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p886 Perduellionis Duumviri

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on p886 of

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

PERDUELLIO′NIS DUU′MVIRI were two officers or judges appointed for the purpose of trying persons who were accused of the crime of perduellio. Niebuhr believes that they were the same as the quaestores parricidii, and Walter (Gesch. des Röm. Rechts, p24 note 19) agrees with him, though in a later part of his work (p855 note 20) he admits that they were distinct. It appears from a comparison of the following passages, — Liv. I.26; Dig. I. tit. 2 s2 § 23; Festus, s.v. Parici and Sororium, — either that some of the ancient writers confound the duumviri perduellionis and the quaestores parricidii, or that, at least during the kingly period, they were the same persons; for in giving an account of the same occurrence, some writers call the judges quaestores parricidii, while others call them duumviri perduellionis. After the establishment of the republic, however, there can be no doubt that they were two distinct offices, for the quaestores were appointed regularly every year, whereas the duumviri were appointed very rarely and only in cases of emergency, as had been the case during the kingly period (Liv. II.41, VI.20; Dion Cass. XXXVII.27). Livy (I.26) represents the duumviri perduellionis as being appointed by the kings, but from Junius Gracchanus (Dig. 1 tit. 13 s1; compare Tacit. Annal. XI.22) it appears that they were proposed by the king and appointed by the populus (reges populi suffragio creabant). During the early part of the republic they were appointed by the comitia curiata, and afterwards by the comitia centuriata, on the proposal of the consuls (Dig. 1 tit. 2 s2 § 23; Cic. pro Rabir. 4, &c.). In the case of Rabirius (B.C. 63), however, this custom was violated, as the duumviri were appointed by the praetor instead of by the comitia centuriata (Dion Cass. l.c.; Cic. l.c.; Suet. Caes. 12). In the time of the emperors no duumviri perduellionis were ever appointed.

The punishment for those who were found guilty of perduellio was death; they were either hanged on the arbor infelixa or thrown from the Tarpeian rock. But when the duumviri found a person guilty, he might appeal to the people (in early times the populus, afterwards the comitia centuriata), as was done in the first case which is on record (Liv. I.26), and in the last, which is that of Rabirius, whom Cicero defended before the people in an oration still extant. Marcus Horatius who had slain his sister, was acquitted, but was nevertheless obliged to undergo some symbolical punishment, as he had to pass under a yoke with his head covered. The house of those who were executed for perduellio, was razed to the ground, and their relatives were not allowed to mourn for them (Dig. 3 tit. 2, s. 11 § 3; comp. Becker, Handbuch der Röm. Alterth. II.2 p329, &c.).


Thayer's Note:

a In case you're wondering what the arbor infelix or "unhappy tree" might be, you're not alone. Although it's clear it was a tree or something like one — a wooden post or cross or gallows, to which the condemned was tied or nailed or from which he was hanged — the topic continues to exercise the wits of antiquaries. A very detailed look at the whole question is provided by TAPA 39:49‑72, Livy I.26 and the Supplicium de More Maiorum.


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