In 70 BC, when Gnaeus Pompeius and Marcus Licinius Crassus shared the consulship for the first time, Rome's rising star in oratory, Marcus Tullius Cicero, successfully prosecuted Gaius Verres on the charge of misconduct, especially extortion, during his term as governor of Sicily (73-71 BC). Cicero won the case against major resistance. Verres' pockets were sufficiently deep for an extensive campaign of bribery. In Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio Nasica, Lucius Cornelius Sisenna, and Quintus Hortensius Hortalus, the consul designate for 69 and a formidable public speaker, Verres managed to recruit a group of defence advocates brimming with nobility and talent. Not the least of their skills was the ability to think up procedural shenanigans to derail or at least delay the trial until the following year. These included the nomination of Verres' former quaestor Quintus Caecilius Niger as a rival prosecutor, which meant that Cicero had to argue for the right to bring Verres to justice in a preliminary hearing (he obviously won). Other powerful supporters chipped in by embarking upon strategic intimidation of the Sicilian witnesses. None of this mattered: at the actual trial, Cicero triumphed resoundingly by out-witting, out-preparing, and out-talking the opposition. His stunning success helped to eclipse Hortensius' reputation as Rome's leading orator and establish Cicero as the "king of the courts", a moniker previously owned by his rival.
After the conclusion of the proceedings, Cicero published the set of speeches he had given in the context of prosecuting Verres as well as those he had prepared for delivery, "prepared for delivery" because the case came to a premature end before the speeches could be delivered. Soon after the first hearing (actio prima), Verres withdrew into voluntary exile; he was found guilty in absentia without the need for a second hearing (actio secunda). The so-called Verrine Orations thus comprise the Divinatio in Caecilium ("Preliminary hearing against Caecilius"), which won him the right to act as prosecutor of Verres; the decisive speech he gave during the first hearing (in Verrem 1); and the material Cicero prepared for the second hearing, repackaged into five undelivered orations (in Verrem 2.1-5).4 The dissemination of this corpus of speeches constituted an unprecedented enterprise, "the largest single publication of [his] entire career, if not the biggest such undertaking in the first century B.C."5 Cicero's rationale for publishing the speeches against Verres in written form was most likely complex and will have involved his desire to consolidate his standing as an orator and the wish to broadcast the enormous amount of work he had put into the trial.
The orations are brilliant models of eloquence (as well as spin) by arguably the supreme prose stylist ever to write in Latin. The Verrines are full of magnificent passages that illustrate Cicero at his best: as a superb raconteur who generates a gripping story out of precious few facts; as a heavy-hitting cross-examiner who lays into his adversaries with a remorseless flurry of rhetorical questions; as a master in the projection or portrayal of character (so-called ethos or ethopoiea) and the manipulation of emotions (so-called pathos); and, not least, as a creative individual gifted with an impish imagination who knows how to entertain. The passage under discussion here is no exception. It covers a series of lurid incidents from an early stage of Verres' career, which, so Cicero argues, all originated in the defendant's insatiable lust for two primary sources of pleasure: art and sex. First, we get a detailed account of the shameless looting of artistic treasures Verres committed as legate in the Greek East in the late 80s BC. This is followed by an account of the infamous episode at Lampsacus, which revolves around an unsuccessful attempt to abduct and rape a local woman that resulted in the death of a Roman official, provincials pushed to the brink of rioting, and judicial murder. Cicero's version of what happened at Lampsacus is the centrepiece of the first oration he prepared for the second hearing (i.e. in Verrem 2.1) and affords a privileged glimpse of the sordid underbelly of Roman imperialism — whatever degree of truth we are willing to grant to his spin on the events.
