An Analysis of a Legal Case Defended by Cicero in Ancient Rome

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The background to the Sextus Roscius junior’s case is predicated on a series of political events within the growing Roman regime. In particular, and as Berry (2004) envisages, it is a his- torical fact that Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix’s coming to power has a significant implication on the case. As he was commonly referred to, Sulla was a Roman General who seized power through force and then ruled autocratically. During his tenure, the powerful freedman Chryso- gonus was his slave (Berry, 2004).

In order for Sulla to maintain political stability, he had de- vised unorthodox means of acquiring financial resources to pay soldiers and bribe most army generals to support him. One of the strategies he used was known as proscription (Zetzel, 2013).

As Zetzel (2013) explains, Zulla usually searched for some of the land’s wealthiest people and put them on the proscription list. Anyone whose name was placed on the prescription list was to be killed, and his property seized. They were treated as enemies of the state, and people were al- lowed to kill them and seize their property.

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Thus, Sulla used this strategy to amass wealth and fi- nancial resources from people whom he placed on the proscription list, although they were inno- cent of the crime.

Most apparently, Chrysogonus is a former slave who adopted his master’s false acquisi- tion strategy to confiscate senior Roscius’ property. Sextus Roscius was a wealthy landowner, and before his death, there were indications that he was involved in a property dispute with some relatives; Titus Roscius Magnus and Titus Roscius Capito.

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Senior Sextus was found murdered near Pallacine Baths in Rome (Berry, 2004). He was killed on his way from a party. Cicero indi- cates in his defense that one of the relatives who were disputing a property with Sextus was in Rome at the time, Titus Roscius Magnus (Kornacka, 1995). After the news of Sextus’ murder spread, Cicero indicates that Titus Roscius Magnus sent one of his slaves to inform Titus Roscius

Capito that Sextus had died. When Capito received this news, he also told Chrysogonus about the dead of Sextus, the wealthy landowner (Kornacka, 1995). As Zetzel (2013) supports, the peo- ple interested in Sextus wealth devised a strategy to take away his property in the pretense that he was on the proscribed people’s list. However, the practice of proscriptions had been stopped some months before Sextus’ death, such that no one could be added to the list. However, Chryso- gonus added Sextus to the proscription list, although his name was not there before death (Kor- nacka, 1995). He added his name to appear that his date resulted from people who wanted to take his property. Then, Chrysogonus implicated his son Sextus junior because he was the heir of his father’s wealth. They accused him of killing his father to inherit his wealth. Cicero was defending Sextus junior in the case against the charge of patricide, killing his father.

After advancing his defense argument, Cicero successfully won the case. The jury found Cicero’s arguments not only appealing but also convincing in defense of Sextus junior (Tamas, 2011). The victory, in this case, proffered Sextus junior with an acquittal. He was acquitted from the charge of patricide (Tamas, 2011). However, there is little to no information that shows whether he won back his father’s property.

Since this was a significant case, which involved powerful people, Cicero’s win accorded him great fame in Rome. As a 26-year-old young man winning a high stake case involving pow- erful people, Cicero was the talk of the town and in the legal circles (Jaewon, 2009). His victory made him the most regarded lawyer in Rome. He became a high-caliber lawyer. However, after his successful defense, he also feared his life and soon traveled to Greece. Most probably, he feared that the Sulla could have sought to avenge since, during the case, Cicero had criticized his regime, although he denied these allegations (Jaewon, 2009).

The main charge advanced against Sextus’ son was patricide that he killed his father to inherit his father’s property. Cicero advanced his defense argument in a threefold front, firstly at- tacking the patricide charges, then pointing out the possible killers, and finally pointing out the mastermind of the murder. Of course, Cicero’s defense sought to not only acquit Roscious but also vindicate the possible perpetrators of the offense. Cicero advanced that patricide allegations were baseless in the first argument and that Sextus junior had no intention or motivation to kill his father. Cicero indicated that for a son to plan for the murder of his father, there must be a mo- tivation behind it; most probably, the motivation that they were not on good terms. However, Ci- cero indicated that there was no known disagreement between the father and son. Moreover, Ci- cero also proved that prosecutors had a weak case because they had failed to offer sufficient evi- dence to support their allegations.

