The Gaius Verres Case: A Glossary & Explanations


by Ann Linder

Action de Repetundis: An action by provincials against an official for extortion.  The law allowed banishment of a convicted official and a fine equal to 250% of the amount proven to have been extorted.

Actio Prima: 
The name given to Cicero's opening speech in the trial of Gaius Verres.

Actio Secunda:  The name given to a set of five speeches edited and published by Cicero after the Gaius Verres trial.  The five speeches (or books) each address a specific set of crimes Verres was alleged to have committed.

This son of Venus and symbol of love in ancient Roman mythology. Husband to Psyche, he is frequently depicted as a youth with wings.

Decumae (tithes): Taxes paid by many Sicilian farmers. The tax, calculated on the basis on land acreage and the amount of seed sown, typically took the form of heat, barley, wine, oil, fruit, or vegetables. Citizens who paid this tax were called decumani.

De Signis:  The title given to Cicero’s oration outlining his accusations against Verres concerning his theft of art.

“The Dogs": Verres's group of henchmen. They were charge with identifying targets for plunder, especially works of art, and then acquiring them for Verres's personal collection.  The Dogs also helped locate candidates for affairs.  They were experts at intimidation.

Divinatio:  The proceeding held to determine who should be selected as prosecutor when various plaintiffs propose more than one candidate for the job.  It is also the name given to Cicero's speech identifying the reasons why he should be the one to prosecute Verres for his crimes against Sicilians.

Edicta Repentina:  Edicts issued to announce public events, funerals, holidays, etc. Another variety of the Edicta Repentina were legal decrees such as orders postponing a trial or banishing someone.

Equites:  The middle class of Rome. Equites were typically wealthy and frequently had military ties, although over time the title became more symbolic. The served as a link between the common folk (plebians) and the senatorial class (patricians).

Emblemata: Ornaments, usually of silver, gold, or jewels, that adorned drinking vessels and other dinner ware.  Verres had his henchment tear emblemata from the possessions of Sicilians, and then applied them to his own drinking vessels and other dinner ware.

Fortuna: Goddess of fate and fortune. After being adopted by the Romans, she became a very popular deity especially among married women and was honored by a decadent temple on the Capitoline Hill.

Frumentum Aestimatum: Literally “frumentum in cellam” or “grain in the celler”. This was grain the preator demanded and kept for his own personal use.

Fruges Minutae: Fruits and vegetables paid as tithes.

Jugerum A unit of land measurement 240 ft by 120 ft. Originally the area necessary for a yoke of oxen to move across.

Litter:  A covered couch used for carrying important people through the streets.

Medimni: A unit of measurement adopted to calculate amounts of grain. Roughly equivalent to 57 liters of cereal.

Second Tithe: A compulsory purchase of grain at a fixed price agreed upon by the Senate in Rome. These became an annual occurrence in Sicily during Verres's praetorship.

Sesterce:  A low denomination of Roman currency introduced in 211 B.C.. Coins were made of silver and worth one-tenth as much as a denarii.

Second Tithe: A compulsory purchase of grain at a fixed price agreed upon by the Senate in Rome. These became an annual occurrence in Sicily during Verres's praetorship.

Slaves:  Slaves consisted mainly of captured peoples, criminals, and those who were born to slaves. Their conditions varied greatly, ranging from fields slaves (who dealt with hard labor either in the quarries or in the fields) to household slaves (more akin to cooks or maids). Slaves were considered members of the household and typically were responsible for taking care of the children.

Litter:  A covered couch used for carrying important people through the streets.

Verrines:  The name given the set of seven speeches (two delivered and five published after the trial) by Cicero relating to the trial of Gaius Verres.

From Cicero's Orations (Gunnison and Harley, editors)(1912)


In the time of Cicero there were two styles of oratory, the Asiatic and the Attic. The former style called for ornamentation, and attention to language and delivery rather than to thought; the latter was direct, simple, natural. Hortensius represented the Asiatic; Cicero, the Attic, though being a pupil of the Rhodian School, he was inclined to strike a mean between the two extremes.


The old distinction between patricians and plebeians was wiped out as early as 300 B.C., when both classes alike were entitled to hold any office, civil or religious. But another distinction arose, dividing the people into three classes, the sena­torial order, the knights, and the commons.