This introduction contains some background material designed to aid in the understanding of the rhetorical and historical dimension of the chosen passage. Section 1 provides a minimum of biographical information on Cicero and Verres. Section 2 takes a look at the circumstances of the trial and situates the chosen passage within the corpus as a whole. Section 3 outlines the main modes of persuasion in (ancient) rhetoric and briefly indicates how Cicero applies them in our passage. Section 4 explores some pertinent issues in late republican history. And Section 5 offers a short introduction to the type of law court in which Verres stood trial. Each section is supposed to give easy access to pertinent contextual information, with a sprinkling of references to works of secondary literature for those who wish to pursue a specific aspect further.
1. The Protagonists: Cicero and Verres
The Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd revised edition, edited by S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth, Oxford, 2003) offers good overviews of the lives and careers of Marcus Tullius Cicero and Gaius Verres.6 About the former we know more than about any other person from antiquity, mainly from his own writings; about the latter we know very little beyond what Cicero tells us in the Verrines.
Given the lack of independent evidence, one of the greatest challenges in dealing with Cicero's orations against Verres is doing Verres justice. This may sound perverse, but Cicero was an absolute genius when it came to the "tactical" (mis-)representation of evidence. Indeed, his talent for spin was only topped by his ability to assassinate someone's character. Helped by the fact that ancient Rome had no slander or libel laws, he verbally tarred and feathered his adversaries with imaginative gusto.7 While Cicero took care that his recourse to personal abuse always aided the aims of his argument, he must have made up many of what we would consider slanderous or libellous details that he hurled at his opponents, blurring the boundary between fact and fiction, hard data and rhetorical invention. It is therefore unwise to take anything he says about the character of any of his seemingly sociopathic villains at face value — including Verres. In the context of the Verrines, the opportunity of inventing his facts was particularly available when Cicero covered the early stages of Verres' career, which he did in in Verrem 2.1.
This is not to say that Verres was a particularly delightful human being. The son of a first-generation senator, he did well for himself in the turbulent years of the civil war between Marius and Sulla and afterwards as a minor magistrate in the (wild) East during the period that saw Rome's protracted struggle with King Mithradates of Pontus, not least by showing a fine sense of judgement when best to doublecross his superiors. His service as quaestor under the consul Gnaeus Papirius Carbo came to an abrupt and disgraceful end when he scarpered with the public money entrusted to him (some half million sesterces) to Carbo's enemy Sulla.8 And a couple of years later he repaid the support he had enjoyed as legate under Gnaeus Dolabella in Cilicia by acting as prime witness in the extortion trial that Dolabella faced upon his return to Rome.9 Complaints about his abuse of power dogged his governorship in Sicily throughout his term in office, even necessitating the (futile) intervention of a consul in 72 BC. But Cicero put an end to Verres' crimes and his career: after the trial, Verres remained in exile until his death in 43 BC.
If Verres advanced his career by means of his strategic treachery, Cicero, the son of a knight (eques) and hence a so-called "new man" (homo novus), that is, someone without senatorial ancestors in the family, invested in a superb education as a means of getting ahead.10 He was under no illusion: battlefield success was the privileged pathway to glory at Rome and Cicero did his best to accumulate military accolades when the occasion presented itself — as it did during his stint as pro-consul in Cilicia in 51, the same province in which Verres served as legate thirty years previously. On the basis of some minor military victories, he unsuccessfully petitioned his senatorial peers for the right to celebrate a triumph. In the main, however, Cicero built his career, and even more so his legacy, on supreme ability in the realms of language, literature, and thought. He was the best orator Rome produced, authored a large number of rhetorical and philosophical works, and also distinguished himself as a poet (though few of his verses have survived). In the law courts, he saw his role mainly as an advocate for the oppressed. Even in the case against Verres, where he acted as prosecutor, he stressed that he entered into the fray as an advocate of the Sicilians.
