Human Rights in Ancient Rome

By Richard A. Bauman | Go to book overview
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8

THE NEW IMAGE OF HUMANITAS: PART TWO

Curbs on rapacity: jurisdiction

Most of the rules regulating the repetundae process in the Principate were drawn, either directly or by interpretation, from Caesar's lex Julia repetundarum of 59 BC. 1 That law was defined by the classical jurists as covering any improper receipt or acquisition of money by anyone occupying an official position or by any associate of such a person. 2

It was, however, not only the law that the Principate inherited from the Republic. There was also a legacy of problems. The jury-court for repetundae suffered from even more serious delays than the courts for other crimes. This was due to the twofold nature of the process. After reaching a verdict on the merits, that is, on the culprit's guilt as a whole, the jury moved on to the second phase, the litis/litium aestimatio at which the amounts to be repaid to complainants were assessed. This part of the case was particularly time-consuming. Another inconvenience was the need to hear witnesses from distant provinces. There was no system of circuit courts, and witnesses had to be brought to Rome. Yet another problem arose when excessive cruelty (saevitia) surrounding the exactions brought into play a capital penalty in addition to the pecuniary assessment.

In 4 BC the emperor Augustus took steps to rectify some of the problems, to put a more positive spin on humanitas Romana vis-à-vis non-Romans. He wanted to reinforce the welfare of the allies of the Roman people (= provincials), to ensure that 'none of our subjects' suffered any improper treatment or exactions. 3 He therefore arranged for the senate to enact the senatus consultum Calvisianum. 4

The primary purpose of the senatus consultum was to speed up the assessment part of a case. 5 Provision was made for the selection of

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