Early career prosecutors: forensic activity and senatorial careers in the Late Republic

Steel, C. (2016) Early career prosecutors: forensic activity and senatorial careers in the Late Republic. In: Du Plessis, P. J. (ed.) Cicero's Law: Rethinking Roman Law of the Late Republic. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, pp. 205-227. ISBN 9781474408820 (doi: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474408820.003.0012)

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The focus of this chapter is on the ways in which members of the senatorial order in the late Republic (and those who aspired to join that order) exploited a knowledge of the law to further their careers. Cicero is the best-documented example, whose activity demonstrates a complex relationship between those who claimed expert theoretical knowledge of the law and those who spoke in the courts, between ‘jurists’ and ‘orators’. Drawing on the results of a ERC-funded project based at the University of Glasgow which is editing the fragments of Republican oratory (‘The Fragments of Republican Roman Oratory’), this chapter explores the intersections between political careers and the varieties of forensic activity. It begins with an analysis of the phenomenon of the ‘early career’ prosecution, in which a young man, in his late teens or early twenties, brought a prosecution against a senior public figure, usually an ex-consul, on charges relating to misconduct in a public office. This move, which seems to begin with L. Licinius Crassus’ prosecution of C. Papirius Carbo in 119, was widely imitated over the following seventy years. Its attraction was that it offered an opportunity to act on the public stage, and begin to develop a public and career-enhancing reputation, a decade or more before the speaker could seek membership of the Senate. Since prosecution depended on private initiative, and there were no qualifications for those who spoke in the Forum, the young and inexperienced were not barred from such very high-profile activity. However, examination of those who took this route shows that it was available only to a very limited group: nobiles, who had the family backing and connections to insulate themselves against the consequences of a failed prosecution. In addition, many such prosecutions came with a justificatory back-story, often framing them as responses to earlier injuries inflicted by the defendant. And it seems inevitable that such prosecutions were in reality team efforts, in which the inexperienced lead prosecutor was supported by friends and experts. The early career prosecution thus highlights the potential of forensic activity to claim popular attention and pave the way to electoral success; and the dangers associated with it. Successful forensic activity required talent and application: Cicero’s emphasis on this in his technical works on oratory is not simply self-serving. If we examine the subsequent careers of the early prosecutors, it emerges that not all continued with their forensic efforts. Indeed, a catalogue of forensically active senators is a short list throughout the Republic; at any one point, it seems that fewer than a dozen senators were regularly appearing in the courts. The smallness of the cadre indicates that forensic activity should not be seen as a normal part of public life, but as a specialised task which only added consistent value to a career if pursued with diligence and a high degree of technical competence.

Item Type:Book Sections
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Steel, Professor Catherine
Authors: Steel, C.
Subjects:D History General and Old World > DE The Mediterranean Region. The Greco-Roman World
College/School:College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > Classics
Publisher:Edinburgh University Press
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2016 Edinburgh University Press
First Published:First published in Cicero's Law: Rethinking Roman Law of the Late Republic: 205-227
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy
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