Overall, the careers of Cicero and Verres share a series of coincidental parallels that are fun to ponder. In the years before their showdown in 70 BC, each of the two men spent time in the Greek East and in Sicily. Some years after his consulship in 63 BC, Cicero suffered the same fate as Verres: voluntary exile. And several ancient authors comment on the remarkable irony that Cicero and Verres died in the same year, proscribed by the same man — the former for his tongue, the latter for his art collection.11 A bare skeleton of their respective careers in the form of a table would look something like this:
|84||Service as quaestor under the consul Cn. Papirius Carbo|
|83||Continuing service probably as pro-quaestor; desertion to Sulla|
|81||First surviving public speech (pro Quinctio)|
|80||Service as legatus, then also as pro-quaestor under Cn. Dolabella, proconsul in Cilicia|
|79-77||Rhetorical and philosophical studies in Rhodes and Athens|
|78||Trial and conviction of Dolabella for extortion; Verres acting as main witness for the prosecution|
|75||Quaestor in Sicily|
|73-71||Governance of Sicily as pro-praetor|
|70||Trial and voluntary exile||Prosecution of Verres|
|58||Pushed into exile on account of the execution of the Catilinarians (till 57)|
|51||Pro-consul in Cilicia|
|43||Proscription by Mark Antony; death||Proscription by Mark Antony; death|
2. The Trial of Verres and Cicero's Set of Speeches against Verres
2.1 The run-up12
When the Sicilians turned to Rome for help against the plundering and extortion perpetrated by Verres, Cicero was a natural point of contact: he had been quaestor in Sicily only a few years earlier, knew the province well, had close ties with various leading locals, and saw himself as their patron.13 He agreed to act as the Sicilians' legal representative, in what shaped up as a case for one of Rome's "standing courts", the so-called quaestio de repetundis.14 Because Roman officials enjoyed immunity from prosecution during their time in office, the trial could not start before Verres' period as pro-magistrate finished at the end of 71 BC. His return to the status of privatus ("an individual not holding public office") set in motion the following procedural steps:
postulatio (c. 10 January 70): in early January of 70, Cicero applied to the praetor presiding over the extortion court, Manlius Acilius Glabrio, for permission to prosecute Verres (postulatio).
divinatio (c. 20 January 70): no doubt at the instigation of Verres or his advocate Hortensius Verres' quaestor Q. Caecilius Niger also applied for the leave to prosecute; such rival requests entailed the need for a so-called divinatio, which consisted of a hearing before a jury presided over by the praetor at which the rival parties staked their claims. Cicero triumphed with the (surviving) speech Divinatio in Caecilium, in which he showed that his adversary was just not up to the task.
nominis delatio and nominis receptio (c. 20 January 70 or soon thereafter): after his victory over Caecilius, Cicero submitted a formal charge (nominis delatio), which was accepted by the praetor (nominis receptio).
inquisitio: to prepare his case, Cicero asked for, and was granted, 110 days, during which he travelled to Sicily to secure witnesses and documentation. Time was precious: he was aware of the fact that the defence wanted to delay the trial until the following year. At various places in the Verrines, he boasts about the speed with which he marshalled evidence. Thus he calls the period he requested for gathering evidence "astonishingly brief" (Ver. 1.6: dies perexigua). About sixty of the 110 days he had available, he spent on a trip to Sicily, priding himself on "the speed of his return" (Ver. 2.1.16: celeritas reditionis).
2.2 The trial
After the selection of the jury in the second half of July, the trial began on 5 August. As already mentioned, Verres and his supporters tried to prolong the trial until the following year. In 69, Hortensius, one of his advocates, and Q. Caecilius Metellus Creticus, one of his main friends and supporters, would have been consuls, and M. Caecilius Metellus (a brother of the aforementioned Metellus) would have presided over the extortion court as praetor. In a society that placed a premium on esteem for magistrates, this would have meant a powerful boost to Verres' cause. Likewise, there was the prospect of a more favourable jury (that is, one more liable to corruption) since several of the chosen jury members were due to leave Rome in 69 BC to take up offices, ruling them out of jury duty.15 At one point, when it looked as if the ploy were to succeed, a third brother, L. Caecilius Metellus, who had taken over the governorship of Sicily from Verres as pro-praetor, tried to intimidate the Sicilians against giving testimony against Verres, boasting somewhat prematurely that Verres' acquittal was certain and that it was in the Sicilians' own interest not to cause difficulties. As a countermove and to accelerate proceedings, Cicero broke with conventions in his opening speech: instead of a lengthy disquisition setting out all of the charges (oratio perpetua), followed by a prolonged hearing of supporting witnesses, he quickly and summarily sketched out each of the charges and produced a limited number of supporting witnesses.
