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1. By the time of Vespasian we can rank Antioch and Carthage as a third tier. See A. Scobie, "Slums, sanitation, and mortality in the Roman World" Klio 68 (1986), pp. 399 433. Population: C. Hibbert, Rome: the Biography of a City (New York: Norton, 1985; Penguin pb. 1987), chaps. 2 4; R. Krautheimer, Rome: Profile of a City, 312 1308 (Princeton, 1980) chaps. 1 4.

2. J. Youings, The Pelican History of Sixteenth-Century England (Harmondsworth and New York, pp. 66f. (Bristol, Norwich and York had about 12,000, London 60,000+ in 1500) and 350; L.B. Smith, This Realm of England (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 7th ed. 1992), pp. 89f. ("To many Englishhmen, London was cancerous, evil, and seditious'": 50,000 in 1500 but "close to 200,000" by 1600 and growing at 17% per year); cf. 223 ("well over 500,000" by 1714).

3. See H.F. Jolowicz, Historical Introduction to the Study of Roman Law Cambridge: C.U.P., 2nd ed., 1967; chaps. XVIII and XXIII sec. III. Some crimes were religious and the perpetrator declared sacer ("sacred" in the sense of "dedicated to the gods, taboo for humans") see XII Tables 8.9, 21 (crucifixion for someone who cuts another's grain at night and a patron who commits fraud vs. a client). Plut. Quaes. Rom. 22: a law of Romulus calls for a husband who sold his wife to be sacrificed to the infernal gods. Also O.F. Robinson, The Criminal Law of Ancient Rome (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1995), pp. 23 ff. for theft generally as a delict, although it could be regarded as a crime if a charge was laid before the praef. vigilum or provincial governor.

4. Individuals coped with the localized and usually tiny manifestations of supernatural power, numina; the state's priests handled relations with the larger manifestations, di (gods), much the same as magistrates conducted foreign policy. In terms of public well-being, however, we might note that by 133 Rome had built the great sewer (cloaca maxima) and three aqueducts: Appia (ca. 309), Anio [Vetus] (273), and Marcia (144), and added a fourth soon afterwards (Tepula, 125).

5. W. Nippel, "Policing Rome" JRS 74 (1984), pp. 20-29 deals only with Republic. See also his Public Order in Ancient Rome (Cambridge, 1995), chaps. 1 3.

6. The blood-feud and private vengeance were practically non-existent in Rome: Jolowicz, 328.

7. However, aggravated theft the use of violence, rustling, or large-scale brigandage was criminal. Robinson, Criminal Law p. 24. "...aggravated thefts ... fell in the public criminal domain; primarily it was when something outrageous needed to be marked for public disapproval that the state intervened. Certain classes of thief were identified as posing a greater threat to society because of their audacity, or the frequency or scale of their operations; the enhanced threat was to be met with an aggravated penalty."

8. Scholarship has perhaps misdefined the role of the familia and over-emphasized the severity and duration of patria potestas: see the corrective analysis of R. P. Saller, Patriarchy, Property and Death in the Roman Family Cambridge Studies in Population, Economy and Society in Past Time no. 25 (Cambridge, 1994).

9. Another quaestio came later: de plagio (kidnapping). Nippel, Public Order p. 35: "The absence of a law-enforcement agency and even of any demand for one reflected the assumption that in cases in which public order was not at issue citizens were themselves able and prepared to protect their lives and property. The broad scope for legitimate self-help, however, had to be balanced by precautions against the employment (by those who were professedly protecting their rights) of means which themselves threatened public order." Robinson, Criminal Law pp. 2 7 for the quaestiones perpetuae, esp. Sulla's courts and citing sources in the notes. With the lex Aurelia of 70, juries were of 75 (25 from each ordo). Augustus confirmed the quaestiones publicae (with laws de ambitu, de vi, de maiestate, de peculatu), added the new public crime of adultery, and passed the lex Julia iudiciorum publicorum in 17 BC. The quaestiones perpetuae disappeared by the early second century.

10. Robinson, Criminal Law p. 100: "Informers, delatores, those who laid criminal charges, appear in Tacitus as an almost unmitigated pest. Yet without a public prosecution service, and without any police force, some encouragement to the citizen to lay charges must surely have been necessary for the suppression of crime."