The Senatorial Order, or Optimates. - This order included all who were descended from a curule magistrate or who had themselves held office.  They therefore constituted an hereditary nobility. They practically held a monopoly of the offices, for while any freeborn citizen might be a candidate, 'the power of the senatorial party was against all except the nobles. Senators were excluded by law from trade and banking. Their distinctive dress was the tunic with a broad purple stripe.

The Commons. - In Cicero's time the older families had all become senators or knights. The great body of the people constituted the populus, plebs, or populares. By amassing sufficient wealth one of the inferior class could rise to the equites; by holding the offices, he became a senator. Such a man ennobled his family, and being the first to hold office, was a novus homo (a man without ancestry). "The condition of the commons was pitiable. The combinations of capital shut them out of commerce and manufacture, while the competition of slave labor almost closed agriculture and trade against them. Some found employment in the colonies and provinces, some eked out a scanty living on their farms, some made war their trade; but the idle and de­graded flocked into the capital to live on the cheap corn provided by the treasury, and to sell their votes to the highest bidder." (Johnston.)

Freed slaves (liberti, libertini) were citizens and had the right to vote, but not to hold office until the taint of slavery was removed by two or more generations.

Municipia, or municipal towns, were conquered com­munities subject to taxation and military service, which finally gained full citizenship. Civitates foederatae were communities whose privileges depended on special treaty with Rome. Colonies sent from the city (coloniae), as a rule, enjoyed full citizenship. A praefectura was a town in which justice was administered by a prefect sent from Rome. Individual foreigners were often honored with citizenship by special gift, sometimes conferred by a commander.


Membership. - In the earlier days of the republic any citizen of proper age was eligible to the Senate, though the preference was given to ex-magistrates. After Sulla, the Senate became exclusively a body of ex-magistrates, serving ex-officio for life. Before admission to membership, a candidate must be declared worthy by the censor, must be thirty-one years old, and must abstain from certain occupations. While there was no property requirement, only men of means would be able to serve, as they did, without pay. The senators in a body were addressed as patres conscripti, i.e. patres et conscripti, a phrase first used in 509 B.C. to include the original senators (patres) and the newly enrolled (conscripti) plebeians. The number of senators was fixed by Sulla at 600, by Caesar at 900, and afterwards reduced to 600.

The Session. - The regular meeting place of the Senate was the Curia Hostilia on the north side of the Comitium, but any temple might be used instead. The first oration against Catiline was delivered in the Temple of Jupiter Stator, the fourth in the Temple of Concord. A session was called generally by a consul, praetor, or tribune, who became the presiding officer. None but members were admitted, but others might listen to the proceedings from the entrance.

Procedure. - After the senators had been summoned by the herald (praeco) or by proclamation, the presiding officer took the auspices. He then proposed the question to be considered (rem ad senatum referre), and called upon the members to express their opinions (rogare sententias). The privilege of speech was given first to magistrates-elect, then to ex-magistrates ranking as consuls, praetors, aediles, tribunes, quaestors. The presiding officer was entitled to speak at any stage of the debate. The members either spoke at length or simply expressed agreement, or nonagreement with the motion. After the discussion the voting was by division. All voted except magistrates in office. A decision of the Senate which was not vetoed was called a senatus consultum; but if vetoed by any magistrate having the right of veto, it was only a senatus auctoraas. To be valid, the decision must be reached before sunset. Filibustering was practiced, for the opponent of a measure could prevent action on it by talking until sunset.

Functions. - The Senate was primarily an advisory body, giving advice only when asked, but by reason of the dignity of its members, it gained in power until it controlled all legislation and elections. Among its special powers were the following:

1. In religious matters the Senate ordered the consultation of the soothsayers or the Sibylline books, decreed a thanksgiving (supplicatio), games, or holidays, and cooperated with the religious officers in times of peril.

2. In financial matters the Senate controlled taxation, revenues, appropriations, and coinage.

3. The Senate declared war and concluded peace, assigning troops and military commands, awarding the title of imperator and granting a triumph or a supplicatio.

4. The Senate could enter into an alliance by treaty with a foreign nation, assume the protectorate of a territory, or confer the title of king or friend of the Roman people on a foreign potentate. Embassies from foreign nations were sent to it, and demands addressed to a foreign nation were sent by the Senate.

5. The government of the provinces was under the jurisdiction of the Senate, which assigned the proconsuls and the proprietors.

6. The Senate discussed bills which were to be presented to the legislative assemblies.

7. The Senate had the sole right of naming a dictator, or might suspend the ordinary laws by passing a senatus consultum ultimum, directing the consuls videant ne quid res publica detrimenti capiat.


