Corruption In The Roman Empire

We’ve all heard the names of insane and corrupt Roman emperors; Nero, Caligula, Egalabus, Commodus, but they actually weren’t the worst officials offered up to history by the Roman Empire. The worst came from Rome’s days as a republic; it was the senators that served in Rome and the governors that ruled the territories.

Men like Gaius Verrus who was born to a senator, lived a life of luxury and then continued that lifestyle when he was made governor of the island of Sicily. Stealing money from the coffers of Sicily was the least horrendous crime he committed. He desecrated temples and defiled women. He stocked the officers of Sicily’s navy with cowards, so that they would be ineffective against the pirates that lay outside the safety of the harbor. He disregarded laws and when magistrate tried to enforce laws against him, he’d have them strung up and whipped to death.

It became so bad that the Roman Government had to take him to trial. A trial he lost, but not before he fled the region. He made his way to Egypt and took up a post under Mark Anthony (the famous lover of Cleopatra). When Anthony was informed of the sentence and the hefty fine that had been levied against Gaius Verrus, he gave the man a choice, he could pay up and return to prison or he could flee. But it was an empty choice, Verrus choose to flee, so Anthony had him captured and executed.

You have to be pretty bad to have a jury of senators decide you deserve to go to prison, when you were of their social class. Even more troubling though, Mark Anthony’s position made him and Verrus social equals and Anthony ordered his death; providing more proof that Verrus must have been really terrible.

The trial of Verrus gave the great orator Cicero his spot in history. Cicero was the prosecutor in the case. If he hadn’t tried it and won, we probably wouldn’t remember him. The name Gaius Verrus has been mostly lost. Oddly, while most of us have heard of Cicero, we don’t actually know why he’s famous. And yet Verrus was every bit as awful as Nero. But you really have to have an interest in either criminal trials of ancient history or the Roman Republic to hear about him, while Nero is covered in most Early Western Civ classes.

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