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review 2016-05-29 12:40
A Glimpse into the Roman Criminal Justice System
Murder Trials - Marcus Tullius Cicero, Michael Grant (Translator)

Having spent four years of my life studying a law degree (and having an interest in the criminal side of things) when I discovered this book years ago my interest was immediately piqued – it was a collection of ancient speeches that focused around murders. Anyway, who doesn't like a good murder trail (though most murder trials these days usually arise from domestic disputes), particularly if they happen to be politically motivated. It is not surprising that the four trials in this book are all political since Cicero was what you would consider a high-flier, and generally grabbed the complex trials that had the greatest risk. One interesting thing is that there are a couple of trials that are mentioned, but not included, in this book, but the reason for that is that they have been included in [book:Political Speeches], and considering the nature of Cicero's career it's not surprising that some of them would overlap.

In a nutshell, Murder Trials is a collection of four defence speeches by one of Rome's greatest orators and one of the great things about this book is that not only does it give you and insight into how criminal trials operated in the Roman Republic, but also some of the tactics that were used to get people acquitted. One of the major differences between a murder trail in Rome and a murder trial in our modern world is that in Rome such charges, unless there were elements of treason involved, where brought about through the civil court. In those days the state wouldn't prosecute, therefore to be able to have somebody found guilty of an offence you needed to fund the prosecution yourself. Needless to say only the rich could afford to take somebody to court. However, in some cases, the state would provide assistance with the prosecution, though unlike today charges weren't laid by the police, nor were complaints – they would be brought directly to the court by the victim (or victim's family in the case of murder).

The Roman court wasn't structured in the way that our courts are structured – that is with a judge who would preside over the case and make sure that the procedure is followed correctly, while a jury of twelve people would listen to the case and then go away, confer, and then determine whether the accused is guilty or innocent. The Roman judicial system worked more like the Athenian system, where a jury (which could compose of upwards of thirty people) would listen to the case and the each would go away and make their own decision – they were not allowed to confer with each other, nor were they allowed to persuade another away from their decision. However, like the modern trails, at least in the common law countries such as the United States and England, each side would present their case, and guilt or innocence would be determined based upon who presented the best case. However, unlike the Athenian system, where one had to present their case (and defence) themselves, the Roman system allowed one to appoint somebody to present the case on one's behalf.

 

Cicero Indicting Catallus

 

Mind you, this system that I outlined really only applied to Roman citizens (as was the case with the Athenian system). If you were a slave, or a foreigner (or more precisely a non-citizen, as being born in the Republic did not automatically guarantee one a right to be a citizen – it had to be awarded to you, though citizenship would automatically be granted to the child of a citizen), then the law would play out a lot differently. One should note that one of the defence speeches included in this book was for a non-citizen – he was a king of a Gaullic tribe that lived on the fringes of the empire, though this was a trial for treason. Even then it does indicate that a non-citizen could be brought before the Roman courts to face trial, though in his particular case he did happen to be a king.

 

Another major difference between the Roman world and ours was the question of punishment. Sure, the Romans did have dungeons, but one would only land up there if they were going to be executed (or fed to the lions). However this came about much later, and it certainly wasn't a place were Roman citizens would end up. In Rome, if you were brought to trial on a charge of murder you weren't kept in a cell to make sure you turned up to court – you were allowed to go about your daily business. However if you were found guilty then you had two options – flee, or face execution. Needless to say that most people ended up fleeing. This was a perfectly acceptable option, unlike today where if you were to flee abroad there would be a massive hunt for you to bring you back to face trial. The other thing is that despite appearances, Rome was actually a pretty small city (compared with the cities of today that is), which meant that it was a lot harder to hide, and pretty much everybody knew everybody else (especially if you were a member of the upper classes). That also meant that if you did chose to flee, then you couldn't really come back because if you did then bad things would happen to you (though in some instances, say a pardon, you would be allowed to return).

 

There are a couple of other things that I wish to touch upon, and one of them is the reason for Cicero to defend these people. He claims that he does it for justice, but I would hardly consider Cicero to be a champion of human rights. First of all he was an aristocrat, and also on the opposite side of the political spectrum from the likes of Julius Caesar. He was a conservative, not a populist, which meant that his goal was to defend conservatives against the attacks of the populists. This whole question of justice is actually rubbish – if he was really concerned about justice then he would be defending the lower classes – people who couldn't afford to pay him, as well as defending slaves and foreigners. No, Cicero wasn't about justice, he was about defending the patricians against the relentless attacks of the lower classes.

