Discuss the political significance of Cicero’s defence of Sextus Roscius Amerinus Pro Roscio Amerino was Cicero’s first speech in a criminal court and entails his defence of Sextus Roscius Amerinus, a man accused of parricide with the trial taking place in 80BC. This essay aims to study the political background and context of the trial, mainly the Sullan regime, and how Cicero and the trial are a circumstance of the times. Secondly, what ramifications Cicero has in taking up the case, the details of the case itself and whether or not the speech involves Cicero speaking out against specific persons.
Amongst this, there will also be analysis of the speech’s political significance and any effects it has on either changing the politics of the Republic or what Cicero believed his defence to achieve. The case of Sextus Roscius Amerinus was one of alleged parricide. The rich, elder Roscius was killed in Rome while his son was managing his thirteen farms in Ameria. Shortly after the death Roscius Amerinus had his inheritance taken from him and was accused of murdering his father.
The trial took place in 80BC; Sulla had recently resigned his dictatorship and taken up the position of Consul, resulting in a large amount of political context surrounding the trial. During his time as dictator (end of 82BC until the end of 81BC) Sulla enacted several reforms on the republic which had their impact on the case of Pro Roscio. Many of the reforms were enacted to restore power to the aristocracy, giving more influence to the senate while severely crippling positions such as the office of the Plebeian Tribune whose main role was to impose a balance of democracy on the aristocracy.
Seven new permanent law courts were created to try major crimes and their juries were to consist exclusively of senators, a role which was given to the Equites since the reform of Gaius Gracchus in 123BC. One of the more seminal reforms for Pro Roscius Amerinus was the use of the proscriptions by Sulla to punish his enemies and to raise money for the state treasury and friends of Sulla. With the case occurring at the outcome of these reforms we see the ‘extent to which civil conflict had resulted in social and economic as well as political disruption illustrated in Cicero’s… Pro Roscio Amerino’.
As the trial was the first murder case in the new courts, the jury were expected to condemn the first person accused to shown their strength and ability in upholding the law. As such, Cicero’s case is already at a disadvantage. One of the main reasons why there is such design and political intrigue in the case of Roscius Amerinus was the use of the proscription list by those who wanted to obtain Roscius’ land and invalidate any claim Roscius junior would usually have on his inheritance. The proscriptions were used by Sulla in 82BC as a means of legally killing off his enemies and allowing his friends to profit from it.
Whoever was put on the list was declared an enemy of the state and their killers were rewarded with a share of the victims’ estate; the rest would go to the state. No one could inherit from a proscribed man, and his sons and grandsons couldn’t run for office. This was an effective way of filling the treasury, severely reducing any rival power and controlling the state through fear. Plutarch stated in his Life of Sulla that: ‘Sulla at once proscribed eighty persons… He also proscribed anyone who harboured and saved a proscribed person… ut offering any one who slew a proscribed person two talents as a reward for this murderous deed, even though a slave should slay his master, or a son his father. And what seemed the greatest injustice of all, he took away the civil rights from the sons and grandsons of those who had been proscribed, and confiscated the property of all’. The proscriptions were managed by one of Sulla’s freedmen, Chrysogonus. While the plot against Roscius seems to have started with Capito and Magnus, they soon gained the help of Chrysogonus to cheaply buy the land of the murdered man by exploiting the system of proscriptions.
Cornelius Chrysogonus, an ex slave of Sulla’s who, according to Cicero boasted great influence over Rome, was a ‘young man, arguably the most powerful man in Rome at the present time’. Chrysogonus managed to enter the dead Roscius’ name onto the list of proscribed, even though the proscriptions had officially ended, so that his land was confiscated and bought very cheaply by Chrysogonus, Capito being given three of the thirteen farms and Magnus took possession of the remainder on Chrysogonus’ behalf.
