Murder Was Not a Crime
Homicide and Power in the Roman Republic
214 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
Sales Date: January 15, 2010
Embarking on a unique study of Roman criminal law, Judy Gaughan has developed a novel understanding of the nature of social and political power dynamics in republican government. Revealing the significant relationship between political power and attitudes toward homicide in the Roman republic, Murder Was Not a Crime describes a legal system through which families (rather than the government) were given the power to mete out punishment for murder.
With implications that could modify the most fundamental beliefs about the Roman republic, Gaughan's research maintains that Roman criminal law did not contain a specific enactment against murder, although it had done so prior to the overthrow of the monarchy. While kings felt an imperative to hold monopoly over the power to kill, Gaughan argues, the republic phase ushered in a form of decentralized government that did not see itself as vulnerable to challenge by an act of murder. And the power possessed by individual families ensured that the government would not attain the responsibility for punishing homicidal violence.
Drawing on surviving Roman laws and literary sources, Murder Was Not a Crime also explores the dictator Sulla's "murder law," arguing that it lacked any government concept of murder and was instead simply a collection of earlier statutes repressing poisoning, arson, and the carrying of weapons. Reinterpreting a spectrum of scenarios, Gaughan makes new distinctions between the paternal head of household and his power over life and death, versus the power of consuls and praetors to command and kill.
~Bryn Mawr Classical Review
Overall, this is an enjoyable and well-researched work, which offers an interesting hypothesis that I hope will be a useful addition to the wider debate on Roman law. As stated above, however, one of its greatest strengths is its consideration of the wider implications of homicide in Roman society. Accordingly, it sheds a fascinating new light on the wider issues of power in the republican period and beyond.
- Chapter One: Killing and the King
- Chapter Two: Power of Life and Death: Pater and Res Publica
- Chapter Three: Killing and the Law, 509-450 B.C.E.
- Chapter Four: Murder Was Not a Crime, 449-81 B.C.E.
- Chapter Five: Capital Jurisdiction, 449-81 B.C.E.
- Chapter Six: License to Kill
- Chapter Seven: Centralization of Power and Sullan Ambiguity
The publication of Murder Was Not a Crime was made possible by the support of the Ashley and Peter Larkin Endowment in Greek and Roman Culture.