Verres' advocate Hortensius did not expect this deviation from standard procedure and faced a difficult challenge. As M. Alexander points out, he was "put in the invidious position of having to reply to charges that had not been fully argued, and while [he] probably had a good idea of the arguments which Cicero would be making at the second hearing, he would not have wanted to give credence to them by stating them himself, and then trying to refute them."16 In the Orator, a rhetorical treatise he wrote in 46 BC, Cicero seems to imply that Hortensius never gave a formal speech in reply and only cross-examined some witnesses during the first hearing (Orat. 129).17 With the actio prima completed on 13 August, the court adjourned for the Votive Games that began on 16 August (comperendinatio). It never reconvened: Verres considered the case that Cicero presented against him during the first hearing so compelling that he went into voluntary exile. The actio secunda, for which Cicero had prepared a massive amount of material adding up to five full speeches, never took place.
2.3 The corpus of speeches18
In the aftermath of the trial, Cicero not only published the Divinatio in Caecilium and the speech he gave during the actio prima (commonly labelled in Verrem 1), but also the five speeches he had prepared for the actio secunda (in Verrem 2.1-5). In outline, we have the following corpus:
- Divinatio in Caecilium [delivered January 70 BC]
- in Verrem 1 [delivered August 70 BC, during the actio prima]
- in Verrem 2 [planned for the actio secunda, but never delivered]
- in Verrem 2.1: Verres' youth and public career prior to his governorship of Sicily
- in Verrem 2.2: Sicily - abuse of judicial power
- in Verrem 2.3: Sicily - extortion of taxes
- in Verrem 2.4: Sicily - robbery of artworks
- in Verrem 2.5: Sicily - Verres as magistrate with imperium, responsible for public safety and endowed with the power to punish
Cicero only decided to publish a selection of his speeches.19 The fact that he circulated all the speeches to do with the trial of Verres indicates his high opinion of the set and his belief in their value as documents of self-promotion. Scholars have debated, more or less inconclusively, whether and, if so, to what degree Cicero revised speeches after delivery before circulating them in written form. No clear consensus has emerged, not least since his practice will most likely have differed from case to case, ranging from almost instant release with only minor adjustments to significant revision and publication several years after the original delivery.20 The speeches that Cicero prepared for the second hearing belong to those that he anyway never gave, so here the question is moot. Still, it bears stressing that in the form we have them they are indistinguishable from the written versions of those speeches he actually delivered. In all of his published orations, Cicero maintains the illusion that the text is the record of a performance. (Devices that sustain this illusion include direct addresses to the audience, in particular the defendant, members of the jury, or opposing advocates, orders to the clerk to read out documents, and the use of deictic pronouns such as iste that suggest the presence of the person thus referred to.) It would have been Ciceroâ€™s practice in any case to work up extensive written notes for a speech before its oral delivery — which of course does not mean that he read from a script in court — and he most likely had his contribution to the actio secunda more or less ready to go by the time the trial began.21
The first speech intended for the second hearing (Ver. 2.1), from which our passage comes, contains an exhaustive discussion of Verres' career before he took on the governorship of Sicily. In outline the speech breaks down into the following sections:
- 1-23: Preface
- 24-31: Explanation why Cicero didn't indict in detail during the actio prima
- 32-34: Blueprint of the actio secunda22
- 34-40: Verres' quaestorship
- 41-102: Verres' stint as legate and pro-quaestor of Dolabella in Cilicia
- 41-61: Verres' thefts of artworks