With these proscriptions as well, we are reminded that the jury had, because of Sulla’s reforms, been formed entirely from senators instead of the equites. As such they had all freshly benefitted from Sulla’s new regime as they had all been given more power from Sulla over the lower classes. Sulla’s regime benefitted the aristocracy who were allied with him and, as such, would have gained their favour all the more. One way in which he did this was to increase the size of the senate from 300 to 600 senators, and give automatic membership to the senate for all newly elected quaestors.
Another way in which the senatorial class profited would have been through the proscriptions. Their enemies were being killed off and they were allowed to buy their confiscated estates for a fraction of the original price at auction. Because of Sulla these senators of the jury would have recently bought land at a fraction of its original worth. Those who did this would not be willing to give it up, and they would not appreciate any speech which was against the system or the Sullan regime. After the confiscated land was bought by Chrysogonus, appeals from the local council of Ameria and the young Roscius tried to clear his father’s name.
However, to remove the young Roscius from disrupting their plans he was accused of his father’s murder. Now with his inheritance taken and own life at stake, Roscius sought refuge with the Metelli. The Metelli were a family of high standing and highly involved with the Sullan regime. At the time Quintus Caecilius Mettelus Pius was consul alongside Sulla, and Caecilia Metella, who died in 81, had been Sulla’s wife. As it was Cicero who defended Roscius in his trial it is safe to assume that the Metelli didn’t offer their personal help in his case.
This is stated in the beginning of Cicero’s speech that ‘All those whom you see here supporting my client believe that in this case a wrong has been perpetrated… they attend the trial because it is their duty to do so, but say nothing because they want to keep out of danger’. The danger that Cicero alluded to was that Chrysogonus and the proscriptions were likely to be under attack in this defence, and through them, Sulla. A man of high political ranking could not speak out against them with any hope of disassociating Sulla or their own political agenda from the case.
With the Metelli family especially, having any member of the family who is technically sharing power with Sulla as consul, and therefore supposedly his rival, speak out against these forces would be insensitive to the case. While the Metelli family didn’t speak in his defence they still supported the young Roscius. Therefore Cicero’s speech ‘had strong support in the Sullan faction, but he still ran the risk of offending Sulla or the Jury’. This offence to the jury refers to the fact that they would have all profited in some way from the Sullan regime, including the proscriptions.
So the defence falls to Cicero, inexperienced, only 26 years old and of little influence, and therefore better able to make his speech with less fear of ramifications. Throughout the case there are many examples of Cicero using rhetoric to make sure that while revealing the plot against Roscius, and Chrysogonus’ involvement in it, Sulla is not implicated or even aware of its goings on. The strategy throughout the case is ‘to counter the perception of a close tie between the freedman and his patron … to offer Sulla a kind of plausible deniability’.
Cicero states that ‘I am afraid that my speech might appear to be directed not only against you but against others as well’. Here he talks of his fear for Sulla’s involvement, all the time trying to persuade the jury and other important spectators of the trial that this is against the specific people he is speaking about, such as Chrysogonus, rather than any deeper implications from misinterpretation which could insult Sulla. Against the fact that Cicero was brave in taking this case is that much of the political fear Sulla had instilled, and the reasons for that, had passed.
The proscriptions were set up by Sulla to remove his enemies efficiently, but the proscriptions themselves had officially ended and had ‘by this time served their purpose for Sulla: Opposition had been removed’. Sulla has no need to protect Chrysogonus or the system of proscription, on trial is the son of a loyal supporter, not some dissident rival member. However while the fear for the case would seem less than Cicero makes out, he still had to be careful in how the case was dealt with. As well as speaking out while avoiding Sulla, Cicero also needed the jury to be certain that he wasn’t speaking against the proscriptions.
To allay that, Cicero states, ‘I do not think that the nature of the case requires me to say much about the purchasers of confiscated property in general: for this case is unique and unprecedented’. Here Cicero claims that this misuse and corruption of the proscription system is a single case and so none of the members of the jury need to worry whether or not their newly acquired property is being threatened. However, in Cassius Dio there is mention that the proscriptions of Sulla were rife with corruption, ‘for the names of many, some living and others actually dead, were added to the lists so that the slayers might gain immunity’.
