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Piso’s justice

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Seneca the Younger mentions an interesting story of Gnaeus Calpurnius Piso, the Roman governor of Syria and Roman politics (44 BCE – 20 CE) who was to get angry when he heard that only one of the two soldiers returned from a leave of absence.

Piso was furious and sentenced the legionary (who returned to the camp) to death, claiming that he did not produce his companion, therefore he probably killed him. When a soldier, accused of murder, was presenting his neck to the executioner’s sword, the lost comrade suddenly returned. The centurion supervising the execution ordered to interrupt and he decided to send the accused soldier to Piso, hoping that he would be pardoned.

To everyone’s surprise, Piso sentenced three Romans to death: a soldier who had been sentenced to death, because the sentence had already been given; a centurion overseeing the verdict, because he did not fulfill his duties; and a missing man who was an caused the deaths of two innocent people.

The famous phrase comes from this story: Fiat justitia ruat caelum! (“Let justice be done though the heavens fall”) and “Piso’s justice” – which can be understood as issuing a sentence in accordance with the law, but against morality.

  • Seneca the Younger, De Ira, I.XVIII, 3-5

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