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Proscription in ancient Rome

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Proscription (proscriptio, pl. proscriptiones) it was originally in ancient Rome announcing the auction of the debtor’s property, and later enlisting of outlaws – political opponents and in consequence depriving them of their citizenship, property and sentencing to exile. Prudential children and grandchildren were marked with infamy.

For the release or even the killing of hiding Romans, anyone could get high prizes (2 talents); slaves were promised freedom (period of the second triumvirate). The names of citizens subjected to proscriptions were placed on stone tablets in public places. The most severe punishments were sought for all help.

It was not possible to inherit property from a proscribed person, while the outlaw’s wife did not have the opportunity to get married again. Most of the victims of the proscrption were decapitated, and their heads were spotted and displayed on the Forum Romanum. Children and descendants of the proscribed were forever deprived of the right to seek public office and sit in the senate.

The proscription was used for the first time on a large scale in the times of the Sulla dictatorship (82-81 BCE). Persecution was revenge of Sulla for the massacre during the reign of Gaius Marius and his son. The persecution affected nearly three thousand opponents of the political dictator, and then many personal and political enemies were sacked. Sulla, apart from getting rid of rivals, primarily aimed to supplement the Roman Treasury ( Aerarium), which was severely stripped during the First Civil War and military expeditions outside the Republic. Sulla’s proscripts were supervised by his freedman Lucius Cornelius Chrysogonus.

Julius Caesar, after winning the civil war, gave up proscribing, showing grace and goodness. What’s more, he withdrew the “fate” from the descendants of the proscribed people for Sulla.

In 43 BCE members of the II triumvirate Mark Antony, Octavian and Lepidus re-announced the proscription lists (tabulae proscriptionis). During these proscriptions, several hundred senators and several thousand rich equites were killed (including Marcus Tullius Cicero or his brother Quintus Tullius Cicero). The deaths were avoided by Lucius Julius Caesar or Lepidus’s brother; they were deprived of their property. Many old Roman families ended their existence in a similar way. Triumvirs, thanks to proscriptions, raised additional funds for the Treasury.

Very often the desire to enrich encouraged the inhabitants of the Empire to issue proscriptions. We know the story of Pomponia (sister-in-law of Cicero), who killed in a sophisticated manner the freedman Philologus, whom she accused of complicity in the murder of her husband, who was on the list of proscribed. She forced the poor wretch to gradually cut off the limbs, cook and eat them.

  • Koper Sławomir, Życie prywatne i erotyczne w starożytnej Grecji i Rzymie, Warszawa 1998

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