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p963 Proscriptio

by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D, F.R.S.E, Rector of the High School of Edinburgh,
on pp963‑964 of

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

PROSCRIPTIO. The verb proscribere properly signifies to exhibit a thing for sale by means of a bill or advertisement: in this sense it occurs in a great many passages. But in the time of Sulla it assumed a very different meaning, for he applied it to a measure of his own invention (Vell. Pat. II.28), namely, to the sale of the property of those who were put to death at his command, and who were themselves called proscripti. Towards the end of the year 82 B.C. Sulla, after his return from Praeneste, declared before the assembly of the people that he would improve their condition, and punish severely all those who had supported the party of Marius (Appian, B. C. I.95). The people appear tacitly to have conceded to him all the power which he wanted for the execution of his design, for the lex Cornelia de proscriptione et proscriptis was sanctioned afterwards when he was made dictator (Cic. de Leg. I.15, de Leg. Agr. III.2, &c.; Appian, B. C. I.98). This law, which was proposed by the interrex L. Valerius Flaccus at the command of Sulla, is sometimes called lex Cornelia (Cic. c. Verr. I.47), and sometimes lex Valeria. Cicero (pro Rosc. Am. 43) pretends not to know whether he should call it a lex Cornelia or Valeria (comp. Schol. Gronov. p435, ed. Orelli).

Sulla drew up a list of the persons whom he wished to be killed; and this list was exhibited in the forum to public inspection. Every person contained in it was an outlaw, who might be killed by any one who met him with impunity, even by his slaves and his nearest relatives. All his property was taken and publicly sold. It may naturally be supposed that such property was sold at a very low price, and was in most cases purchased by the friends and favourites of Sulla; in some instances only a part of the price was paid at which it had been purchased (Sallust, Fragm. p238, ed. Gerlach). The property of those who had fallen in the ranks of his enemies was sold in the same manner (Cic. pro Rosc. Am. 43). Those who killed a proscribed person, or gave notice of his place of concealment, received two talents as a reward; and whoever concealed or gave shelter to a proscribed, was punished with death (Cic. c. Verr. I.47, Plut. Sull. 31; Suet. Caes. 11). But this was not all; the proscription was regarded as a corruption of blood, and consequently the sons and grandsons of proscribed persons were for ever excluded from all public offices (Plut. l.c.; Vell. Pat. II.28; Quinctil. XI.1.85).

After this example of a proscription had once been set, it was readily adopted by those in power p964during the civil commotions of subsequent years. This was the case during the triumvirate of Antonius, Caesar, and Lepidus (43 B.C.). Their proscriptions were even far more formidable than that of Sulla, for 2000 equites and 300 senators are said to have been murdered, and the motive of the triumvirs was nothing but a cold-blooded thirst for vengeance. Fortunately no more than these two cases of proscription occur in the history of Rome. (Appian, B. C. IV.5; Vell. Pat. II.66; Suet. Aug. 27; Liv. Epit. lib. 120.)


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