Against Verres 54 Essay

Building on the themes and the idiom of the previous paragraph, Cicero increases the intensity of his condemnation. Particularly aggressive features are: (a) the emphasis on a specific and highly venerable shrine (inclusive of its cult statue), that Verres violated, in contrast to the generic reference to shrines (ex fanis) in § 53; (b) the use of verbs from the sphere of warfare and military plunder (see esp. spoliare and invadere) to characterize Verres’ ‘collections’ of artworks; and (c) the inclusion of an emotive exclamation (quae, malum, est ista tanta audacia atque amentia!) that gives the impression that Cicero has reached the limits of his rhetoric – Verres’ actions are depraved beyond words.

The contrast between public and private continues: Cicero argues that military commanders displayed the spoils of their victory in the public spaces of Rome, rather than using them to adorn their personal estates. It is worth stressing that the picture he draws is highly idealized. Roman generals had much leeway over how to dispose of booty: they could distribute it among their soldiers, keep it for themselves, or hand it over to the public treasury (or any combination thereof). In general, the handling of booty was a highly controversial issue throughout the Republic.46 The famous quip of Cato the Elder that thieves of private property are put into shackles and fetters, whereas ‘public thieves’ (i.e. Roman generals) lead a life in wealth and luxury arguably offers a more realistic perspective, at cross-purposes to the one evoked by Cicero (see Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 11.18.18: fures privatorum furtorum in nervo atque in compedibus aetatem agunt, fures publici in auro atque in purpura): personal enrichment through war spoils was a prime source of financial and symbolic capital in Roman politics, especially during the last two centuries of the Republic.

What Cicero passes over in silence is that Verres could apparently rely on the help of local collaborators. Thus he mentions in a later speech that an inhabitant of Perge, a doctor with the name Artemidorus, acted as Verres’ executor and mastermind in the despoilment of his own native town and subsequently became Verres’ personal doctor and a member of his entourage under the name Cornelius. See Ver. 2.3.54: … Cornelium – is est Artemidorus Pergaeus, qui in sua patria dux isti quondam et magister ad spoliandum Dianae templum fuit; and 2.3.68 where Cicero again calls Artemidorus a temple-robber and takes exception to his ‘sudden’ assumption of a Roman name. Here, Cicero mentions none of this since it would have enfeebled his attempt to brand Verres as the lone culprit.

46.For a good discussion of the topic see Shatzman, I. (1972), ‘The Roman General’s Authority Over Booty’, Historia 21, 177–205. The most recent treatment is a French-German edited collection: M. Coudry, M. and Humm, M. (eds.) (2009), Praeda. Butin de guerre et société dans la Rome républicaine / Kriegsbeute und Gesellschaft im republikanischen Rom, Stuttgart.
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