 

Cicero Conferrign

 

I finally want to finish off about the idea of the defence lawyer. The thing with defending somebody in a court of law isn't about taking sides, but about defending somebody against charges using the best argument available. It also means not passing judgement on, or making assumptions about, your client. Sure, the accused might actually be a despicable human being, but that doesn't mean that that particular person does not deserve a defence, or representation. When I was applying for positions in law firms (a career path that I didn't end up taking), one of the questions was 'could you defend a …..?'. Another interesting thing was that a barrister friend of mine suggested that criminal lawyers don't actually make that much, namely because a lot of people who end up in the criminal system don't actually have any money.

 

A lot of criticism is levelled against people who defend criminals, with the belief that they are allowing scum and monsters to wander the streets and thus making society a much worse place to live. However, one should remember that if they were to find themselves in the place of the accused, most people are going to want to have a defence lawyer representing them. Sure, there are some who will represent themselves, and there are a lot of reasons as to why they would do that, however I believe that the role of the defence lawyer is an important one – they protect people from the power of the state. The reason that the idea of everybody having the right to be represented in a court of law by a competent lawyer is to prevent the state from running roughshod over people that it doesn't like, and to be able to give people a voice to explain their actions. The problem is, though, that the legal system has become so complex that one could not possibly understand what is going on without the help of a lawyer.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1557237831
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review 2016-04-25 05:21
Cicero vs Caeser
Cicero's Speech Pro Rabirio Postumo (Clarendon Ancient History Series) - Cicero,Mary Siani-Davies

It seems that by the time this trial came about the Roman Republic was heading downhill fast. Around this time the tension between the plebeians and the patricians was reaching fever pitch and there were a number of prominent individuals appearing that were rallying the plebians to their cause. This, as is understandable, was quite upsetting to the patricians because it meant that it would undermine the status quo, so the patricians began to take things into their own hands – through murder (though in many cases this was simply an extension of the unrest that had began around the time of Sulla). The murder at the centre of this trial was of Saturnius, and after he met his unfortunate fate Julius Caesar, who was also rising to prominence at this time, decided to bring back the perdullio, which is basically the offence of high treason.

 

This is the charge that Rabario was brought up on, and unlike the other trials that Cicero has participated in, this one was being held in a special court before Caesar and his cousin, and duly found guilty. However Rabario had the right of appeal (since this was basically a kangaroo court, for want of a better word). The problem was that Cicero, in this instance, was facing an uphill battle, namely because the jury was simply going to ratify Caeser's original findings. It seemed that despite Cicero being, at the time, the foremost orator in Rome, this was a case in which his brilliant public speaking skills were going to be of no use. Rabario has already been convicted, and the ratification of that decision, especially since Caesar was a man of the people, was going to happen. It was only due to outside events (and the fact that Caeser's objectives had been met) that Rabario was acquitted.

 

The interesting thing about this text is there is a lot of discussion about Mars hill, and crucifixion. The funny thing with crucifixion (not that it is actually all that funny because it is a pretty horrid way to go) is that many of us simply connect it with Jesus Christ, as if he was the only person in history that was ever crucified (not counting the two thieves that were crucified to either side of him, though sometimes I wonder if there were a lot more people being crucified at the same time, it is just that the thieves were the only ones mentioned). Mind you, those of us who are not familiar with Roman history are quite likely to believe that. Okay, while he may have been the most famous person to have ever been crucified, he wasn't the only one. The interesting thing is that this was a punishment that was generally dished out on people who were not Roman citizens, with the exception of high treason. This is why the topic was being brought up – this was going to be Rabario's fate. No doubt Cicero was doing his best to spare Rabario from going down that road, especially since it would have been incredibly undignified for a Roman of high standing to meet that fate (and I suspect that this was one of the main reasons that Caesar wanted him charged with high treason).

 

Another problem with this oration is that it is not entirely extant – there are a number of sections that had been lost (probably because the manuscript has been damaged – it was not clear in the text how much of the manuscript was destroy). This makes following Cicero's argument a little difficult as it appears that it jumps about the place. This is one of the problems with ancient texts in that even if we have copies of the text it does not necessarily mean that we have the entire text, and sometimes the missing section contain some key idea or important information in regards to context. This didn't seem to be a huge issue with this text though as we do retain the opening remarks and large sections of the defense speech.

