Gaius Verres was a Roman
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

A magistrate is an officer of the state; in modern usage the term usually refers to a judge or prosecutor. This was not always the case; in ancient Rome, a magistratus was one of the highest government officers and possessed both judicial and executive powers. Today, in common law systems, a...

, notorious for his misgovernment of Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

. It is not known what gens
In ancient Rome, a gens , plural gentes, referred to a family, consisting of all those individuals who shared the same nomen and claimed descent from a common ancestor. A branch of a gens was called a stirps . The gens was an important social structure at Rome and throughout Italy during the...

he belonged to, though some give him the nomen
Roman naming conventions
By the Republican era and throughout the Imperial era, a name in ancient Rome for a male citizen consisted of three parts : praenomen , nomen and cognomen...


As governor

Politically, Verres intitially supported Gaius Marius
Gaius Marius
Gaius Marius was a Roman general and statesman. He was elected consul an unprecedented seven times during his career. He was also noted for his dramatic reforms of Roman armies, authorizing recruitment of landless citizens, eliminating the manipular military formations, and reorganizing the...

 and the Populares
Populares were aristocratic leaders in the late Roman Republic who relied on the people's assemblies and tribunate to acquire political power. They are regarded in modern scholarship as in opposition to the optimates, who are identified with the conservative interests of a senatorial elite...

, but soon went over to the Optimates
The optimates were the traditionalist majority of the late Roman Republic. They wished to limit the power of the popular assemblies and the Tribunes of the Plebs, and to extend the power of the Senate, which was viewed as more dedicated to the interests of the aristocrats who held the reins of power...

. Sulla
Lucius Cornelius Sulla
Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix , known commonly as Sulla, was a Roman general and statesman. He had the rare distinction of holding the office of consul twice, as well as that of dictator...

 made him a present of land at Beneventum, and secured him against punishment for embezzlement. In 80 BC, Verres was quaestor
A Quaestor was a type of public official in the "Cursus honorum" system who supervised financial affairs. In the Roman Republic a quaestor was an elected official whereas, with the autocratic government of the Roman Empire, quaestors were simply appointed....

in Asia on the staff of Gnaeus Cornelius Dolabella
Gnaeus Cornelius Dolabella
Gnaeus Cornelius Dolabella was a consul of the Roman Republic in 81 BC, with Marcus Tullius Decula, during the dictatorship of Sulla.-Biography:...

, governor of Cilicia
In antiquity, Cilicia was the south coastal region of Asia Minor, south of the central Anatolian plateau. It existed as a political entity from Hittite times into the Byzantine empire...

. The governor and his subordinate plundered in concert until 78 BC, when Dolabella had to stand trial at Rome. He was convicted, mainly on the evidence of Verres, who thus secured a pardon for himself.

In 74, by lavish use of bribes
Bribery, a form of corruption, is an act implying money or gift giving that alters the behavior of the recipient. Bribery constitutes a crime and is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as the offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or...

, Verres secured the city praetor
Praetor was a title granted by the government of Ancient Rome to men acting in one of two official capacities: the commander of an army, usually in the field, or the named commander before mustering the army; and an elected magistratus assigned varied duties...

ship. He abused his authority to further the political ends of his party. As a reward, he was then sent as governor to Sicily
Sicilia (Roman province)
Sicilia was the first province acquired by the Roman Republic, organized in 241 BC as a proconsular governed territory, in the aftermath of the First Punic War with Carthage. It included Sicily and Malta...

, the breadbasket
The breadbasket or the granary of a country is a region which, because of richness of soil and/or advantageous climate, produces an agricultural surplus which is often considered vital for the country as a whole. Rice bowl is a similar term used in Southeast Asia...

 of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 and 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
First Punic War
The First Punic War was the first of three wars fought between Ancient Carthage and the Roman Republic. For 23 years, the two powers struggled for supremacy in the western Mediterranean Sea, primarily on the Mediterranean island of Sicily and its surrounding waters but also to a lesser extent in...

 or the recent servile wars
Roman Servile Wars
The Servile Wars were a series of three slave revolts in the late Roman Republic. See:...

. The wheat-growers and the revenue collectors were ruined by exorbitant imposts or by the iniquitous canceling of contracts. Temples and private houses were robbed of their works of art and the rights of Roman citizens were disregarded.

Another major charge leveled against Verres during his Sicilian tenure was that, during the time of the Third Servile War
Third Servile War
The Third Servile War , also called the Gladiator War and the War of Spartacus by Plutarch, was the last of a series of unrelated and unsuccessful slave rebellions against the Roman Republic, known collectively as the Roman Servile Wars...

 against Spartacus
Spartacus was a famous leader of the slaves in the Third Servile War, a major slave uprising against the Roman Republic. Little is known about Spartacus beyond the events of the war, and surviving historical accounts are sometimes contradictory and may not always be reliable...

, 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 that was 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 him in prison until a bribe could be paid for the landowner's release.

Verres returned to Rome in 70, and in the same year, at the request of the Sicilians, Marcus Tullius Cicero prosecuted him: the prosecution speeches were later published as the Verrine Orations
In Verrem
In Verrem is a series of speeches made by Cicero in 70 BC, during the corruption and extortion trial of Gaius Verres, the former governor of Sicily...

. Verres entrusted his defence to the most eminent of Roman advocates, Quintus Hortensius
Quintus Hortensius
Quintus Hortensius Hortalus was a Roman orator and advocate.At the age of nineteen he made his first speech at the bar, and shortly afterwards successfully defended Nicomedes IV of Bithynia, one of Rome's dependants in the East, who had been deprived of his throne by his brother. From that time...

, 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 Quintus Caecilius Metellus Caprarius 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
Bithynia was an ancient region, kingdom and Roman province in the northwest of Asia Minor, adjoining the Propontis, the Thracian Bosporus and the Euxine .-Description:...

 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
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

 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 prosecution Verres was on his way to Massilia (today Marseille
Marseille , known in antiquity as Massalia , is the second largest city in France, after Paris, with a population of 852,395 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Marseille extends beyond the city limits with a population of over 1,420,000 on an area of...

). There he lived in exile until 43 BC, when he was proscribed by Mark Antony
Mark Antony
Marcus Antonius , known in English as Mark Antony, was a Roman politician and general. As a military commander and administrator, he was an important supporter and loyal friend of his mother's cousin Julius Caesar...

, apparently for refusing to surrender some art treasures that Antony coveted.

Verres may have had a more decent character than Cicero, the primary source of information, credits him with, 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, only two were delivered; the remaining five were compiled from the depositions of witnesses and published after Verres' flight.

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    , Verres, while a secondary character, describes his career in detail, since his pillaging of the Samnium during the Social War
    Social War
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    , 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 prosecution.
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     from their Beautiful Rat Sunset
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    10" EP, recounts the story of Verres.

External links

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