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First proposal of life imprisonment

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman silver denarius depicting Caesar
Roman silver denarius depicting Caesar

In 63 BCE Cicero, who was the consul, gave his famous speech at a Senate meeting against Lucius Sergius Catilina, a member of an impoverished old patrician family, whom he accused of a planned coup.

The speech was so effective that Catilina was forced to leave the city and travel north to Etruria to gather the army. At that time, Gallic envoys appeared in Rome who had come to complain about the exploitation by officials in Gaul. The conspirators of Catilina in the city decided that they could count on their support and will try to recruit them to their forces against those who wield power in Rome. The Gauls, however, decided to convey these revelations to Cicero, who ordered the arrest of the conspirators in the city.

During the next session of the Senate, Julius Caesar suggested that the detainees should first be imprisoned either until they are tried, or for life. As it turns out – if the accounts are to be believed – this was the first time that life imprisonment and isolation of a person from society, instead of the death penalty, were proposed. It should be mentioned that in ancient Rome, three types of punishment were recognized in practice: a fine, exile, or just death.

However, Cicero did not agree with the idea of ​​Caesar, who finally sentenced Roman citizens to death. After the execution, he was to announce Vixere, meaning “they lived”.

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

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