Verres (ca. 120 BC – 43 BC) was a Roman magistrate, notorious
for his misgovernment of Sicily. His extortion of local farmers and
plundering of temples led to his prosecution by Cicero, whose
accusations were so devastating that his defence advocate could only
Verres should leave the country. Cicero’s prosecution
speeches were later published as the Verrine Orations.
1.1 Public career
1.2 Trial and exile
2 Popular culture references
4 External links
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (October
Hellenistic bronze of Sleeping Eros, the type of work that Verres
extorted from Sicilian collectors
During the Civil War (88-87 BCE),
Verres initially supported Gaius
Marius (157-86 BC) and the Populares, but soon went over to the
Optimates. Sulla (c. 138 – 78 BC) made him a present of land at
Beneventum and secured him against punishment for embezzlement. In 80
Verres served as a legate in Asia on the staff of Gnaeus Cornelius
Dolabella, governor of Cilicia. The governor and his subordinate
plundered in concert until 78 BC, when Dolabella had to stand trial at
Rome. The court found him not guilty.
In 74 BC, by lavish use of bribes,
Verres secured the city
praetorship. He abused his authority to further the political ends of
his party. As a reward, the Senate sent him as governor (proconsul) to
Sicily, the breadbasket of the
Roman Republic - a particularly rich
province thanks to its central position in the Mediterranean making it
a commercial crossroads. The people were for the most part prosperous
and contented, but under
Verres the island experienced more misery and
desolation than during the time of the
First Punic War
First Punic War (264 to 241 BC)
or the recent Servile Wars (135-72 BC).
Verres ruined the
wheat-growers and the revenue collectors by exorbitant imposts or by
the iniquitous canceling of contracts. He robbed temples (notably that
on the site of the Cathedral of Syracuse) and private houses of their
works of art, and disregarded the rights of Roman citizens.
Another major charge leveled against
Verres during his Sicilian tenure
alleged that, during the time of the
Third Servile War
Third Servile War (73-71 BC)
against Spartacus, he had used the emergency to raise cash. He would,
allegedly, pick key slaves of wealthy landowners and charge them with
plotting to join Spartacus' revolt or otherwise causing sedition in
the province. Having done so, he would sentence the slave to death by
crucifixion, and then lay a broad hint that a sizable bribe from the
slave's owner could expunge the charge and sentence. Other times he
would name non-existent slaves, charging that the landowner held a
slave suspected of plotting rebellion and that the owner was actively
hiding him. When the owner, quite understandably, could not produce
the slave (which he didn't own),
Verres would throw the putative owner
into prison until a bribe could be paid for his release.
Verres returned to Rome in 70, and in the same year, at the request of
the Sicilians, Marcus Tullius
Cicero prosecuted him:
published the prosecution speeches as the Verrine Orations. Verres
entrusted his defence to the most eminent of Roman advocates, Quintus
Hortensius, and he had the sympathy and support of several of the
leading Roman patricians.
Trial and exile
The court was composed exclusively of senators, some of whom may have
been his friends. However, the presiding judge, the city praetor,
Manius Acilius Glabrio, was a thoroughly honest man, and his assessors
were at least not accessible to bribery.
Verres vainly tried to get
the trial postponed until 69 when his friend Marcus Caecilius Metellus
would be the presiding judge. Hortensius tried two successive tactics
to delay the trial. The first was trying to sideline Verres'
prosecution by hoping to get a prosecution of a former governor of
Bithynia to take precedence. When that failed, the defense then looked
to procedural delays (and gaming the usual format of a Roman extortion
trial) until after a lengthy and upcoming round of public holidays,
after which there would be scarce time for the trial to continue
before Glabrio's term was up and the new and more malleable judge
would be installed. However, in August,
Cicero opened the case and
vowed to short-circuit the plans by taking advantage of an opportunity
to change the format of the trial to bring evidence and witnesses up
much sooner, and opened his case with a short and blistering speech.
The effect of the first brief speech was so overwhelming that
Hortensius refused to reply, and recommended his client leave the
country. Before the expiration of the 9 days allowed for the
Verres was on his way to Massilia (today Marseille). There
he lived in exile until 43 BC, when he was proscribed by Mark Antony,
apparently for refusing to surrender some art treasures that Antony
Verres may have had a more decent character than that with which
Cicero, the primary source of information, credits him, but there is
no evidence to counter the allegation that he stood preeminent among
the worst specimens of Roman provincial governors. Of the seven
Verrine orations collectively called In Verrem, only two were
delivered; the remaining five were compiled from the depositions of
witnesses and published after Verres' flight.
It is not known what gens
Verres belonged to, though some give him the
Popular culture references
Last Seen in Massilia in the
Roma Sub Rosa
Roma Sub Rosa series by Steven Saylor.
Imperium by Robert Harris.
Verres is a major character in the novel Spartacus: Swords and Ashes
by Jonathan Clements, which is set on the eve of his governorship of
Sicily and concerns an undocumented dispute with a young
In Fortune's Favourites by Colleen McCullough, Verres, while a
secondary character, describes his career in detail, since his
pillaging of the Samnium during the Social War, from his departure to
Asia in the retinue of governor Gnaeus Cornelius Dolabella, where the
author describes his vices and immensurable greed, foreshadowing his
misgovernment of Sicily, and, in the end, Cicero's energic
"Song for Cleomenes", a song by
The Mountain Goats
The Mountain Goats from their
Beautiful Rat Sunset
Beautiful Rat Sunset 10" EP, recounts the story of Verres.
^ a b c Chisholm 1911.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in
the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Verres, Gaius".
Encyclopædia Britannica. 27 (11th ed.). Cambridge University
University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) School of Law, The Trial of