This suggests that this isn’t a unique case, further adding to the meaning and purpose behind Cicero saying that it is. Cicero later goes on to say that: ‘Sulla was single-handedly ruling the country… should we therefore be surprised gentlemen, if, at such a time, there were certain things that escaped his notice? One might just as soon express surprise that human intelligence has failed to attain what divine power is unable to achieve’. Here he pays Sulla a large compliment by attesting the same amount of power and control of a god to that with which he ruled the country.
Cicero is again disassociating Sulla from Chrysogonus, whose deceit and corruption was the subject that ‘escaped his notice’. Removing Chrysogonus from Sulla’s protection meant that Cicero could go on to accuse him of his involvement in the plot. Cicero here used the current political situation to his advantage by enforcing an image upon the jury that Chrysogonus, an ex-slave, is parading his vast wealth and influence around the forum and daring to believe he was more powerful than those of the jury.
Cicero states that ‘he thinks that no one is more important than he is’ and later that it is shameful that they ‘who could not endure the splendour of the equestrian order, should submit to the domination of an utterly worthless slave’. His second point here refers to the reforms of Sulla, giving the power back from the equites to the senators, and the civil war fought for this purpose. Cicero is using the circumstance of the aristocratic government and jury by highlighting the fact that Chrysogonus is just an ex-slave and, as such, deserves less influence and power.
Furthermore that he should be brought low by the result of this trial rather than being allowed to gain more wealth at the expense of a Sullan supporter. This emphasizes the fact that the jury is now entirely comprised of senators and as such the senators can make it a less than fair trial for anyone not of their class. As F. Abbott states in reference to Sulla’s reformation of the courts: ‘Justice could hardly be hoped for when one member of a closely knit political and social organization was tried before a jury made up of other members of the same body’.
Another tactic of Cicero’s, in using the fear of the recently ended proscriptions, was to suggest that this attack on the son of a proscribed man was just the first in a new wave of proscriptions aimed at the next generation. Cicero suggested that ‘the prosecution of his client was the first step in a new campaign of persecution of the children of the proscribed’. This is furthering the political context of the trial. That Cicero is able to use this fear implies that the threat of a new set of proscriptions is something on the mind of the jury and something which they want to avoid.
Cicero appears to speak out against the Sullan regime in a few key areas of the defence speech. Near the end, Cicero implores the jury to ‘cure those ills from which our country is particularly suffering’, referring to the proscriptions of Sulla after accusing Chrysogonus of attempting to resurrect the proscriptions. Cicero stated that the proscriptions were ‘an evil thing, not only because it has done away with so many citizens in a most dreadful manner, but because it has taken away the feeling of compassion from even the mildest of men, by accustoming them to troubles’.
Here Cicero is speaking out against the Sullan proscriptions and clearly objecting to their use in what would have been a bold statement to the court. However, the validity of these objections is in question. As we are given the written form of Cicero’s speech, Cicero was able to modify it to his own liking. Therefore, he in all probability represented himself as offering a greater resistance to Sulla than in the trial itself. This was made possible as Cicero’s writing of the speech was after Sulla had died, and in the context of the rule of Caesar and Mark Antony.
Cicero himself says later in his life that ‘as a young man I spoke for Sextus Roscius of Ameria against the influence of Lucius Sulla when he was in power’. In conclusion, the case was less against the Sullan regime, as only afterwards was Cicero truly outspoken against it. More evidently it was the defence of an innocent man against those who were trying to abuse the influence and intimidation of Sulla, and his administration. The speech is significant in that it reflects the political situation around it.
Sulla’s reforms and the power of his regime are evident in the speech, through the facts that it had fallen to Cicero to speak in Roscius’ defence due to the political sensitivity of the case, and also from other parts such as how the jury consisted only of senators or the devastation of the proscriptions. While Cicero’s speech had less political significance than is first apparent, depending on how much Cicero edited his works, the fact that it was later regarded as against the Sullan regime shows that it was important to this end. Bibliography Cassius Dio. Roman History (1914-1927) Translation by Earnest Cary Plutarch.
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