The Crimes of Gaius Verres
The crimes described below are illustrative of the dozens of crimes Verres allegedly committed.

Syracuse, the principal city of ancient Sicily

1. Naval Crimes

Example 1: Executing Quarry Workers Instead of Pirates

While Gaius Verres caroused at his summer camp near the harbor in Syracuse, Sicily, a pirate ship with a cargo of slaves, coined money, fine tapestries, and silver plate was captured nearby.  The governor ordered all the booty brought to him.  Under Roman law, the captain of a pirate ship was to be immediately executed, but Verres (most likely because of a bribe) instead had the captain escorted to interior town of Centuripae, where the captain was given every comfort.  As a general rule, the entirety of a pirate crew faced at one place and time, but Verres instead separated the young and handsome pirates from those (the old or ugly or infirm) who he deemed of little value.  The younger skilled pirates were distributed to his secretaries, his son, or kept for himself.  The pirates of lesser value were executed in small parties at various times. The citizens of Syracuse, anxious to see justice done with the pirates, kept score of those executed, comparing the number of pirates executed to the known size of the ship's company.  When a discrepancy became apparent, many citizens began to demand execution for the full company of pirates.  Verres attempted to quell the unrest by having his henchmen round up Roman citizens in stone quarries (generally refugees from Spain), cover their heads with veils, and lead them out to be executed supposedly as the unaccounted for pirates[FHC, pp. 145-147]

Example 2: The Attempted Cover-Up of a Naval Fiasco

Verres had a romantic interest in the wife of Cleomenes.  To get the injured husband out of the way, Verres put Cleomenes in command of the seven-ship Sicilian naval fleet, even though he was not remotely qualified for the job.  After a five-day sail from Syracuse, the fleet anchored at Pachynum, on the southeastern cape of the island.  While Cleomenes, "thinking himself another Verres," spent his days drinking in his tent on the shore, his famished crew tried to survive on wild palm roots.  When a pirate fleet was spotted nearby, Cleomenes boarded the fastest ship of his fleet (and the one with the most complete crew) and took off for Helorus, vanishing from sight before any of the other six ships could even get under way.  Without the support of the flagship, the remaining six undermanned ships were easy pickings for the pirates, who attacked from behind.  When news of the disaster at sea reached Sicilian citizens, an angry mob gathered around the governor's residence.  The pirates did a taunting victory lap around Syracuse harbor while the citizens watched helplessly from shore.  Verres understood that the disaster might lead to his prosecution, and that the captains of his ships (except Cleomenes) could be powerful witnesses against him, so he forced them all to sign false affidavits casting the blame in other directions.  Then for good measure, fifteen days after the fiasco, he had the captains arrested and charged with treason.  They were tried before a biased tribunal (which included Cleomenes), convicted, and executed.  The governor's executioner took bribes from some of the captains, made upon the promise that their deaths would come from a single axe blow rather than me messy, as might be the case without a bribe. [FHC, pp. 147-153]

2. Unlawful Punishments of Roman Citizens

Example 1: The Beating and Torture of C. Servilius

C. Servilius, a trader from Panormus, incurred the wrath of Verres by publicly criticizing some of the scandals of his administration.  The governor brought trumped up charges against Servilius, apparently alleging that the trader had fraudulently taken property belonging to the goddess Venus.  After pleading not guilty, Servilius was ordered by Verres to post a bond.  When Servilius refused to pay the bond (or, more precisely, to enter into a sponsio), he was beaten by six of Verres's lictors, who also scourged him across the eyes.  Servilius soon afterward died from his injuries. [FHC, pp.154-155]

Example 2: Use of Unauthorized Forms of Execution

Verres openly employed against Roman citizens methods of punishment such as crucifixion which were permitted by Roman law to be used only for convicted slaves.

3. Seizures of Art and Other Valuables from Private Individuals

Example 1:  Four Figures from the Chapel of Heius

Heius owned one of the most lavishly adorned homes in Messana.  Heius's residence, Cicero tells us, in fact was something of a tourist attraction.  The residence's private chapel featured four beautiful figures, including a marble Cupid which once adorned the Forum at Rome, a bronze Hercules, and two other bronze statues.  Verres removed the four figures from Heius's chapel, handing Heius a trifling sum (6,500 sesterces) in return.  Purchases by provincial governors were unlawful under Roman law and, of course, a payment that is ridiculously low compared to the worth of an object can hardly be called a "purchase" at all.  Finally, as a wealthy man, it is difficult to see why Heius would have any interest in selling the most prized possessions of his home--and Heius testified at trial that he never would have sold the objects for any amount.