- 62-86a: The Lampsacus episode
- 86b-90: The theft at Miletus
- 90-102: Verres' crimes as a guardian and pro-quaestor
- 103-58: Verres' urban praetorship
- 103-27: Abuses of his judicial powers
- 128-54: Misconduct as a supervisor of the maintenance of public buildings
- 155-58: His jury-tampering in other trials
The Lampsacus episode stands out as the centrepiece of the oration — a sustained and largely self-contained unit, in which Cicero explores Verres' past in particular depth and detail. Yet while it is the centre of Ver. 2.1, in the trial as a whole this particular oration (and hence the Lampsacus episode as well) is a bit of a sideshow. If one only reads an excerpt from this speech, it is easy to forget that Verres was not — nor had ever been — on trial for any of his actions as legate. Cicero here reconsiders events that happened about a decade earlier, in an effort to portray Verres as evil through and through. True, consistency of character was an important argument in Roman law courts — anyone who could be shown to have a criminal record was considered more likely to have perpetrated the crime for which he was on trial, whereas an unblemished past could be marshalled in support of a plea of innocence. Thus Cicero does his best to depict Verres as a heinous and hardened criminal, with a particular penchant for debauchery from his early youth. But in the larger scheme of things, Ver. 2.1 is primarily a warm-up to his account of Verres' governorship of Sicily, to which he devoted the four subsequent speeches.23
3. Modes of persuasion24
Public speaking is designed to persuade an audience of a specific point of view. If the setting is a court of law, the prosecutor tries to convince those who judge the case of the guilt of the defendant, whereas the advocate aims to achieve a verdict of innocence. But how does one succeed in causing another person to consent to one's own point of view and to act accordingly? Is it the rational force of the better argument? Or is it the authority of the speaker, deriving, perhaps, from (superior) age, position, or prestige? What audiences find persuasive differs from culture to culture and, within a given culture, from one setting to another. Ancient rhetorical theory identified three main modes of persuasion: a speaker could prove his points or render his arguments plausible by means of logos (that is, reasoning, analysis and argument), ethos (that is, the characters of the individuals involved in the trial, especially that of the defendant and the speaker), or pathos (that is, strong emotions roused by the speaker in his audience).25 The chosen passage showcases Cicero's resourceful handling of all three modes.
3.1 Reasoning and argument
In his handling of the affair at Lampsacus, Cicero opts for a two-pronged approach to prove Verres' guilt: to begin with, he simply presupposes that the sequence of events has as its unifying factor Verres' inability to keep his lecherous instincts under control. In his account of what happened at Lampsacus and the aftermath (the trial and execution of Philodamus and his son) Verres is presented as the mastermind behind the scene, first by plotting sexual assault, then by trying to cover up his guilt. By showing the defendant in action (as it were), Cicero thus makes narration (or a narrative) do the work of argumentation.26 Only after he has established his version of the event as a compelling point of reference does he switch into a more explicitly argumentative mode. In §§ 78-85, he explores and rebuts potential lines of defence Verres might have adopted to cast doubt on Cicero's interpretation and give an alternative explanation of what happened. According to Cicero, Verres' counter-arguments do not amount to much and crumble under scrutiny. When all is said and done, so Cicero claims repeatedly, Verres is unable to explain why what occurred did occur. And this, so Cicero asserts, means that his own version of the events, for which he has two reliable witnesses, must represent the truth. After reading the passage, are you convinced that Cicero has proved Verres' guilt?
