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p881 Peculatus

Article by George Long, M.A., Fellow of Trinity College
on p881 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

PECULATUS is properly the misappropriation or theft of public property (pecunia publica), whether it was done by a functionary or by a private person. Labeo defines it thus, "pecuniae publicae aut sacrae furtum, non ab eo factum, cujus periculo est." The person guilty of this offence was Peculator. Cicero (de Off. III.18) enumerates Peculatores with sicarii, venefici, testamentarii and fures. The origin of the word appears to be Pecus, a term which originally denoted that kind of movable property which was the chief sign of wealth. Originally trials for Peculatus were before the Populus, or before the Senate (Liv. V.32, XXXVII.57, XXXVIII.54). In the time of Cicero matters of peculatus were one of the Quaestiones perpetuae, which imply some Lex de Peculatu, and such a Lex is by some writers enumerated among the Leges Sullanae, but without stating the authority for this assertion. Two Leges relating to Peculatus are cited in the Digest, Lex Julia Peculatus and Lex Julia de Residuis (Dig. 48 13); but these may be the same Lex, though quoted as two Leges, just as the Lex Julia de Adulteriis comprised a provision De Fundo Dotali, which chapter is often quoted as if it were a separate Lex.

Matters relating to sacrilege were also comprised in the Lex Julia Peculatus (ne quis ex pecunia sacra, religiosa publicave auferat, &c.); matters relating to the debasement of the coinage; the erasing or cancelling of tabulae publicae, &c. The Lex de Residuis applied to those who had received public money for public purposes and had retained it (apud quem pecunia publica resedit). The penalty under the Lex, on conviction, was a third part of the sum retained. The punishment which was originally aquae et ignis interdictio, was changed into Deportatio under the Empire: the offender lost all his rights, and his property was forfeited (Inst. 4 18 §9). Under the Empire sacrilege was punished with death. A "Sacrilegus" is one who plunders public sacred places. (Rein, Das Criminalrecht der Römer, p672).

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Page updated: 9 Jun 10