||This article only describes one highly specialized aspect of its associated subject. (April 2015)|
Proscription (Latin: proscriptio) is, in current usage, a "decree of condemnation to death or banishment" (OED) and can be used in a political context to refer to state-approved murder or banishment. The term originates in Ancient Rome, where it included public identification and official condemnation of declared enemies of the state. It has been used broadly since to describe similar governmental and political actions, including, with varying degrees of nuance, the en masse suppression of ideologies and elimination of political rivals or personal enemies. In addition to its recurrences during the various phases of the Roman Empire, it has been the term of choice, e.g., to describe the suppression of Royalists after Oliver Cromwell's decisive mid-seventeenth defeat of Charles II at the Battle of Worcester (see image), curbing of Western religion in early 18th century China, the banning of Highland dress following the 1745 rebellion in Scotland, atrocities that occurred during the Reign of Terror in the late 18th century French Revolution, the mass deportations of English and French workers in mid-19th century, from Russia, with the onset of the Crimean War, and in the 20th century, such things as the efforts of the Labour Party in England to prevent "Communist entryism" through blacklisting propagandizing persons and organisations, the broad prohibitions of Jewish cultural institutions and activities in the Soviet Union after the birth of the state of Israel and the onset of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, and the political violence that occurred in Argentina against Peronists after the exile of Juan Perón.
Proscription of 82 BC
An early instance of mass proscription took place in 82 BC, when Lucius Cornelius Sulla was appointed dictator rei publicae constituendae ("Dictator for the Reconstitution of the Republic"). Sulla proceeded to have the Senate draw up a list of those he considered enemies of the state and published the list in the Roman Forum. Any man whose name appeared on the list was ipso facto stripped of his citizenship and excluded from all protection under law; reward money was given to any informer who gave information leading to the death of a proscribed man, and any person who killed a proscribed man was entitled to keep part of his estate (the remainder went to the state). No person could inherit money or property from proscribed men, nor could any woman married to a proscribed man remarry after his death. Many victims of proscription were decapitated and their heads were displayed on spears in the Forum.
Sulla used proscription to restore the depleted Roman Treasury (Aerarium), which had been drained by costly civil and foreign wars in the preceding decade, and to eliminate enemies (both real and potential) of his reformed state and constitutions; the plutocratic knights of the Ordo Equester were particularly hard-hit. Giving the procedure a particularly sinister character in the public eye was the fact that many of the proscribed men, escorted from their homes at night by groups of men all named "Lucius Cornelius," never appeared again. (These men, the Sullani, were all Sulla's freedmen.) This gave rise to a general fear of being taken from one's home at night as a consequence of any outwardly seditious behaviour.
Sulla's proscription was bureaucratically overseen, and the names of informers and those who profited from killing proscribed men were entered into the public record. Because Roman law could criminalise acts ex post facto, many informers and profiteers were later prosecuted.
Proscription of 43 BC
Proscription was revived by the Second Triumvirate of Octavian (later known as Augustus), Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and Mark Antony, in November 43 BC, again resorted to proscription to eliminate political enemies and replenish the Treasury. Some of the proscribed enemies of the state were stripped of their property but protected from death by their relatives in the Triumvirate (e.g., Lucius Julius Caesar and Lepidus' brother). Most were not so lucky; amongst the most prominent men to suffer death were the orator Cicero, his younger brother Quintus Tullius Cicero (one of Julius Caesar's legates) and Marcus Favonius.
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