Cicero takes great care to provide vivid portrayals of the characters he deals with in his speeches.27 The Verrines are no exceptions. The greatest effort goes of course into his characterization of Verres. But Cicero also gives us insidious character appraisals of Gnaeus Dolabella, the governor of Cilicia and Verres' superior in command, and Gaius Nero, the governor of Asia, that is, the province in which Lampsacus was located. The traits Cicero emphasizes in the former are his murderous villainy and conspicuous stupidity, whereas the latter comes into Cicero's rhetorical crosshairs for his yellow-bellied cowardice. Cicero also spends some time on Verres' worthless entourage, notably Rubrius. And even individuals or groups that only make a cameo appearance in his text have a distinct (if often one-sided) identity and personality profile that enables the audience to relate to them. Examples of minor characters include envoys (legati) from Asia and Achaia (§ 59), Ianitor, Verres' host in Lampsacus (§§ 63-4), the Roman citizens who were in Lampsacus for business reasons (§ 69), the Roman creditors of the Greeks (§ 73), one of whom acts as accuser of Philodamus (§ 74), and the praefecti and tribuni militares of Dolabella (§ 73). Cicero also knows how to underscore the reliability of his two prime witnesses: P. Tettius and C. Varro, who both served on the staff of Nero (§ 71).
When it comes to the depiction of character, Cicero likes to paint in black and white. Whereas Verres and his ilk appear as villains and perverts, he lavishes praise upon the inhabitants of Lampsacus and in particular Philodamus and his son. Cicero portrays Verres and Dolabella in such a way as to remove them from civilized society: they come across as beasts ruled either by their passions or even worse instincts such as delight in cruelty; the Lampsacenes, in contrast, represent a peace-loving community that cherishes private and public values dear to the Romans as well, such as devotion to family members, unselfish courage, and commitment to civic life. One rewarding exercise in responding to Cicero's ethopoiea is to colour in shades of grey — that is, to interrogate his categorical condemnations as well as his unqualified embraces, in an effort to arrive at a more realistic picture of his personnel.28
In this context, it is also worth noting how Cicero constantly engages the audience: he appeals to them as persons endowed with a special disposition and committed to certain values, but does not hesitate to let them know how disastrous it would be if they did not decide the case at hand in his favour. In particular, it would put the judges at the same level as the defendant. A keynote of the speech (2.1: Neminem vestrum ignorare arbitror, iudices) is that Cicero's audience is in the know: Verres' shenanigans, trickery, and attempts at deception cannot fool them.29 But since his guilt is so glaring and well-established, a verdict of innocent would reveal the judges inevitably as corrupt and unfit for their role.
Cicero's report of Verres' looting of artworks and his narrative of the Lampsacus affair are both fraught with pathos, meant to generate indignation, if not downright outrage, at Verres' conduct. In addition, the portion of text under consideration here includes two paragraphs that are especially designed to appeal to the emotions. In § 59, Cicero recalls one of the rare occasions in which Verres adorned the city of Rome with his plundered treasures for public viewing. "By chance" (casu), a great number of embassies from the towns Verres had ravaged happened to be in Rome at the time, and Cicero describes heart-wrenching scenes of Greek ambassadors setting eyes on long lost treasures, often statues of gods and goddesses of profound religious value and significance, breaking down on the spot, in public, in worship and tears. And in § 76, Cicero describes the public execution of Philodamus and his son in the city of Laodicea as a tragic spectacle, matching the bestial cruelty (crudelitas) of the Roman officials Verres and Dolabella against the humanitas (humanity) and the family-values of the condemned. The sight, so Cicero, even moved the presiding Roman magistrate Nero to tears — precisely the sort of response he wishes to generate in his present audience as well, grounded in sympathy and compassion for Verres' victims and righteous anger at his abuse of power and violation of Roman values.
4. Rome and the Mediterranean in the Late Republic
Ver. 2.1.53-86 can serve as an excellent point of departure for branching out into Roman history and culture, especially the imperial culture of the late republic and themes to do with the imperial expansion of Rome across the Mediterranean world, in particular the Greek East. In turn, a basic grasp of historical facts and figures will aid in understanding our passage.
