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Murder Was Not a Crime

Homicide and Power in the Roman Republic

By Judy E. Gaughan

Publication Year: 2009

This pathfinding study looks at how homicide was treated in Roman law from the Roman monarchy through the dictatorship of Sulla (ca. 753–79 BC) to show how criminal law can reveal important aspects of the nature and evolution of political power.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: Ashley and Peter Larkin Series in Greek and Roman Culture

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xiv

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pp. xv-xvi

The impetus for this book lies in a peculiar state of affairs I discovered some years ago in the process of researching and writing my dissertation: the Romans seem to have had a murder law during the monarchy but not during the republic....

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pp. xvii-xx

I have had the remarkable good fortune throughout my academic career to have consistently worked with scholars who took their pleasure in the acquisition of knowledge and the advancement of intelligence, not in the dance of one-upmanship. The places where I found these remarkable people start with my undergraduate...

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pp. 1-8

During the Roman republic murder was not a crime. In other words, the “killing of a human being by another with malice aforethought” was not “an act done in violation of those duties which an individual owes to the community and for the breach of which the law has provided that the offender shall make satisfaction to the public.”1 Indeed, the republican Romans had neither the capacity...

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One. Killing and the King

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pp. 9-22

According to Roman tradition, the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, a man with a reputation for justice and piety, promulgated a law that prohibited murder.1 One reason for the promulgation of the law during the monarchy is that the monarchs were trying to establish their own power in the face of what had preceded them, and one means of doing so was to control the power to kill. The...

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Two. Power of Life and Death: Pater and Res Publica

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pp. 23-52

Through the course of the Roman republic, power was diffused both within the institutions of government and beyond them. In many ways, managing and providing stability for an ever expanding and ever more complex...

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Three. Killing and the Law, 509–450 B.C.E.

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pp. 53-66

According to Roman tradition, when the Romans ousted their kings and established annual magistracies, the chief magistrates retained the political powers of the kings; among these was the right of summary execution. These magistrates, in addition, carried symbols of royal power in the...

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Four. Murder Was Not a Crime, 449–81 B.C.E.

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pp. 67-89

If murder was not a crime, what was? Before the middle of the second century B.C.E., there were no crimes. This does not mean that before the middle of the second century the Romans experienced either total nihilistic anarchy or beatific peaceful relations, only that the mechanisms for dealing with disputes, even violent disputes, must almost always have been beyond the purview of the government....

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Five. Capital Jurisdiction, 449–81 B.C.E.

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pp. 90-108

The Romans are infamous in history for their many ingenious methods of killing and for the abundance of the killing that took place during their regime. Much of this killing, however, was not a product of the republic. Indeed, what is so striking about the republic in this regard is that, outside of war and the military, officials and institutions of republican government seldom killed...

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Six. License to Kill

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pp. 109-125

In a book about the relationship between homicide and political power, the killings of Roman tribunes and their supporters, starting with the death of Tiberius Gracchus in 132, hold a particularly profound place. In 133 B.C.E., Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio, nominally a private citizen but in fact a powerful man in Roman government, led a band of senators into the tribal assembly and participated...

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Seven. Centralization of Power and Sullan Ambiguity

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pp. 126-140

In a book about homicide and its relationship to political power, Lucius Cornelius Sulla takes center stage. As consul in 88 B.C.E. he marched his troops against the city of Rome and then created the hostis (“enemy of the state”) declaration, which made certain citizens of Rome (and personal enemies of Sulla) into enemies of the res publica and therefore subject to death. While proconsul and general fighting...


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pp. 141-142


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pp. 143-180


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pp. 181-190


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pp. 191-194

E-ISBN-13: 9780292795136
E-ISBN-10: 0292795130
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292721111
Print-ISBN-10: 0292721110

Page Count: 214
Illustrations: none
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Ashley and Peter Larkin Series in Greek and Roman Culture