There were six ordinary magistrates in the republican period: consul, censor, and praetor, tribune of the plebs, aedile, and quaestor. The dictator and magister equitum were extraordinary, appointed only in critical times. The consul and praetor (dictator and magister equitum) were magistrates with imperium, i.e. with supreme executive authority, military, civil, and judicial, which had formerly belonged to the kings. The other officials were magistrates with potestas. The consul, censor, praetor, curule aedile (dictator and magister equitum) were curule magistrates, i.e. were entitled to use the sella curulis, an ivory chair of peculiar shape, as a symbol of authority. Non-curule magistrates used a subsellium, a low wooden bench. By a law in 180 B.C., a cursus honorum was established, making it necessary for one to have been quaestor before becoming praetor, and to have been praetor before becoming consul. Furthermore, it was considered desirable to be aedile before being praetor, though not essential. Besides this sequence; a minimum age limit was fixed for the incumbent of each office; for quaestor, thirty-one; aedile, thirty-seven; praetor, forty; consul, forty-three. The date of the elections was usually set by the Senate for July, but postponements might occur. Quaestors were inaugurated the following December 5; tribunes, December 10; others, January 1. The term of office was one year, except for the censor, who served eighteen months. An interval of two years was necessary between the different offices, and one of ten years before reelection to the same office. Every magistrate possessed the power of veto over his colleague or an inferior magistrate. There was no salary for public officials, but an ex-magistrate found a source of gain in the province to which he was assigned.

Consuls. - The two consuls were theoretically of equal power, exercising their authority on alternate months. They were the chief magistrates, checking by veto any other except a tribune. Each consul was limited by the veto power of the other and of the tribune, and was restrained by the fact that he would have to give an account of his administration to the people. In the transaction of foreign affairs, they presided over the Senate, and executed its orders. They conducted the election of the curule magistrates in the popular assemblies. They had the power to levy troops, and were nominally the commanders, but in Cicero's time it was unusual for them to take the field. In times of peril, the consuls were invested by the Senate with the power of a dictator. A consul whose authority was prolonged beyond his term of office became a proconsul and acted as governor of a province. The consular insignia were the toga praetexta, sella curulis, and twelve lictors, who bore the fasces.

Praetors. - In case of the absence of both consuls from the city, the praetors acted in their place. But their chief duty was to act as judges. As the government developed, their number was increased from one to eight, as it was in Cicero's time. Of these, one was the praetor urbanus, in charge of cases between citizens; another was the praetor inter peregrinos, in charge of cases between foreigners, or between a foreigner and a citizen; the remaining six presided over the standing courts for special offences. The praetor urbanus was the chief judge of Rome. At the close of his year, a praetor became propraetor, in the Capacity of provincial governor.

Aediles. - There were four aediles, two "curule" and two "plebeian." The former were chosen by the comitia tributa, the latter by the concilium plebis (24). Their duties were practically the same, the city being divided into four districts, one for each aedile. These duties were the care of the streets and public buildings, the water supply and the grain market, the superintending of the police, and the providing against fire. An important function was to provide for the public games and festivals. For this purpose there was a state appropriation of funds, but the desire to win the favor of the people often led the aedile to excessive expenditure which he expected to pay by means of later income in the provinces.

Quaestors. - The quaestors were the public treasurers.

Before the third century B.C. they also prepared evidence in public prosecutions (hence the name, from quaero). They collected money due the state and paid it out by order of the Senate. They were also custodians of the public documents such as census lists, contracts, and copies of laws. Their number, at first two, was increased by Sulla to twenty. Two of these (quaestores urbani), served in the city as general financial officers, while the others were with the army or in the provinces as paymasters. Their year of office began December 5, when they drew lots for assignments as referred to in Cat. IV. 7.

Tribunes. - The ten tribunes of the plebs were of necessity plebeian, either by birth or adoption (24). The office was first created to protect the people against the arbitrary action of a magistrate. Though they had no positive duties except to preside at certain elections (24) they came to be the most powerful officers in the state, for by their power of veto (ius intercedendi) they could prevent the act of any curule magistrate, the passage of laws by the assemblies, or the decree of the Senate. The only check upon them was the veto of a colleague. They could also convoke and preside over the Senate (28) and the comitia tributa, and initiate legislation. Their activity was confined to the city, from which they were permitted to be absent only a day at a time. As protectors of the people, the houses of the tribunes stood open day and night. Their persons were declared sacred, i.e. death might be inflicted on any man who harmed the tribune in the exercise of his authority.

