9.864 E, 880 B, and especially 10.908. In this last passage Plato proposes to have three prisons: one of these was to be a σωφρονιστήριον or reformatory, and another a place of punishment for the incorrigible--a sort of penal settlement away from the city. But such vague allusions, as Westermann rightly insists (ap. Pauly, s. v. δεσμωτήριον), prove nothing against the persistent silence of the historians and orators. The speech of Andocides against Alcibiades, where we read ( § 4) ἐξὸν κολαζειν χρήμασι καὶ δεσμῷ καὶ θανάτῳ, is a mere rhetorical exercise; and the words of Lysias, ἐν τῷ δεσμωτηρίῳ δεδεμένος ἀπέθανε (c. Agorat. § 67) may easily refer to an untried prisoner. “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. 1.489, E. T.). The opposite and, as it seems to the present writer, 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 οί̀κημα. But the plural δεσμωτήρια does not seem to occur in any Attic writer, though there are passages (such as Demosth. c. Androt. p. 614.68; c. Timocr. p. 764, § § 208, 209) 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 Ullrich (Ueber die Elf-Männer, p. 231 f.) and J. H. Lipsius (Att. Process, p. 73 n.), that there was only one. The authority of Hesychius and the Etym. M. 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 (Hdt. 3.145; Pollux, 9.45); 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. 1.167, E. T.). 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 mousetrap.” The gate through which criminals were led to execution was called χαρώνειον or θύρα χαρώνειος (Poll. 8.102, Suidas, and several times in the Paroemiographers); 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 βουλευταὶ or senators, οὐδὲ δήσω Ἀθηναίων [p. 1.363]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. 3.34), 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. Sat. 3.312), 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 mediaeval and not classical. It 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 Carcer was attributed to Ancus Marcius (Liv. 1.33), 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, 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 Jugurtha, was doomed to be killed by cold and starvation (Festus and P. Diac. s. v. Tullii, pp. 352-3, Müller; Plut. Mar. 12; Burn, Rome and the Campagna, p. 81; Caillemer, ap. Daremberg and Saglio). Thus Livy speaks of the infamous Pleminius as “dejectus in Tullianum” (29.22), which in another passage is expressed by the words “in inferiorem demissus carcerem, necatusque” (34.44). 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 ( “insuper camera, lapideis fornicibus vincta,” 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; 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 22 A.D.: C. VIBIUS C. F. RVFINVS. M. COCCEIV[S NERVA] COS. EX S. C. Another name for this part of the prison was robur, in old Latin robus, thus explained by Festus (p. 264 M.): “Robus in carcere dicitur is locus, quo praecipitatur maleficorum genus, quod ante arcis robusteis includebatur.” The robur is spoken of as a place of execution in several passages. “In robore et tenebris exspirare,” Liv. 38.59; “Robur et saxum (sc. Tarpeium) minitari,” Tac. Ann. 4.29. So also we read of “Catenas--et Italum robur,” Hor. Carm. 2.13.18. The concluding words of Festus, “quod ante arcis robusteis includebatur,” must of course be explained of the oaken planks or beams with which the dungeon was formerly lined (Rein ap. Pauly, s. v. Tullianum, Orell. ad Tac. l.c.); not as by Caillemer, of wooden cages in which dangerous criminals were confined.

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 ( “quod domicilium plebis Romanae vocare sit solitus,” Liv. 3.57). 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; whether this was the prison of Appius, we do not know. It is not likely that there were ever any quarries on this spot, which was to the north-west of the Forum; but it may have been named after the Syracusan λατομίαι which were thus used (Mommsen, ubi supra). Varro (L. L. 5.151, 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. 1.262-268; Burn, p. 80). The Lautumiae were clearly of much greater extent; a conflagration in the region about the Forum, B.C. 210, extended to them, but not, it would seem, to the Carcer or the Capitol (Liv. 26.27); in B.C. 198 they were again full of prisoners and hostages, and were specially guarded in a time of conspiracy (id. 32.26); a few years later no less than forty-three leading Aetolians (Aetolorum principes, id. 37.3) were confined there.

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, where the bodies of criminals were exposed after execution. The cases are mentioned of Caepio, the consul defeated by the Cimbri (V. Max. 6.9.13, but cf. 4.7.3; Cic. pro Balbo, 111.28); Sejanus (D. C. 58.5; Juv. Sat. 10.66); other victims of Tiberius (Suet. Tib. 61; cf. cc. 54, 75); Sabinus (Tac. Hist. 3.74). Compare Burn, p. 81; Middleton, Anc. Rome in 1885, p. 78 ff.

[R.W] [W.W]

hide References (11 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (11):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.145
    • Thucydides, Histories, 3.34
    • Suetonius, Tiberius, 61
    • Tacitus, Annales, 4.29
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 3.74
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 38, 59
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 33
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 3, 57
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 26, 27
    • Plutarch, Caius Marius, 12
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 6.9.13
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