Example 2: The Golden Candelabrum of a Syrian Prince

An attack in 83 B.C. by Armenians dethroned the king of Syria, but by 74 B.C. the invaders were driven out.  In 73 B.C., two sons of the former king left Rome for a journey to Syria to claim the throne of their dead father.  On their homeward journey, the two sons stopped in Sicily, where Verres invited them to an elaborate banquet.  The princes returned the favor, and over the course of the evening showed Verres their treasures.  Verres had learned through his sources that the prize of their collection, a magnificent candelabrum of gold, encrusted with gems (and destined for the temple of Jupiter in Capitolinus) was being kept in secret.  He prevailed on the princes to bring the candelabrum to his house, where he might inspect it, while keeping it safe from the prying eyes of the public.  When attempts were later made by the prince's servants to retrieve their treasure, Verres kept putting them off.  Finally, a direct request by the princes for the object's return was refused, Verres proposing instead that it be presented to him as a gift.  Unsurprisingly (especially given the religious significance of the candelabrum), Verres's suggestion was refused.  The princes were ordered to leave the island before night, ostensibly because "pirates from his kingdom [Syria] were coming against Sicily."  The work of art, which the princes formally dedicated to Jupiter before departing Sicily, had not been returned to its rightful owners at the time of the Verres trial.

4. Crimes Committed Before Becoming Provincial Governor

Example 1: A Dinner Party Leads to Death

In his early career as legatus to Dolabella, the propraetor to the province of Cilicia, Verres was always on the lookout for attractive sex partners.  While on a journey that took him through Lampsacus, Verres asked his assistants to determine whether there were any virgins "worthy" of extending his stay.  Rubrius, the assistant to Verres who specialized in such matters, informed him that a particularly lovely girl resided at the home of her father, Philodamus, one of the town's leading citizens.  In a plot to gain access to his comely target, Verres insisted that Rubrius be lodged at the home of Philodamus.  In a display of generosity he came later to regret, Philodamus hosted a banquet for his guest, allowing him to invite whomever he pleased.  Rubrius invited the companions of his master.  After the dinner party had put down several glasses of wine, Rubrius asked Philodamus, "Why do not have your daughter summoned to us?"  Philodamus replied that it was not the custom of Greeks to have women dine at the banquets of men.  Rubrius then ordered his slaved to close the door and guard the house.  With tensions escalating, Philodamus gave orders for his servants to defend his daughter and to inform his son of the crisis.  In the ensuing fight, Rubrius severely scalded Philodamus with boiling water.  Philodamus's son and many other townspeople, having rushed to the home to defend the daughter, became involved in the melee.  In the end, a number of the slaves of Verres were wounded and his lictor, Cornelius, was killed.  Narrowly escaping a mob of angry townspeople, Verres fled Lampsacus and began plotting his revenge.  Verres succeeded in getting Philodamus and his son charged with the murder of his lictor.  Despite the compelling evidence that the murder was justified, Verres (and Dolabella) persuaded a vacillating Nero to stack the jury against the defendants and secure their convictions.  Philodamus and his son were executed in the marketplace of Laodicea for the crime of defending a young girl's honor. [FHC, pp. 8-11].

Example 2:  The Case of the Not Quite Perpendicular Pillars

In 74 B.C., through well-placed bribes, Verres got himself elected to the position of praetura urbana. The praetorship was a judicial position.  Each of Rome's eight praetors had different assignments.  Verres's role was to supervise the court for civil litigation between citizens.  It was a role that provided numerous opportunities for extortion.  (The manipulation of wills proved especially profitable for Verres.)