4.1 Rome's military conquest of Greece and Asia Minor30
While Rome stood in contact with the wider, Greek-dominated world of the Mediterranean from early on (witness the legend of Aeneas arriving in Italy after the destruction of Troy, as preliminary step towards the foundation of the city), it had no military presence in the Greek East until the end of the third century BC. Yet after the so-called "First Illyrian War" (229 BC) matters proceeded quickly. In 167 BC, the Greek historian Polybius considered Rome's conquest of Greece (and the known world more generally) an accomplished fact. That assessment, though, may have been somewhat premature as further military adventures and significant territorial gains continued to happen afterwards. The driving forces and motivations behind Rome's imperial expansion have been the subject of much controversial debate.31 But whatever the intent, by the time of the Verrines, the rise of Rome from a town on the Tiber to the centre of an empire that spanned the entire Mediterranean world was by and large complete. Landmark events in Rome's conquest of the Greek East include the following (those in bold Cicero mentions in Â§ 55):
- 229: First Illyrian War
- 197: T. Quinctius Flamininus defeats Philip V, King of Macedonia, at Cynoscephalai
- 190: L. Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus defeats Antiochus III, King of Syria
- 168: L. Aemilius Paulus defeats Perseus, King of Macedonia
- 146: L. Mummius destroys Corinth; establishment of the province of Macedonia
- 133: Attalus III, King of Pergamum, bequeathes his kingdom to Rome upon his death
- 129: Establishment of the province of Asia
- c. 100: Establishment of the province of Cilicia
- 88-84: First War between Rome and Mithradates VI, King of Pontus
- 83-81: Second War between Rome and Mithradates VI, King of Pontus
- 73-63: Third War between Rome and Mithradates VI, King of Pontus32
The Romans organized conquered territories into so-called provinciae (provinces). Sicily was the first, established in 241 BC, in the wake of the First Punic War. For each province, a lex provinciae defined the rights and obligations that the otherwise by and large self-governing civic communities (civitates) within a province had towards Rome. All provinces were required to submit tribute to Rome, which was collected by the so-called publicani ("tax-farmers").33 The nature of the Roman presence varied greatly across the provinces. And in each province, the Romans interacted with a complex patchwork of communities as well as — when the province was located at the border of Rome's imperial sway — with neighbouring kings and peoples. Diplomatic activity within and across provinces was fairly intense. In fact, what brought Verres to Lampsacus was an embassy to two kingdoms bordering on the Roman province of Asia, a journey Verres undertook, so Cicero insinuates spitefully but not necessarily correctly, entirely for personal profit. Verres' legateship in the Greek East fell into a period marked by much unrest across the entire region. The Second War between Rome and Mithradates VI, King of Pontus, had just come to an end, and the civic communities were groaning under the punitive sanctions imposed upon them by Sulla for the lack of support they had shown to Rome in the recent struggle.34
4.2 Roman provincial administration35
As fans of the 1980s British sitcom Yes Minister by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn will know, the personnel of modern democratic nation-states involved in government consists in part of publicly elected politicians, who are voted into (and out of) office from time to time, and the bureaucratic functionaries of the civil service, whose positions are permanent, i.e. unaffected by the mood-swings of the electorate, and who can therefore ensure a certain degree of institutional continuity from one legislative period to the next. In contrast to many modern institutions where the administrative staff is permanently employed and remains in post, regardless of which official is elected, governance and administration in republican Rome were non-bureaucratic, with a high level of personal involvement by the appointed magistrate in all affairs.