11. For a corrective discussion of the paterfamilias, see Saller, cited above note 8.

12. Jolowicz p. 326 n. 5 quotes Dig. "carcer enim ad continendos homines, non ad puniendos haberi debet", "jail ought to be used to confine men, not to punish them." See generally P. Garnsey, Social Status and Legal Privilege chap. 4. Exile (exilium) was a vague blanket term. Relegation (relegatio) was usually confinement to a specific place for a specific period, after which one could resume civic rights; if it was lifelong, one could still make a will and receive from others. Deportation (deportatio) was defined as "capital" in that while the condemned did not literally lose his head (caput) he did suffer loss of civic rights.

13. It grew out of his conviction of the righteousness of his causes from 63 on: vs. Catiline and Clodius in the 50s, and vs. Antony in the crisis of 44/43. The Philippics called on Brutus and Cassius to eliminate Antony without any declaration of war or legalization of their actions. Cooler heads were reluctant to follow and Cicero lost his on Dec. 7, 43.

14. Nippel, Public Order chap. 3, esp. pp. 78-84, "calling in the troops."

15. Nippel, Public Order, chap. 4. Reliable and readable surveys of the reign of Augustus are abundant; any textbook will suffice.

16. Nippel, p. 90f. Tac., Ann. 1.13.6; 4.2; 6.10.3; 12.69; 16.27; Hist. 1.38.3; Suet., Aug. 49; Tib. 37; Juv. 10.94f. Hist. 2.93.2 for the cohorts swelling to 1000 in 69; they only stayed at that figure from 193.

17. Nippel, pp. 90f. "It is difficult to determine what regular police functions the praetorians and the urban cohorts assumed." The evidence is inadequate in quantity and quality: soldiers and cohorts are often mentioned but without saying which ones. The City Prefect slowly took over most of the tasks formerly belonging to aediles and minor magistrates, so his soldiers must have assumed police duties. See also O.F. Robinson, Ancient Rome: City Planning and Administration London & New York, 1992, pp. 3, 156f., 184ff., 196 209. The urban cohorts provided the necessary force for the prefect's powers of coercion and jurisdiction.

18. Rainbird, PBSR 54 (1986), pp. 147 69; followed by Robinson, op. cit. pp. 95-110. Ostia had a detachment (vexillatio) of 160, not a full cohort. Each cohort was of 560, giving a total of 3920 vigiles in Rome (less the 160 in Ostia). Their strength was doubled about 205. Richardson, NTDAR "Cohortes Vigilum, Stationes": one excubitorium (in Trastevere) and six castra/stationes are known (1) east of Via Lata & north of Temple of Divus Traianus, for regs. VII & IX; (2) on the Esquiline, for regs. III & V; (3) near east corner of Therm. Diocletianae, for regs. IV & VI; (4) under San Saba, for regs. XII and XIII; (5) for regs. VIII & IX; and (6) on the Caelian near San Stefano Rotondo and S. Maria in Domnica, for regs. I & II.

19. Robinson, Criminal Law pp. 24, 27, 34f.; Dig. 47.18.2; Paul, de off. praef. vig.; 12.4.15; Pomponius 22 ad Sab.

20. Robinson, Ancient Rome pp. 184f. The vigiles "were fully occupied with their fire-fighting duties." But on p. 189: "Street crime seems to have become the province of the Urban Prefect and of his subordinate, the Prefect of the Night Watch." Nippel, pp. 96f. "Their capacity to pursue thieves and runaway slaves should not be overestimated; their numbers do not necessarily indicate that they performed such functions to any significant degree. ... In any case, the experience of later times argues against the assumption that street patrolling would have been effective against, for example, burglary or assault."

21. The following is from M. Speidel, Riding for Caesar: the Roman Emperors' Horse Guards Cambridge, MA: Harvard U.P. 1994. Pp. 35 37 for Domitian as apparent creator: provincial cavalrymen accompanied him to Rhine in 89, and may have been with him for the Danubian wars of 85-86 or even the Chattan war of 83. No proof exists of their being quartered in Rome until early 2C.

22. Caesar had used German cavalrymen as a personal bodyguard, but the Flavians had not and they had distrusted the Batavians because of Civilis' revolt. Governors had long had 500-man equites singulares consulares. The concept evidently derives from the Germanic sworn retinue (comitatus), with the emperor replacing the chieftain.