 

Still, one does sometimes wonder if it is possible to be able to persuade a jury who has already made up their mind about something, though we notice that these days the opposite can happen, especially in media circuses, or where public figures are involved. In one sense my mind drifts back to the infamous OJ Simpson trial, a court case that was incredibly hard to ignore since it would be dominating the headlines every night. As we all know he was eventually acquitted, though some wonder whether this was because there was a lack of evidence, or whether it had more to do with the media circus. However, in many cases all one needs is a really good lawyer (and these guys come with a very high price tag) to be able to turn an almost certain finding of guilt into an acquittal.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1617444016
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review 2016-03-23 22:04
Blinding the Judges
Murder at Larinum : from the Pro Cluentio - Cicero,Humfrey Grose-Hodge

I have to admit that this is a pretty long speech, though I'm not entirely sure if it is the closing speech, the opening speech, or just the actual defence (namely because he does call for evidence to be presented to the court at least three times). Pliny apparently believes that it is his best, though I'm probably not going to argue with him, with the exception that Cicero seems to talk about anything but the innocence, or guilt, of Cluentius. In fact Cicero seems to spend an awful lot of time talking about corrupt judges and bribes amounting to the 100s of thousands of sesterices, which I have to admit is somewhat mind-boggling considering that the Romans didn't have paper currency but rather used minted silver, which means that we are talking about an awful lot of coins – in fact I once lugged $1000.00 worth of coins to the bank to deposit them and I have to admit that it was pretty heavy, which suggests that these guys were probably lugging the money around by wagonload (and these wagons must have been pretty heavily guarded).

 

Anyway, this is another case that involved the accused murdering his father, but it didn't seem to be as bad as the previous case Pro Sextus Roscius in this book since it wasn't his biological (or adoptive) father but rather his step-father, and it appears that the step-father isn't held in as high a regard as a biological (or adoptive, which are fairly much the same in the eyes of the Romans) father. Actually, this was he fourth father that Cluentius had, since it appears that his mother keeps on marrying other men, though it wasn't all that clear if the previous marriages had ended through the death of the husband, or just divorce (both of which is a distinct possibility during this period of Republican Rome). Also, the women, at least the noble born women, weren't as oppressed as they were in, say Ancient Athens, namely because they did become involved in political machinations.

 

What we get in this defence speech (as is similar to the previous case that I read) is a glimpse into the lives of the Roman upper classes. However times had changed since the trial of Roscius in that Sulla had died, and Cicero was now a praetor. In fact Cicero willingly stepped down from the role so that he could defend Cluentius. Maybe he saw this case as a challenge (and even today lawyers will willingly take of cases, even <i>pro bono</i> if the case proves to be one that is likely to increase their profile. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if you find a quarrel of lawyers milling around a court, all fighting to represent the defendant in a particularly high profile case. In fact in my younger years I remember a time when a friend of mine was brought up on charges and out of the blue this guy rocks up and told him that he was going to be his lawyer. However, while there are times when lawyers will all want to take a case, there are times when it is completely the opposite.

 

The tactic that Cicero uses in his defence speech is a tactic that is basically known as 'throwing sand in the eyes of the judges'. No doubt this is still used today, particularly in jury trials where a defence lawyer will point out the complexity of the case, and that the jury could have no way of being able to understand the law that applies, so they should simply find for the accused – and it works (though I wouldn't recommend trying it because you have to be a really good lawyer to pull this off, and juries aren't necessarily idiots, though it is interesting that if you have had legal training, or have worked in the legal fraternity, that you can actually get off sitting on a jury – it isn't actually all that much fun).

 

Even though Cicero seems to go all over the place in this defence speech (which he is doing on purpose mind you) as I have mentioned, we still get an interesting perspective of life of the upper classes during to fall of the Roman Republic. We have poisonings, bribery, corruption, and of course people being framed. Mind you, whether Cluentius is guilty or not is a moot point because it is not the job of the defence lawyer to get to the truth of the matter, but to rather prove to the court that his client is innocent of the charges put before him. This is why it is very important that the prosecution get their case right simply because if they charge the accused with the wrong charge then the case gets dismissed, and the rule of double jeopardy means that the accused cannot be tried for the same charge again. Ahh, technicality, such a beautiful word.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1582184795
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review 2016-02-25 12:08
Cicero's First Trial
Pro Sexto Roscio - Cicero

I must admit, I love a good murder trial. Okay, this is only one of four that are in the book that I'm reading (Murder Trials) but I feel that it is probably worth reviewing all on its own (in fact I'll be reviewing each of the four trials individually and then looking at the book at a whole once I've finished it – which does break it up a bit). Mind you, this is only the defence spech, as written by one of Rome's greatest orator's, Marcus Cicero, so unfortunately we can only work out what the opposing argument was based upon what Cicero says, however since it was his first (actually second, but since his first was a contractual dispute that didn't end in bloodshed it sort of doesn't count) trial and he was victorious, and managed to avoid getting executed by Sulla, I guess I would be with the majority to say that I was convinced by his argument.