In implicating Magnus and Capito, Cicero indicated that the two had a significant motiva- tion behind the murder because they dispute property with the victim (Vasaly, 1985). For Cicero, this was a core motivation, and that they showed suspicious conduct after the murder. Finally, the illegal prescription of Sextus was adequate to prove that Chrysogonus was interested in acquiring the property of the victim. Besides, after acquiring the property, he went ahead to petition the prosecution of Sextus junior, who was their only competitor in taking the victim’s property (Vasaly, 1985). Cicero argued the case on these three fronts and won it.

When advancing a case and the apparent intent of a party to win, lawyers usually employ various rhetorical strategies. The most common rhetorical strategies are logos, pathos, and ethos. The strategies could be used to persuade, convince, illustrate and solidify their case (Dyck, 2006). Of course, and as a rhetorician, Cicero used all three strategies in his defense. However, logos were more pronounced and were the basis for the victory he achieved in this case.

At the beginning of his defense, Cicero uses the ethos strategy to appeal to the magistrate. He begins by indicating that “All those whom you see here supporting my client believe that in this case a wrong has been perpetrated, arising from an act of unprecedented criminality and that it ought to be resisted; but to resist it themselves they have not the courage, considering the unfa- vorable times in which we live” (Cicero, 80, p. 8). In this regard, Cicero points out that there were members of the jury of highest ranks, leading orators, and more experienced elderlies who could have stood to challenge the wrongful accusation.

However, none of them had the nerve to do so, except the 26-year-old Cicero (Dyck, 2006). This made Cicero appear as a brave ethicist who is determined to defend justice. He says, “So am I the boldest man here? Far from it. Or am I more attentive to my obligations than everyone else?” (Cicero, 80, p. 8). Of course, these were ethical obligations, and most probably, his demeanor and brevity in defending the accused gave him a credibility mileage as one of the rising lawyers in the land.

More importantly, the use of logic was tremendous across the case. Verlag (2014) affirms that he mainly employed reason and facts to win the case. For example, in building up the case, Cicero explains why he was left as the only choice to defend this case. He indicated that others had political interests and the powerful ranks that they wanted to be protected. He says, “These then are the reasons why I have come forward as an advocate in this case. I was not singled out as the one man who could speak with the greatest skill but was simply the only one left who could speak with relatively little danger” (Cicero, 80, p. 10). The argument, of course, exposes the nature of the case, indicating that indeed there were powerful forces behind the case, that many distinguished lawyers most probably refused to defend the accused (Verlag, 2014). This kind of logic and the reasons therein would probably persuade the magistrate to see sense in the case.

Indeed, the entire defense speech is full of logic. When he delves into Lucius Cornelius Chrysogonus involvement in the case, he builds a list of premises that lead to a compelling con- clusion. For example, Cicero advances that “seeing that he has unlawfully seized the precious and splendid property of another man, and seeing that the life of Sextus Roscius appears to him to stand in the way of and impede his access to that property” (p. 10). He adduces that “Chryso- gonus does not imagine that he can keep possession of the substantial and valuable inheritance of this innocent man” (p. 10) without removing Sextus junior from the way. However, “With Roscius condemned and forced into exile, however, he believes that he will be free to squander and fritter away his ill-gotten gains” (p. 10). Indeed this argument makes tremendous sense and is predicated on reason.

In retrospect, Cicero uses rhetoric strategies to defend the accused. The use of logos is pronounced across the defense. The rhetoric strategies are pivotal in his defense victory because they had the power to persuade the magistrate to agree with Cicero’s rationale.

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An Analysis of a Legal Case Defended by Cicero in Ancient Rome. (2023, Feb 23). Retrieved from

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