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Parricidia

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Chained slaves
Chained slaves | Photo: By Angus McBride

Parricidia, was one of the most serious crimes in Roman criminal law. The term was used to refer to the killing of relatives.

This act was penalized in the Cornelian Act on Killers and Poisoners, and then more broadly in the Pompeian Act on Kinders of Relatives – this legal act included, inter alia, a directory of relatives whose murder should be considered parricidia. Cognition in cases relating to these crimes was granted to the jury. Such a court consisted of about 60 judges, selected from among senators by lot. They were usually headed by iudex quaestionis, a function usually entrusted to praetors. It should be noted, however, that the competence of the jury was only to find the accused guilty or innocent, while the penalty was strictly provided for by statute. It was always the death penalty.

The Roman judges in this case strictly adhered to the letter of the law, even though at times the murder was rooted in causes that many may have assumed were justifiable. History has preserved a record of some of these processes to this day.

Plutarch of Chaeronea, in his Life of Romulus, wondered how Rome’s founder and legislator could not have foreseen the punishment for parricidum. Ultimately, he concluded that the peculiarity was possible because Romulus did not believe that such a disgusting crime could even be committed by anyone. And as Plutarch continued, in fact, for almost six centuries, this crime did not occur until Lucius Hostius committed his first patricide after the war with Hannibal.

Patricide and matricide were, according to the Romans, the most disgusting forms of parricidia. People who committed such a hideous act were closer to twisted monsters than to humans.

Defending one of the accused of patricide, Sixtus Roscius from Amelia, accused of murdering his father of the same name during the Sulla dictatorship, brought fame to Cicero. He managed to defend the young man. Despite being involved in the process of a powerful liberator dictator.

Author: Krzysztof Kaucz (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)

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