by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief
Sometimes on this art crime blog we feature stories about Amelia, the town in Umbria that is hosting for the third year ARCA's Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies.
This post is about not an art crime but murder. In 80 BC, during the dictatorship of Sulla, the only military commander to take victories in both Rome and Athens, a wealthy resident of Amelia was murdered in Rome. Sextus Roscius the Elder's estate in Amelia consisted of 13 farms and numerous slaves. He spent much of his time in Rome and left the farming to his son, Sextus Roscius the Younger, a middle-aged man who shunned social occasions and loved his work. One evening in September, while walking after dinner with two of his slaves, between 8 and 9 p.m. near the Palatine Baths, 'Old' Roscius was killed. Shortly thereafter, his estate was confiscated and put up for sale. This happened because at the time people who were not loyal to Sulla could be put on a list and have their assets sold. However, adding names to the list had stopped the year before Old Roscius was killed. Yet, sometimes, property was auctioned as if the owner had been listed. Two distant relatives, Capito and Magnus, purchased the farms.
A committee in Amelia felt that this was unfair so they sent a delegation to speak with Sulla and explain that Old Roscius had been in good standing at the time of his death and that the sale should be reversed. However, the delegation only spoke to a spokesman of Sulla who promised that the property would be restored to Sextus Roscius the Younger.
However, this delegation may have only been a smokescreen to appear to be seeking justice as the committee was headed up by Capito himself. What ended up happening is that Sextus Roscius the Younger was actually accused of killing his father in order to keep the property for himself. A witness came forward and said that the younger Roscius had been on poor terms with his father and was afraid of being disinherited.
No one thought that anyone would be brave enough to defend Roscius the Younger. Robbery and murder was common in Rome and the judicial court was easily bribed. People were afraid that they too would be accused by officials of or friendly to Sulla's regime.
However, the Roscius family had friends in Rome who convinced the 27-year-old Cicero to take the case.
The young advocat did not have to provide any evidence, just refute the accusations. Cicero defended Sextus Roscius the Younger by saying that he was uncouth and ignorant and the luxurious things meant nothing to him. In addition, Cicero said that the son had not been to Rome at the time of the death of his father, that he had been 50 miles away in Amelia. Cicero said that the younger Sextus had neither the means, the opportunity, or even the disposition to carry out such a crime. On the other hand, Cicero said, Magnus, a distant Roscius relative who had feuded for years over the estate, had been in Rome the night of the murder and had traveled to Amelia by dawn the next morning to tell his cousin Capito that Sextus Roscius the Elder was dead. Capito ended up owning three farms and Magnus managed 10 farms in the name of one of Sulla's administrators. Cicero gave such an impassioned speech that the 50 judges of the criminal court could not help but acquit Sextus Roscius the Younger, although Capito and Magnus never returned the property or faced charges in the death of Old Roscius.
In Amelia, just past Piazza Marconi and down Via Piacenti, you can find a plaque in memory of the Roscius family.