Integrated Wisdom

Suing in Ancient Rome

Crime prevention was really left up to Joe Citizen, and his neighbor, and everyone else in the city — it was one big neighborhood watch group. Notices would be posted on empty wall space to report the theft of an item, and a reward was offered to either return it or tell the owner where it was. This system worked to some extent — since life in Rome was public, ill gotten gains were noticed and needed to be explained.

If you found yourself a victim, working the system to get Rome’s extensive laws to work for you required some creativity and perseverance. To get a sense of what that was about, let’s imagine that someone has stolen your cell-phone. You cannot call the police, because there are none. So instead you put the word out to people you know. With the mention of a reward, someone steps forward to tell you about a person who was in the area and was known to be a little light fingered. You approach the alleged thief and after a thorough search, you come up with your cell phone. But the thief claims he didn’t steal it, he found it, but you’re pretty sure he’s lying.

This could end here with the return of your phone, but you feel violated and believe he’s trying to make you look like a fool, and so you decide to take it to another level. You want satisfaction, meaning restoration of your honor and payment of damages, and maybe some other punishment for the thief. So you go through the court system, which pretty much was free street theater.


    Cicero — one of Rome’s best lawyers

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