Murder Was Not a Crime: Homicide and Power in the Roman Republic

By Judy E. Gaughan | Go to book overview

ONE
KILLING AND THE KING

According to Roman tradition, the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, a man with a reputation for justice and piety, promulgated a law that prohibited murder.1 One reason for the promulgation of the law during the monarchy is that the monarchs were trying to establish their own power in the face of what had preceded them, and one means of doing so was to control the power to kill. The kings arrogated such power for themselves and they defended, limited, or prohibited it in others. In addition to the self-interested motive of establishing and centralizing power, the kings also needed to ensure the stability of the kingdom. That stability was ensured by the maintenance of a good relationship with the gods, which an act of homicide could jeopardize. Thus, a murder law existed during the Roman monarchy because it served to establish and preserve the power of the king, and it served to keep the community safe.

A caveat is necessary here. No primary literary evidence about the monarchy exists, and references to this period by Roman authors writing centuries later are awash with legend and folkloric motifs. Later in this chapter, some reasons are provided regarding why some of the evidence might be taken seriously. The primary reason for including the discussion of the monarchic murder law in this book, however, is that it was the reported presence of a murder law in the monarchy and the apparent absence of one during most of the republic that began my thinking about the particular relationship in Rome between homicide and power. Even with the problematic nature of the sources, I ask more skeptical readers to consider the possibility that the distribution of power in the monarchy may indeed explain the existence of the attested murder law.

Five main points explored in this chapter reveal the intricate connection between the murder law of King Numa and the nature of monarchic power. First, the sources say that during the monarchy murder was regu

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Murder Was Not a Crime: Homicide and Power in the Roman Republic
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Preface xv
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • Introduction 1
  • One - Killing and the King 9
  • Two - Power of Life and Death 23
  • Three - Killing and the L Aw, 509–450 B.C.E 53
  • Four - Murder Was Not a Crime, 449–81 B.C.E 67
  • Five - Capital Jurisdiction, 449–81 B.C.E 90
  • Six - License to Kill 109
  • Seven - Centralization of P Ower and Sull An Ambiguity 126
  • Epilogue 141
  • Notes 143
  • Bibliography 181
  • Index 191
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