Religious Officers. - The religion of the Romans was a state institution. The priests were men of great influence and had much to do with public life. The most important of the priestly colleges were the pontiffs (pontifices) and the augurs (augures). The former, 15 in number, supervised all religious observances, chose and guarded the Vestals, regulated the Calendar, fixing the days for legal business and for festivals. They held office for life. The president of the college, the pontilex maximus, was not prevented from engaging in secular pursuits. Thus Caesar was elected to this office at the age of thirty-six, and continued his public career. The augurs observed and interpreted the auspices or reputed natural signs. These signs were derived from the heavens, including thunder and lightning, from the flight of birds, from the behavior of sacred chickens, and in other ways according to traditional rules. Unless the auspices were first taken, no assembly, no meeting of the Senate, no election could be held, neither could war be declared, nor could public business of any kind be transacted. Cicero was made one of the fifteen augurs in 53 B.C. 


The Roman courts were in charge of the praetors.

In cases of minor importance, the praetor either gave the decision himself or referred it to a judge (iudex) or jury. For cases of greater importance, standing courts were established by Sulla, the quaestiones perpetuae, presided over by the praetors. These courts considered cases concerning misgovernment (extortion), murder, forgery, embezzlement, treason, assault, etc. Juries varied in number of men, and were selected by the presiding judge. After 70 B.C. a law provided that they should be taken equally from the senators, the knights, and the tribuni aerarii. Their service was honorary. Trials were first held in the open air at the tribunal of the praetor in the Forum, but after 184 B.C., often in the basilicas around the Forum. From the decisions of the standing courts there was no appeal. By the Valerian law (509 B.C.) citizens condemned to death or excessive fine by any magistrate had the right of appeal to the comitia centuriata and tributa respectively. But capital punishment and the flogging of citizens were abolished by the Porcian law (198 B.C.). Imprisonment as a penalty was not known in Rome, though one awaiting trial might be kept in the career. The ordinary penalties were a fine (multa), loss of citizenship (infamia), or exile. Exile was either voluntary, or practically imposed by the denial of the use of fire and water (aquae et ignis interdictio).


A Roman province was organized under a charter prepared by the conquering general with the sanction of the Senate. Its government was entrusted to a proconsul when an army was necessary, to a propraetor when the province was quiet. As far as practicable, the freedom of the provincials in local matters was not interfered with. "The tax exacted of a province was a tithe (decuma), or a fixed amount in money (stipendium). Besides the tithe, the Senate might impose the burden of supplying further produce at a fixed price." (Gow.) During the later years of the republic, especially, the provinces were plundered by the governors as well as by the tax farmers. Although charges could be brought in the special court at Rome against the offender, yet in fact such action brought little permanent relief.


The Forum was the open space between the Capitoline and Palatine Hills, originally a market place. "It was about two hundred and twenty yards long, sixty yards wide near the Capitoline, narrowing to thirty-five near the Palatine." (Gow.) Adjacent to it on the northwest corner was a small square, the Comitium, used in earlier days as the center of public life. Between the Forum and the Comitium stood the Rostra, the speaker's platform, from which audiences could be addressed on either side. It was from this platform that Cicero's orations to the people were delivered. The Capitoline Hill on the west was famed for its temple of Jupiter. The Palatine Hill on the southeast was the site of many shrines, and of the residences of wealthy citizens. On the north side of the Comitium was the Senate House, the Curia Hostilia, whose site is now marked by the Church of St. Adriano. At the western end of the Forum was the Temple of Concord, built to commemorate the final harmony between the patricians and the plebeians. The Temple of Jupiter Stator, in which Cicero delivered his first oration against Catiline probably stood on the slope of the Palatine, a short distance to the east of the Forum. Among the other buildings of interest about the Forum were the Temple of Vesta, with its sacred fire; the Regia, formerly the palace of the king, later the residence of the pontifex maximus, the basilicae, used for the law courts; and the tabernae, rows of shops. The Forum was therefore the center of the religious, legal, and business interests. On the northwest corner stood the Tullianum or state's prison, which exists to-day, the place of the execution of Catiline's fellow-conspirators. 

*Sources: Cicero's Orations (Gunnison and Harley, editors)(1912)

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