Lex Gabinia de piratis persequendis

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Among the laws of ancient Rome, the lex Gabinia (Gabinian Law) was an emergency measure[1] in 67 BC which granted Pompeius Magnus ("Pompey the Great") proconsular powers in any province within 50 miles of the Mediterranean Sea without holding a properly elected magistracy,[2] with the purpose of combating piracy. The law was proposed and passed by the tribune Aulus Gabinius and it was also known as lex de uno imperatore contra praedones instituendo or lex de piratis persequendis.[3]

Passage and immediate impact[edit]

Pompey enjoyed huge popularity amongst the plebeians of Rome on account of his previous successes against Sertorius and the allies of Gaius Marius, but the Roman Senate was wary of him and his growing power. The Senate was reluctant to give massive powers to any one man, especially one as popular as Pompey, fearing it would allow another dictator to seize power as Sulla had done just fifteen years before.[citation needed] The people, however, were unconcerned about vague abstractions of tyranny. They were concerned about the material effects of the pirates' raids and resulting disruption of the grain supply.[4] In 68 BC, pirates set ablaze Rome’s port at Ostia, destroyed the consular war fleet, and kidnapped two prominent senators, along with their retinue. Pompey, seeing a political opportunity, arranged for Aulus Gabinius to introduce what would become lex Gabinia.[5]

The command came with a substantial fleet and army to fight the growing problems of pirates disrupting trade in the Mediterranean Sea. Appian, in his Roman History, estimated it at 270 warships, 120,000 infantry, and 4,000 cavalry.[6] Others estimate these at 500 warships, 120,000 infantry and around 5,000 cavalry.[7] He was also granted 144 million sesterces, disposal of the state treasury, and the authority to appoint 25 legates of praetorian rank.[8] He was given an unprecedented term of three years to solve the problem. Pompey managed to defeat the pirates in just three months.[9]

Because most Roman territory was within the 50-mile limit around the Mediterranean, the law gave Pompey, who was then just 39, power over almost every province.[9] In fact, this led to a dispute in 67 BC with the proconsul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus, when the Cretans attempted to obtain better terms from Pompey than they were receiving from Metellus, who was charged with pacifying Crete.[10]


The laws set down by Sulla during his dictatorship had been intended to strengthen the Senate and take power away from the tribunes of the people. The passing of the lex Gabinia, followed by the lex Manilia, proved that Sulla's intended new constitution, designed to stop any one man from gaining immense power, was not working, and was thus a milestone in the collapse of the Roman Republic. [11]Before the law, commands were assigned over individual provinces. Unlike those assignments, this law took the unprecedented act of granting command over what was almost the entire empire to one man.[5]

During the Roman Empire, the law served as precedent for Augustus' receipt of greater proconsular authority over the entire empire in the constitutional settlement of 23 BC. The provision allowing Pompey to appoint various legates with propraetorian authority was a forerunner to the legati Augusti who served as the emperor's deputies in his provinces.[12] That it occurred during the Republic allowed Augustus room to claim that his actions were not out of line with the mos maiorum, the ways of the ancestors, lending him the credibility in claiming the restoration of the Republic and the sovereignty of the Roman people.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cary, M (1924). "The Lex Gabinia Once More". The Classical Review. 38 (7/8): 162. doi:10.1017/s0009840x00040257.
  2. ^ Abbott, Frank Frost (1963). A History and Descriptions of Roman Political Institutions (3 ed.). New York: Biblo and Tannen. p. 109.
  3. ^ Braund, D.C. "Piracy under the principate and the ideology of imperial eradication / In: War and society in the Roman world, J. Rich, G. Shipley (eds.). London, 1993. - P.: 195-212
  4. ^ Taylor, Thomas Marris (1899). A Constitutional and Political History of Rome. London: Methuen & Co. pp. 314–316.
  5. ^ a b Harris, Robert (30 September 2006). "Pirates of the Mediterranean". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 April 2017.
  6. ^ Appian, Mithridatic Wars, chapter 14 or section 94.
  7. ^ Sabin, Philip A.G., Hans van Wees, and Michael Whitby. The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare Vol.2. p.105.
  8. ^ Taylor 1899, p. 313.
  9. ^ a b Taylor 1899, p. 314.
  10. ^ Taylor 1899, p. 315.
  11. ^ Brunt, P.A. (1988). The Fall of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 23.
  12. ^ Lintott, Andrew (2003). The Constitution of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 115. ISBN 0-19-815068-7.
  13. ^ Taylor 1899, pp. 410-417.

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