defended by Cicero in the year of his consulship, B. C. 63, in a speech still extant. In B. C. 100 L. Appuleius Saturninus, the tribune of the plebs, had been declared an outlaw by the senate, besieged in the Capitol, and put to death with his accomplices, when he had been obliged to surrender through want of water.
This had happened in the consulship of Marius, who had been compelled to conduct the attack, and had been supported by the leading men in the state. Among the few survivors of the actors in that scene, was the senator C. Rabirius, who had since lived in retirement, and had now attained a great age.
As nearly forty years had elapsed, it would have appeared that he could have had no danger to apprehend on account of the part he had taken in the affray; and he would doubtless have been allowed to continue undisturbed, had not Caesar judged it necessary to deter the senate from resorting to arms against the popular party, and to frighten every one in future from injuring the sacred person of a tribune, even in obedience to the senate's decree. Caesar, therefore, resolved to make an example of Rabirius, and accordingly induced the tribune, T. Labienus, whose uncle had perished among the followers of Saturninus, to accuse Rabirius of having murdered the tribune. To make the warning still more striking, Labienns did not proceed against him on the charge of majestas,
but revived the old accusation of perduellio,
which had been discontinued for some centuries, since persons found guilty of thelatter crime were given over to the public executioner and hanged on the accursed tree.
In accusations of perduellio, the criminal was brought to trial before the Duumviri Perduellionis,
who were specially appointed for the occasion, and who had in former times been nominated by the comitia, first of the curiae and afterwards of the centuries. On the present occasion, however, but on what ground we are not told, the duumviri were appointed by the praetor. They were C. Caesar himself and his relative L. Caesar.
With such judges the result could not be doubtful; Rabirius was forthwith condemned; and the sentence of death would have been carried into effect, had he not availed himself of his right of appeal to the people in the comitia of the centuries.
The case excited the greatest interest; since it was not simply the life or death of Rabirius, but the power and authority of the senate, which were at stake.
The aristocracy made every effort to save the accused ; while the popular leaders, on the other hand, used every means to excite the multitude against him, and thus secure his condemnation. On the day of the trial Labienus placed the bust of Saturninus in the Campus Martius, who thus appeared, as it were, to call for vengeance on his murderers. Cicero and Hortensius appeared on behalf of Rabirius ; but that they might not have much opportunity for moving the people by their eloquence, Labienus limited the defence to half an hour. Cicero did all he could for his client.
He admitted that Rabirius had taken up arms against Saturninus ; but denied that he had killed the tribune, who had perished by the hands of a slave of the name of Sceva.
The former act he justified by the example of Marius, the great hero of the people, as well as of all the other distinguished men of the time.
But the eloquence of the advocate was all in vain; the people demanded vengeance for the fallen tribune. They were on the point of voting, and would infallibly have ratified the decision of the duunmvirs, had not the meeting been broken up by the praetor, Q. Metellus Celer, who removed the military flag which floated on the Janiculum.
This was in accordance with an ancient custom, which was intended to prevent the Campus Martins from being surprised by an enemy, when the territory of Rome scarcely extended beyond the boundaries of the city; and the practice was still maintained, though it had lost all its significance, from that love of preserving the form at least of all ancient institutions, which so particularly distinguishes the Romans. Rabirius thus escaped, and was not brought to trial again; since Caesar could have had no wish to take the old man's life, and he had already taught the senate an important lesson. (D. C. 37.26
; Suet. Jul. 12
; Cic. pro C. Rabir.
passim, in Pis. 2, Orat.
The previous account has been taken from Dio Cassius, who relates the whole affair with great minuteness. Niebuhr, however, in his preface to Cicero's oration for Rabirius, has questioned the accuracy of the account in Dio Cassius; urging that Cicero speaks (100.3) of the infliction of a fine by Labienus, which could have nothing to do with a trial of perduellio; and also that Labienus complained of Cicero's having done away with the trial for perduellio ("nam de perduellionis judicio, quod a me sublatumn esse criminari soles, ncuinn crinmen est, non Rabirii," 100.3). Niebuhr, therefore, thinks that the decision of the duumviri was quashed by the consul and the senate, on the ground that the duumviri were appointed by the praetor, contrary to law; and that the speech of Cicero, which is extant, was delivered before the people, not in defence of Rabirius on an accusation of perduellio, but to save him from the payment of a heavy fine, in which Labienus attempted to condemn him, despairing of a more severe punishment.
But, in the first place, the strong language which Cicero employs throughout this speech would be almost ridiculous, if the question only related to the imposition of a fine; and in the second place the objections which Niebuhr makes to the account of Dio Cassius, from the language of Cicero, can hardly be sustained.
With respect to the former of the two objections, it will be seen by a reference to the oration (100.3), that Labienus proposed to inflict two punishments on Rabirius, a fine on account of the offences he had committed in his private life, and death on account of the crime of perduellio in murdering Saturninus : to render the vengeance more complete, he wished to confiscate his property as well as take away his life. Cicero most clearly distinguishes between the two.
As to the latter objection, that Labienus said that Cicero had done away with trials for perduellio, it is probable that these words only refer to the resolution of Cicero to defend Rabirius, and to certain assertions which he may have made in the senate respecting the illegality or inexpediency of renewing such an antiquated form of accusation. (Comp. Drumann, Geschichte Roms,
vol. iii. p. 163; Mérimée, E'tudes sur l' Histoire Romaine,
vol. ii. p. 99, &c.)
C. Rabirius had no children of his own, and adopted the son of his sister, who accordingly took his name.
As the latter was born after the death of his father, he is called C. Rabirius Postumus. This Rabirius, whom Cicero also defended, in B. C. 54, is spoken of under POSTUMUS.