Valerian and Porcian laws

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The Valerian and Porcian laws were passed between Rome’s founding in 509 BC, and 195 BC. They exempted Roman citizens from degrading and shameful forms of punishment, such as scourging with rods or whips, and especially crucifixion. They also established certain rights for Roman citizens such as the right of appeal to the Plebeian Tribunes, called Provocatio. The original Valerian law had also made it legal to kill any citizen who was plotting to seize a tyranny. This clause was used several times, the most important of which was its usage by Julius Caesar's assassins.

Valerian law[edit]

The Valerian law was enacted by Publius Valerius Publicola in 509 BC, a few years after the founding of republican Rome. It allowed a Roman citizen, condemned by a magistrate to death or scourging, the right of appeal to the people, that is, to the people composed of senators, patricians, and plebeians.[1] Thus the consuls had no longer the power of pronouncing sentence in capital cases against a Roman citizen, without the consent of the people. The Valerian law consequently divested the consuls of the power to punish crimes, thereby abolishing the vestiges within the Roman government of that unmitigated power that was the prerogative of the Tarquin kings.

Nonetheless, the Valerian law was not kept on the books throughout the five hundred years of the Roman republic. Indeed, Titus Livius (Livy) states that the Valerian law was enacted again, for the third time, in 299 BC. Andrew Lintott surmises that the effect of this third Valerian law was to regularize the provocatio: appeals to the people had been a fact of life with which magistrates had to deal prior to the law, but now magistrates were ordered to yield to the decisions of the people in capital cases.[2] Livy notes that in all three cases the law was enacted by the Valerius family. Furthermore, Livy notes that, should a magistrate disregard the Valerian law, his only reproof was that his act be deemed unlawful and wicked. This implies that the Valerian law was not so very effective in defending the plebs.

Porcian laws[edit]

The Porcian laws, of which there were three, provided stricter sanctions against those magistrates who failed to uphold the Valerian law. The first of these laws was named after P. Porcius Laeca, and was authorised by Cato the elder in 199 or 195 BC. This Porcian law of 190's BC stated that a citizen of Rome could escape death by voluntary exile. The third Porcian law extended the right of protection and appeal for the Roman citizen outside Roman city limits and throughout the military districts. This is indicated by numismatic evidence in the form of a Roman coin that was minted in 104 BC or thereabouts. Up to this time it is probable that the provincial authorities had unmitigated coercitio.

Other laws[edit]

Another law that was passed with the intention of protecting citizens from severe punishment at the hands of governors and magistrates, is the lex Julia de vi publica, passed around 50 BC. Yet this law, for all practical purposes, is only a restatement of the right of appeal present in the Valerian and Porcian laws.

Violation[edit]

This sanctity of a citizen's person was highly esteemed by the Romans, and so any violation of the Valerian and Porcian laws was deemed to be almost a sacrilege. Cicero’s oration in his prosecution of Verres indicates the high pitch to which this feeling was carried. Verres, who as the governor of Sicily (73 - 70 BC) had a number of Roman citizens cruelly killed, was eventually tried before the senators in Rome, ostensibly on charges of extortion.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Lentz 1993, p. 120.
  2. ^ Lintott, Andrew (1999). The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 37–38. ISBN 978-0-19-926108-6. 

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