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LAW AND JUSTICE IN CAESAR’S GALLIC WARS



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AA9 VERSTEEG PRINT DOC 4 4 2005 3 27 PM LAW AND JUSTICE IN CAESAR S GALLIC WARS Russ VerSteeg INTRODUCTION Historians have written so much about Julius Caesar that it may strike one as presumptuous to propose to add anything of value that is novel today The present study has a rather limited scope My method has been to focus on Caesar s own writing In particular using Caesar s monograph on the Gallic Wars De Bello Gallico as a basis this article attempts to gain some insight into his thinking about law 1 We know that Caesar had a great deal of practical experience in law He studied law pled a number of cases in the Roman law courts and held several positions that required him to apply legal principles 2 In addition legal questions significantly affected Caesar s political life and his most important political decisions In fact in some respects legal questions dominated much of what he did in his life 3 Thus it is clear that he was well aware of the principles of practice procedure and Professor New England School of Law Boston Massachusetts A B Latin Education University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Phi Beta Kappa 1979 J D University of Connecticut School of Law Magna Cum Laude 1987 Sincere thanks to Dean John F O Brien Dean of New England School of Law and the Board of Trustees who provided funding for this Article with an Honorable James R Lawton Summer Research Stipend 1 Since Caesar did not write the last book of De Bello Gallico I have omitted that text from my study See GAIUS SUETONIUS TRANQUILLUS Julius Caesar in THE TWELVE CAESARS 56 at 34 Robert Graves trans 1975 Hirtius who finished The Gallic War left incomplete by Caesar add ed a final book In order to keep this project manageable it was necessary to limit the scope of historical research Therefore for biographical information about Caesar this Article relies primarily on four biographies two ancient and two modern GAIUS SUETONIUS TRANQUILLUS Julius Caesar in THE TWELVE CAESARS 9 49 Robert Graves trans 1975 hereinafter SUETONIUS PLUTARCH Caesar in FALL OF THE ROMAN REPUBLIC SIX LIVES BY PLUTARCH 243 310 Rex Warner trans 1976 hereinafter PLUTARCH CHRISTIAN MEIER CAESAR A BIOGRAPHY David McLintock trans 1995 hereinafter MEIER and MATTHIAS GELZER CAESAR POLITICIAN AND STATESMAN Peter Needham trans 1968 hereinafter GELZER 2 See infra part I A 3 See infra part I B 571 AA9 VERSTEEG PRINT DOC 572 4 4 2005 3 27 PM HOFSTRA LAW REVIEW Vol 33 571 substantive Roman law operative in the late Roman Republic In order to provide background and context Part I describes these two important aspects of the manner in which law affected Caesar s life namely his own legal training and experience and the legal issues that affected his most important decisions Drawing on the text of De Bello Gallico Part II considers Caesar s thoughts regarding law in the abstract Historians have acknowledged that the text of De Bello Gallico provides a lens through which we may perceive some of Caesar s thoughts For example in discussing De Bello Gallico Christian Meier remarks Though ostensibly a campaign report it is also a highly idiosyncratic expression of the author s personality 4 According to Meier This book is of the greatest interest as Caesar s portrayal of himself 5 Part II identifies two types of issues in an effort to uncover what Caesar thought about law and its role in society The first type of issue that it addresses appears in his descriptions of foreign laws i e non Roman laws At several points Caesar digresses to mention and occasionally to discuss laws and legal features of the Gauls Germans and Britons By considering these texts we may be able to deduce something about what Caesar thought about justice Second Part II also looks at isolated statements he makes which in some fashion relate to justice fairness obligations and punishments An evaluation of these statements also adds to our understanding of Caesar s conceptualization of jurisprudence The goal of this study is not to try to use Caesar s writing to uncover substantive rules or legal doctrine 6 Rather the goal is to examine Caesar s own words and to read between the lines as it were in an attempt to draw conclusions about what he thought about law on a more abstract level What does Caesar perceive to be the role of law in society How does he define justice 4 MEIER supra note 1 at 254 see also id at 255 56 What really interests us is Caesar s way of describing events and conditions and at the same time presenting himself 5 Id at 253 see also id at 311 H e did not record his feelings He was inclined to be reticent and unforthcoming about his motives 6 Presumably given the wealth of legal references in his writing it would be possible to undertake such a task See infra note 119 for a more detailed explanation regarding Caesar s references to law in De Bello Gallico AA9 VERSTEEG PRINT DOC 2004 4 4 2005 3 27 PM CAESAR S GALLIC WARS 573 I BACKGROUND CONTEXT A Caesar s Practical Experience As a youth Caesar was tutored by a freedman Marcus Antonius Gnipho who had himself been educated in Alexandria and was a master of both Greek and Latin rhetoric 7 In 77 B C at the age of twentythree he prosecuted Cornelius Dolabella for extortion and in doing so established himself as an exceptional advocate 8 In the very next year he brought a similar action against Gaius Antonius who as legatus in the Mithradatic War had shamelessly plundered Greece 9 Then in 75 B C Caesar journeyed to the island of Rhodes to study rhetoric under Apollonius Molon 10 In 73 B C Caesar was elected Pontifex Maximus a position that he continued to hold throughout his life As pontifex his responsibilities included dealing with a variety of legal issues According to Meier the college of pontiffs had to rule on all religious matters and a part from this the college could exercise political influence by tendering opinions or rulings on infringements of the proper procedures and on how such infringements should be expiated It had previously been responsible for Roman law and kept magistrates rolls 11 At about the age of twenty eight 72 B C he was again involved in the prosecution of another extortion case We have a fragment of the speech that he gave against one Marcus Juncus 12 Then in 69 B C as 7 GELZER supra note 1 at 23 footnote omitted 8 SUETONIUS supra note 1 4 at 10 Caesar brought a charge of extortion against Cornelius Dolabella an ex consul who had once been awarded a triumph but failed to secure a sentence id


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