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

By Judy E. Gaughan | Go to book overview

THREE
KILLING AND THE L AW,
509–450 B.C.E.

According to Roman tradition, when the Romans ousted their kings and established annual magistracies, the chief magistrates retained the political powers of the kings; among these was the right of summary execution. These magistrates, in addition, carried symbols of royal power in the fasces, a bundle of rods and axes bound together, signifying the chief magistrates’ right to scourge and kill citizens. Then, in the second year of the fledgling republic—the tradition continues—the consul Valerius limited the magisterial authority of summary execution by promulgating a provocatio law whereby Roman citizens could appeal to the people from capital and corporal sentences of magistrates. At the same time Valerius passed a law removing the axes from the fasces when they were carried within the city. Thus, he limited the actual right to kill at the same time that he removed the visible symbol of that right. The right to kill and the simultaneous limitation of that right remained a characteristic expression of the power possessed by chief magistrates throughout the republic as well as a characteristic expression of the relationship between magistrates and citizens.

The Roman tradition about provocatio and the fasces reveals two important themes of this study: the right to commit homicide is a means of defining supreme power, and the supreme power does not belong exclusively in the hands of a centralized institution of the government. The sixth and fifth centuries B.C.E. saw the creation of some of the formative ideology of the relationship between citizens and their government: the relationships among the evolving institutions of the government; the founding of republican magistracies and other institutions; the beginning of the struggle for power between plebeians and patricians, which put its indelible mark on these institutions; and the publication of laws shaped how the government functioned. Any study of these formative years is hindered by the

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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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