23. Speidel, pp. 126-38. Trajan's castra (priora) was complete before he left for the Parthian War. Its HQ may be the original location of the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius which Michelangelo moved to the Campidoglio in 1538. Severus doubled the size and built the castra nova in 193-97; incorporated into substructure of the basilica of S. Giovanni.

24. Nippel pp. 98f. He points out that tough, armed soldiers quite likely bullied civilians, who had a hard time getting redress. Similarly, large household staffs likely harassed inferiors.

25. Robinson, Ancient Rome pp. 173 95. As a comparison: "football hooligans or the hopelessly unemployed" can cause considerable trouble, but most folks are reasonably safe.


Austin, N.J.E. and N.B. Rankov, Exploratio: Military and Political Intelligence in the Roman World from the Second Punic War to the Battle of Adrianople. London & New York: Routledge, 1995; pb. 1998.
Not much concerned with policing and the city of Rome, but one of the book's conclusions is that Rome never developed a centralized intelligence-gathering and -processing agency and consequently never developed much of an investigative mentality. The authors point to the various security functions performed by the equites singulares, agentes in rebus and frumentarii.

Bauman, R.A. Crime and Punishment in Rome. New York and London: Routledge, 1996

Echols, E. "The Roman city police force: origin and development" Classical Journal 53 (1957-58), pp. 377-85

Garnsey, P. Social Status and Legal Privilege in the Roman Empire. Oxford: O.U.P., 1970
Not much on police work in the narrow sense but lots of material on the working of the criminal law and the growing distinctions between the privileged honestiores and the humiliores who were subject to the full force and cruelty of the law.

Lintott, A.W. Violence in the Roman Republic. Oxford: O.U.P., 1968
An excellent discussion of how Roman law was based largely on: (1) self-help, (2) citizens' reliance on assistance from fellow citizens, and (3) the acceptance of a high degree of violence.

  • Imperium Romanum. London and New York: Routledge, 1993

MacMullen, R. "Judicial Savagery in the Roman Empire" Chiron 1986
Conveniently reprinted in his Changes in the Roman Empire: essays in the ordinary Princeton: P.U.P., 1990 pp. 204—17

  • Corruption and the Decline of Rome. New Haven: Yale U.P., 1988
    An empire-wide account of how certain people and classes were able to circumvent the police and the law

Nippel, W. "Policing Rome" Journal of Roman Studies 74 (1984), pp. 20-29
Public Order in Ancient Rome. Cambridge: Camb. Univ. Press, 1995.
Excellent; provides much of the framework for the present essay.

Rainbird, J.S. "The fire stations of Imperial Rome" Papers British School at Rome 54 (1986), pp. 147—69
Created as a fire department and night watch (patrols were mostly to watch for fires), the vigiles probably performed a few police duties. Their commander, a praefectus of equestrian rank, had some judicial powers.

Richardson, L.J. Jr. New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U.P., 1991.
See "Cohortes Vigilum, Stationes" on p. 92 Cites Rainbird and the photographs in E. Nash, Pictorial Dictionary of Ancient Rome (Roma, 1960) 1.266f. Two Italian archaeological guides discuss the ruins of the Vigiles' stationes: F. Coarelli, Roma (Guide Laterza) (Roma, 1991) pp. 410—12 and Roma (Guide Mondadori) Roma, 1993 p. 339.

Robinson, O.F. Ancient Rome: City Planning and Administration. London and New York: Routledge, 1992. See especially chapters 7 and 12.

  • The Criminal Law of Ancient Rome. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins U.P., 1995
    Informative on the working of the criminal law but little on policing—for which see the preceding book.

Speidel, M.P. Riding for Caesar: the Roman Emperors' Horse Guards. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U.P., 1994.
The equites singulares supplemented the Praetorian Guard as a force employed to protect the emperors; secondarily they performed some police duties.

Most books on Roman law deal with civil law not criminal law and thus are not of much help in matters of police. See for instance J. Crook, Law and Life of Rome (London: Thames and Hudson; Ithaca: Cornell U.P., 1967). It is worth noting, however, that the Romans treated as civil law many matters which we regard as falling under criminal law. Tom Watkins, Department of History, Western Illinois University


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