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Attempt to curb governors’ offences

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Roman senators
Roman senators

Ancient Romans after they conquered in the second century BCE a large part of the Mediterranean, they had to learn to rule the conquered peoples. Often, however, governors used their offices to exploit the inhabitants and generate their wealth.

The Romans were aware of the ubiquitous injustice in the provinces and tried to remedy this. We have the first information on such activities from Cicero. In his letter from 59 BCE, addressed to brother Quintus, we learn what qualities and values ​​should be given by the administrator of the Roman province: honesty, impartiality, continuity and integrity. Moreover, we find out that in 149 BCE a criminal court was set up in Rome to which foreigners could appeal in the event of offenses by governors.

In addition, around 1500 in Urbino, northern Italy, 11 bronze fragments were excavated, as it later turned out, the Compensation Act. This act was created on the initiative of the people’s tribune Gaius Gracchus, and was aimed at enabling the inhabitants of the province to try to recover the property stolen by the governor. It should be noted, however, that the injured party had to reckon with a trip to Rome if he wanted to believe. In addition, he could not count on any compensation in the event of torture, rape or offence.

The said document strictly specified who can apply for compensation and what damages and compensations the injured person can count on. What’s more, the foreigner could count on help in setting up the case. The law also stipulated that no one related to the accused could sit among 50 lay judges. We also know how votes were cast. Each of the lay judges wrote his decision on a piece of boxwood (of specific dimensions) and threw it into the urn in such a way that his fingers covered the entry and the toga did not cover his shoulder.

So, as you can see, in ancient Rome, attempts were made to remedy the injustices of the weakest, and even counteract manipulation and fraud in the courts. According to Mary Beard, between the issue of the law (the 20s of 2nd century BCE) and 70 BCE 30 cases were instituted, of which almost half had a conviction.

  • Beard Mary, SPQR. Historia starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2016

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