GAIUS 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
whose accusations were so devastating that his defence advocate could
only recommend that
Verres should leave the country. Cicero’s
prosecution speeches were later published as the Verrine Orations .
* 1 Biography
* 1.1 Public career
* 1.2 Trial and exile
* 2 Popular culture references
* 3 References
* 4 External links
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Hellenistic bronze of Sleeping
Eros , the type of work that
Verres extorted from Sicilian collectors
Verres initially supported
Gaius Marius (157-86 BC) and
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 BC
Verres served as a
legate in Asia on the staff of
Gnaeus Cornelius Dolabella , governor
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, he was then sent as governor 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 (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 (73-71
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
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
There he lived in exile until 43 BC, when he was proscribed by Mark
Antony , apparently for refusing to surrender some art treasures that
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 nomen Licinius.
POPULAR CULTURE REFERENCES
* Last Seen in Massilia in the
Roma Sub Rosa series by Steven Saylor
* Imperium by Robert Harris .
Verres is a major character in the novel Spartacus: Swords and
Jonathan Clements , which is set on the eve of his
Sicily and concerns an undocumented dispute with a
Cicero in Neapolis.
* 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 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 Press.