previous next


PROSCRI´PTIO The word proscriptio, signifying primarily the “writing up” of anything, was generally used to denote a written public notice of sale; proscriptio bonorum was thus applied to the notice of property sold by auction: and amongst goods disposed of in this way would be the confiscated goods of persons who were declared public enemies by the state. It was this last meaning, that of the sale of goods forfeited by the outlawry of their possessors, that became specially attached to the word after the occupation of Rome by Sulla in 82 B.C. Since, however, a decree of outlawry by the state included not only the forfeit of property, but the forfeit of life ( “de capite civis et de bonis proscriptio,” Cic. pro Sest. 30, 65), the word involved both significations; and the special connotation that attached to it was that of the absence of all protection to the lives of persons so outlawed, who were themselves called proscripti. Sulla was the first to “proscribe” in this new sense, and to make a declaration of outlawry against political enemies a definite political measure (Veil. 2.28, 3; App. BC 1.95). The form which the measure took was the posting up of a list setting forth the names of the victims, with certain decrees necessary for its execution attached. Thus this notice did not merely give the passive permission to take the lives of the persons so outlawed, which was recognised by the Roman law (Festus, s. v. sacer), but offered rewards, both for information which might lead to their death, and for their execution at the hands of either citizens or slaves; while it imposed penalties on those who should seek to protect them (App. BC 1.95). This proscription of large numbers of Roman citizens by Sulla, although an act of individual policy, and in part perhaps an act of vengeance, was yet supported by a political pretext. This was a declaration that they were hostes, or enemies to the state, through their complicity with its foreign foes; and enemies besides that had forfeited all claims to protection, through the breach of the covenant that Sulla had made with the consul Scipio, and which, he maintained, bound all the Marian party. All connivance with his enemies subsequent to the date of this treaty was sufficient to place a man's name on the list (App. ib.), and the confiscation of property was applied not only [p. 2.504]to those proscribed at Rome, but to all who had fallen in the ranks of his opponents (Cic. pro Rosc. Amer. 43, 126). The fact that those proscribed were regarded as hostes naturally affected the status of their children and descendants who suffered a capitis deminutio. This loss of status was not rigorously carried out, however, and they were only disfranchised for certain purposes which were specified (Plut. Sull. 31). They were debarred from all public offices in the state, but yet not entirely degraded from their social position, for one of the ordinances declared that the sons of senators, while excluded from the privileges of their order, should yet undertake its burdens (Vell. 2.28, 3). They seem also to have been forbidden certain private rights, such as the acceptance of legacies; and the spirit, if not the letter, of the law that sanctioned Sulla's arrangements seems even to have cut them off from all active assistance at the hands of their fellow-citizens (Cic. in Verr. 1.47, 123). The effect was to debar them as far as possible from all chances of a public career ( “a republica summoveri,” Cic. ap. Quinct. 2.1, 85), which, considering the hereditary policy of Roman houses, was no doubt the deliberate design of Sulla, to further the permanence of his constitution. The authorities on the Sullan proscriptions agree generally that the proscription list was published before the dictatorial power was conferred on Sulla (Plut. Sull. 32; App. BC 1.97). When it was conferred, a retrospective sanction was given to his acts, and a special clause granted him the power to adjudicate on the lives and property of the citizens (Plut. ib.; Cic. de Leg. Agr. 3.2, 7). The law which conferred these powers on Sulla was the Lex Valeria, passed by the interrex L. Valerius Flaccus (App. BC 1.98): a law, however, which was so entirely the work of Sulla, and so intimately bound up with his own subsequent legislation, that Cicero calls it indifferently the Lex Valeria or Cornelia (Cic. in Verr. 1.47, 123). These acts may, however, have received a further legal sanction from Sulla himself, and Cicero's language rather implies that they did (Cic. ap. Quinct. 2.1, 85). The legality of these regulations was never questioned; Cicero, while affirming their injustice, never doubts their legality (de Leg. 1.15): and the disabilities imposed on the children of the proscribed still remained in force after many of Sulla's laws had been repealed, and was the one point in his legislation which neither the democratic nor the moderate aristocratic party ventured to assail. The number actually put to death in the Sullan proscriptions is variously given: subsequent additions were continually being made until the list was complete (App. 1.95; Plut. Sull. 31), but the total of 4,700, that is given by Valerius Maximus (9.2, 1), of which 2,000 were senators and equites, is probably not above the mark. This proscription of Sulla was merely the legalised form of the massacre and confiscation which his opponents, the Marians, had conducted in a hardly less destructive, though more informal, manner. It was no doubt regarded by its author as necessary to his work of re-organisation; and was almost an inevitable result of the first use of the military power for this purpose. So far as it was a necessity of the times, it was rendered so by the absence of the punishment of death in Roman law, and by the growing extent of the Roman Empire, which rendered the exiling of opponents useless and even dangerous. In Sulla's case it was rendered more desirable by the necessity he was under of raising revenues to recompense his soldiers-After Sulla it was regarded as the natural, and almost necessary consequence, of any violent restoration. Had Pompey been victorious in the civil war, his victory would almost certainly have been followed by a proscription (Cic. Att. 9.1. 0, 6; 11.6, 2); while the same fears were entertained, by the moderate party at Rome, of the probable conduct of Caesar, if he became master of the city (Cic. Att. 9.7, 5; 10.8, 2). The assassination of Caesar by those whom he had spared gave an impetus to the next proscription, and a plausible excuse for its advisability (App. BC 4.8). The precedent set by Sulla was taken up with still more vigour by the triumvirs Antony, Octavian, and Lepidus, in 43 B.C. (Suet. Oct. 27; App. Civ. Bell. 4.5). The number of the upper classes now proscribed exceeded that of Sulla. For the party chiefly aimed at by the triumvirs was that of the optimates (οἱ δυνατοί, App. 4.5), the strict constitutional party, whose power it was necessary to break down; and accordingly 2,000 equites and 300 senators were in the list. The proscription was carried out from motives of personal hatred, except perhaps on the part of Octavian, quite as much as from such considerations of political necessity as were recognised by Sulla. The motive of raising money by confiscation was still more present in this proscription, while private enmity and private greed played a large part in it (App. BC 4.5). But in other respects this second proscription was directed by stricter adherence to the forms of law. It did not definitely commence until the triumvirs had been invested with their extraordinary powers reipublicae constituendae (Liv. Ep. 20, 24; App. BC 4.7), although a preliminary proscription of sixteen persons, amongst whom was Cicero, had been carried out by the consul Pedius, on a mandate from the triumvirs. In, other respects the proscription resembled that of Sulla, and was directed by the same supposed necessities, but, in that it aimed more definitely at the dissolution of a specific party in the state, its effects were more permanently felt; it assisted in destroying a section of the community that had united interests opposed to those of the rising monarchy (Tac. Ann. 1.2, 1).


hide References (18 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (18):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 10.2
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 10.8
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 9.11.2
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 9.5
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 9.7
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.11.95
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.11.97
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.11.98
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 4.2.5
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 4.2.7
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 4.2.8
    • Cicero, For Sextus Roscius of Ameria, 43
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.1.123
    • Cicero, On the Agrarian Law, 3.2
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.1
    • Tacitus, Annales, 1.2
    • Plutarch, Sulla, 31
    • Plutarch, Sulla, 32
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: