What have we said about human rights in Ancient Rome, and have we said it effectively? How far does our evidence support the belief that the principles were clearly perceived and vigorously applied?
The picture is something of a patchwork. Four things in particular stand out on the credit side. They are, first, voluntary exile; second, the protection against ill-treatment afforded to non-Romans, primarily to those who were provincials, but also to those who were outside the circle; third, freedom of speech (mainly in the Republic); and fourth, social welfare. Polybius was greatly impressed by voluntary exile; he knew of nothing in his world to match it. As for the consideration shown to non-Romans, the enthusiasm backed by expertise that Cicero brought to bear on it speaks for itself, as does its professionalisation in the Principate. Coupled with the liberal extension of citizenship, which was the other side of the same coin, it was one of the reasons why Rome was able to create an enduring empire that had eluded the Greeks. Freedom of speech and social welfare speak for themselves.
Punishment is more equivocal. Cicero fulminates against cruel punishments, but it is not the death penalty as such that troubles him. As long as it is inflicted in an approved manner, and after fair trial, he has no complaint; any twinge of conscience is allayed by the panacea of utilitas publica. Seneca is equally selective, though on a somewhat different level. His bête noire is the special kind of nastiness served up at the games, something to which Cicero is indifferent. Yet both in the Republic and in the Principate strenuous efforts to reduce the incidence of death sentences were made. The Republic pinned its hopes on voluntary exile, to such good effect that executions were, at least under regular