After their year as magistrates, consuls and praetors were customarily appointed as governors of provinces, assuming the title of pro-consul ("acting consul") or pro-praetor ("acting praetor") during their time in office (usually one year, but often prolonged). Assignments were usually done by lot, but could also be "arranged" by those who were entitled to take up a provincial governorship in any given year. Roman magistrates and pro-magistrates relied on an extensive staff (called apparitores) in the execution of their office. Some of the more high ranking staff was elected, but the pro-magistrate had by and large a free hand in selecting whom he wanted to take along in what capacity. The staff included fairly high-ranking Romans with ambitions of entering the cursus honorum, that is, a political career involving magistracies and military commands. Staff of provincial governors also included such functionaries as lictors, messengers (viatores), heralds (praecones), and scribes (scribae).
In the course of the section considered here, Cicero mentions a wide range of Roman personnel involved in provincial administration. We encounter:
- (i) Pro-magistrates responsible for the administration of a province: Nero (Asia), and Dolabella (Cilicia).
- (ii) Their staff or subordinates, some of whom with official or semi-official designations: thus Verres was a legate of Dolabella; and Cicero's two witnesses Tettius and Varro were part of Nero's staff in Asia: the former as a so-called accensus, the latter as a military tribune.36
- (iii) Lower functionaries and friends: during the diplomatic mission that brought him to Lampsacus, Verres was most likely accompanied by two lictors; one of them, Cornelius, died at Philodamus' dinner party.37 In addition, he brought along personal friends from his social networks, thereby helping young acquaintances to become familiar with Rome's imperial opportunities, in what was the ancient equivalent of modern "work experience". Cicero makes much of the worthless villains that formed Verres' cohors (entourage) and points out one Rubrius as being particularly gifted in aiding his master's criminal desires. The conduct of both magistrates and members of their cohors in the provinces often left much to be desired. To be a Roman abroad in a position of power constituted a test of character that many failed to meet.38
In addition to provincial governors and their staff, Cicero also mentions Romans who had come to Asia independently to pursue business interests. In § 69, he reports that Roman citizens in Lampsacus on business successfully intervened when the local mob was trying to burn down the house in which Verres stayed. Conversely, he makes a damning reference to Roman money-lenders active in the region and their unscrupulous greed (§ 74).
5. The Roman Extortion Court
(quaestio de repetundis)
Verres stood trial in the so-called quaestio de repetundis. quaestio (from quaero + tio) refers, in its most basic sense, to "the act of searching" and then came to mean "judicial investigation, inquiry" and, more specifically, "a commission appointed to try certain cases of serious public crimes" (Oxford Latin Dictionary s. v. 4). Such commissions could be either ad hoc or permanent ("standing"). The first such permanent criminal court or tribunal (quaestio perpetua) was the quaestio de repetundis, which was set up in 149 BC to deal with acts of embezzlement by Roman magistrates. The gerundive phrase de repetundis means, literally, "about matters that need to be recovered", so the quaestio de repetundis was a standing criminal court that heard cases of corruption or misconduct in office and concerned itself especially with the recovery of extorted money. Many, but by no means all, cases that came before the quaestio de repetundis involved the exploitation of provincial subjects by Roman magistrates. While it may go too far to see this institution, in which members of Rome's ruling elite sat in judgement over their peers, as a means by which Rome's imperial republic maintained for itself the myth of beneficial imperialism, in practice the court can be considered "the chief countervailing force against the all-powerful Roman magistrate and his companions in the military field and provincial government."39
In the course of its history, arrangements of who could act as prosecutor and who manned the juries underwent several changes. One such reform coincided with Cicero's prosecution of Verres, who was the last person judged in a quaestio de repetundis under the system put in place by Sulla: "The year 70 was momentous. The full power of the tribunes was restored. The senatorial monopoly of criminal jurisdiction was terminated."40 Cicero obliquely links the case at hand to this imminent judicial reform, thereby putting his individual stamp on a watershed-year in Roman history. Throughout the Verrines (though not in the passage under consideration here) Cicero plays on a sense of constitutional crisis.41 It was part of a larger strategy "to make Verres' guilt matter", not least for purposes of self-promotion.42