Another responsibility of Verres as praetor was to examine public buildings to ensure that the work of contractors was satisfactory.  A contract for repair of the temple of Castor and Pollux on the forum provided Verres with an opportunity for plunder.  A finding that the repairs failed, even in some small way, to meet the terms of the contract with the city would allow Verres the chance to extort money from the contractors as the price for signing off with his approval for the project.  Unfortunately for Verres in the case of the temple, the repair work was performed very well.  In a visit to the temple, Verres was unable to turn up anything wrong.  In Cicero's account, one of Verres's "Dogs" (assistants in plunder) offered the helpful suggestion that "almost no column is absolutely perpendicular" and suggested a rigorous testing of every column in the temple with a plumb-line, despite the fact that such testing was neither customary, required by the contract, or necessary to ensure the building's engineering integrity.  With this pretense for rejecting the repairs, Verres demanded a bribe from the contractors.  The 200,000 sesterces offered by the contractors were rejected by Verres and he re-let the repair contract to another contractor on the ground of non-performance.  The contract was awarded to a colluding contractor for 560,000 sesterces.  The "repairs" to the ever-so-slightly non-perpendicular columns were easily made and Verres, in a final blow to the original contractor, ordered that he furnish the funds for the cost-inflated second contract.  [FHC, pp. 21-25.]

5.  Abuse of Tax Laws: Ripping Off Farmers

Example 1: Special Edicts Aimed at Q. Septicius

No actions of Verres more inflamed the Sicilian population that his abuse of power aimed at farmers, who were the backbone of the Sicilian economy.  A case in point concerns three special edicts targeting Q. Septicius.

Septicius refused to accede to the tithe (a form of land tax called decumae) levied on his grain.  In his first special edict, Verres ordered that no farmer could remove the grain from his threshing-floor until he had satisfied the demands of his tax collector.  Septicius, a stubborn Roman to be sure, decided to leave his grain on the the floor and allow it to be damaged by rain rather than pay what he considered to be an excessive levy.  Verres responded with a second edict requiring grain to be delivered to the coast by August 1, thus forcing Septicius to choose either pay the demanded decumae or violate one or the other of the two special edicts.  Taken together, the two special edicts transformed what had been a voluntary settlement procedure into a compulsory one.  The third special edict of Verres provided that farmers (arators) had to provide a security to guarantee their appearance at courts of the tax collector's choosing.  By choosing geographically inconvenient courts, as Cicero noted, the Verres Administration forced money out of its victims, such as the unfortunate Septicius.  [FHC, pp. 65-67]

Example 2:  The Impossible Demands on Three Farmer Brothers

The Verres Adminstration demanded of three brothers (Sostratus, Numenius, and Nymphodurus) with farms near the same city that they pay more to the government in grain than they had raised.  Unable to meet this impossible demand, the brothers chose to flee.  Apronius, Verres's chief tax collector, seized the brothers' deserted farms, farm implements, and live stock.  When Nymphodurus later returned and begged for restoration of his property, Apronius ordered him arrested and strung up on a wild olive tree which grew in the forum.  [FHC, p. 71]

6. Seizures of Valuable Public Property

Example 1: Making a Magistrate Ride Naked on a Bronze Horse

In the town of Tyndaris, nothing was more prized than a statue of Mercury.  (The figure of Mercury even appeared on Tyndaritan coins.) Verres coveted the Mercury statue and ordered that it be taken down and shipped to his treasure store-house in Messana.  Local opposition to the order was so strong that Verres found it necessary to follow up with threats directed to Tyndaris's magistrate, Sopater, who referred the matter of the statue to the local senate.  The senate made its feelings clear when it ordained death for anyone who even touched the figure.  When Verres's demand that the senate reconsider was met with an adjournment without a vote, Verres ordered Sopater stripped naked and strapped on a bronze equestrian statue in the middle of the forum.  To make matters worse for Sopater, Verres's order came in the winter during a cold rain.  Moved by the piteous site of their magistrate's flesh congealing on the cold metal horse, the populace relented and allowed their Mercury to be transported to Messana at public expense.  (Cicero stated that Verres, facing trial, promised to return the Mercury to Tyndaris if the locals agreed not to testify against him.)[FHC, pp. 117-119]

Example 2:  A Scape-goat for a Stolen Ceres

Only women could perform rituals at the shrine of Ceres at Catalina--no men could even enter the temple.  So it was that Verres arranged for slaves to sneak into the innermost part of the temple at night and make away with the antique statue of the goddess.  When priestesses reported the theft to city magistrates the next day, Verres and his company beat a hasty retreat from Catalina.  The scape-goat slave found by Verres's host in Catalina to stand trial for the crime was acquitted when the testimony of priestesses established, beyond little doubt, that the defendant was not one of the actual culprits.  [FHC, pp. 120-121]

Source: Frank H. Cowles, Gaius Verres: An Historical Study (Cornell Thesis)(1917)

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