 

Anyway, poor Sextus Roscius Junior (whom I will refer to as Junior from now on) was having a bit of a rough time. First of all his father, Sextus Roscius Senior (whom I will refer to as, you guessed it, Senior) was fraudulently put on the proscription list, a list of people that the then dictator Sulla had decreed as enemies of the state and thus could be murdered with impunity. So, when Senior was murdered all of his property was confiscated and sold to the highest bidder, that happened to be the guy that originally put his name on the list (sounds like there was a bit of corruption going on here). So, poor Junior is left penniless, but Chrysogonus (the villain of the piece) is not content to let Junior live the life of a beggar, but instead accuses him of murdering his father, which was considered to be an incredibly heinous crime in Ancient Rome.

 

Anyway, the whole case was incredibly toxic – not only was Senior one of the proscribed, but Junior was a parricide (father killer), so not surprisingly nobody wanted to touch it, with the exception of one young barrister, Marcus Cicero, who was starting to make his name in Roman society. It was obvious to anybody with half a brain that Junior was not a murder, and this was simply an act by Chrysogonus to clean up a few loose ends, but the problem was to get on to the wrong side of Chrysogous was to dance with death. The fact that Ciciero did, and lived to tell the tale, goes to show how cunning he actually was.

 

The argument is intriguing because Cicero goes to prove that since parricide is such a heinous crime, only the most depraved and violent of individuals could even consider doing such a thing. Okay, we see it happen these days, and in fact there was a recently case in Adelaide when the son of the coach of one of the football teams murdered the coach. Sure, people were horrified, but not so much because his son had committed the deed, but rather because of the status of the person that was murdered. However there were suggestions that drugs were involved in that particular instance.

 

Family ties were much stronger back in those days than they are today, however even then a rebellious child would still be disinherited and cut off from the family. These days I sometimes wonder if our family ties are anywhere near as great. I suspect it had something to do with Rome being a patriarchal society, and while divorce was common, due to the nature of society back then the male tended to retain the right to the property while the woman would be out on her own (there was no alimony in Ancient Rome). These days the male isn't necessarily the one who retains the right to the property, which means that he does not necessarily remain the master of the household. In the Roman era, because the father was the head of the household, murdering him would be akin to murdering a king.

 

The other interesting thing that Cicero does (and I'm not sure if defence counsel's do it today) is that he then goes to prove that while Junior does not fit the character of a person who could murder his father, Chrysogonus was the type of person to murder Senior. However the catch is (and Cicero is clear on this in his speech), is that it doesn't matter whether Chrysogonus is guilty or not, Senior had been proscripted, and as such if it is the case that Chrysogonus is guilty, he acted within the bounds of the law. In the end all Cicero was doing was saving Junior's neck.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1557238716
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text 2016-01-28 08:13
Light In An Abandoned Theatre
Dictator: A novel (Cicero Trilogy) - Robert Harris

The third part of Harris's trilogy based on the life of Cicero, Dictator, like its predecessors, is told from the point of view of Tiro, the orator's secretary. The book deals with the events surrounding the seizure of power by Julius Caesar, his assassination and the subsequent power struggle between the forces of the Senate and those of Marc Anthony, Lepidus and Octavia. It chronicles Cicero's vain attempts to preserve the republic,  a struggle which ultimately cost him his life.

 

Meticulously researched, eminently readable and hugely enjoyable, Dictator is a first-class piece of historical fiction. The ambition, vanity, cruelty, jealousy and spite which motivates so many of these power-hungry individuals is immediately recognizable; as are their weaknesses, compromises and the occasional moments of lucidity and courage.

 

Harris's gift is to make political life in Ancient Rome entirely accessible to the contemporary reader so that one entirely forgets one is reading about a conflict that happened over two thousand years ago. It is as if someone had come across the abandoned ruin of a magnificent theatre, flung a switch and suddenly the whole edifice had come to life, with all the brutality and poetry of which for so long we had only heard rumours.

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