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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

Some Roman public service contractors were fraudsters

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In ancient Rome, and from Republican era, it is leased to private the exploitation of land and resources of the state, which were all conquered by the roman legions, and even strong companies of investors were established for it. This activity generated a space where it was easy to confuse the private with the public and produced some episodes of corruption which to some extent remind current events.

I will refer to an episode of the Second Punic War, also peppered with a story of corruption, which explains how this system was generated. All wars, before and now are always time and opportunity for big business, to which no matter  whether or not the benefits are stained with innocent blood.

Livy tells us the episode in his  The History of Rome from its origin (Ab urbe condita), on the book XXV, 3 et seq.

Rome is definitely facing up to Carthage because  its expansion in the Mediterranean and because it considers that  the Punics or Carthaginians are threat to their survival. This war began developing in Hispania, where the Carthaginians are already well established; It is then developed in the Italian territory itself, where Hannibal is gone from Hispania through the passes of the Alps in winter, and finally it will end years after with the destruction of Carthage. Hannibal`s  victorious campaigns in Italy (Ticino, Trebia, Trasimene, Cannas ...) widespread panic among Romans.

It is precisely the situation of need of the Scipios in Hispania which forces  them to send a letter in 215 to the Senate of Rome for help. The expenses for war are such than the State does not have enough money to cope with them and therefore it resorted to the collaboration of the capitalists or  "publicans" who have been benefiting by the contracts of the State. These "publicani" or citizens with economic resources form three companies to supply the army. Given the circumstances of insecurity of time and distances that have to be transported some resources, it is included in the contract a clause according the which  the risk of shipwreck  must be borne by the State. We can imagine widespread panic situation by the presence of Hannibal  in Italy itself and the successive victories with which he is crushing the Roman armies.

In that context there were two individuals, two “publicani" who not enough happy with the lawful profits simulated accidental sinking of ships loaded with waste material and little valuable  to collect them as well.

From the foregoing we will draw important consequences about the constitution of these societies, but the episode has a second part very revealing. When fraudsters are discovered and reported to the Senate, it does not act immediately against them, given the affinity and convergence of interests in many cases between the class and families of the senators with the "publicans".  It must to be the people through their special representatives, the tribunes of the plebs (today we would say “the popular action”), which  demanded responsibilities and initiated legal proceedings.

While meeting the people's congress, it was interrupted by the violent action of the publicans, willing to avoid the conviction of one of their powerful members. Given the evidence of the charges and the danger of the situation, the Senate had no choice but to intervene more decisively.

I would conclude that it is equally as scandalous that contractors defraud the State that the State itself has no interest in punishing the fraudsters.

We leave for super specialists whether these tenants were really from the class or ordo of the "publicans" and on the historicity of supply contracts for the army, because this appears to be an isolated case in the historical context of late III century BC.

In any case, it does not take much imagination to set the resemblance to actual situations in which large powerful criminals avoid the action of justice, managed largely by people related to their social group. It is true that the ancient and modern situations do not are exactly alike and we should not exaggerate the resemblance, but once again we reaffirm the motto of this blog, "Nihil novum sub sole" "Nothing new under the sun".

As it is demanded for this blog, what is said, it must to be found in existing texts and there nothing is better than to reproduce the writings of Livy. In a later article I will explain how far  the interests of individuals and companies are confused with the public and state.

Livy,  The History of Rome (Ab urbe condita), book XXV, 3 et seq:

Quintus Fulvius Flaccus and Appius Claudius entered upon their consulship, the former for the third time. And the praetors received by lot the following assignments: Publius Cornelius Sulla, the duties of praetor urbanus and praetor peregrinus, previously two separate offices;  Gnaeus Fulvius Flaccus, Apulia, Gaius Claudius Nero, Suessula, Marcus Junius Silanus, Etruria.  To the consuls were assigned by decree the war with Hannibal and two legions each. The one was to take over his troops from Quintus Fabius, consul in the previous year, the other from Fulvius Centumalus. Of the praetors, Fulvius Flaccus was to have the legions which had been at Luceria under the praetor Aemilius, Nero Claudius the one which had been in the Picene district under Gaius Terentius. They were themselves to enlist more recruits for the same. To Marcus Junius the city legions of the previous year were given for Etruria.  For Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and Publius Sempronius Tuditanus their commands and provinces, Lucania and Gaul, with their armies, were continued.  And the same was done for Publius Lentulus, within the limits of the old province in Sicily, and for Marcellus, whose province was Syracuse and up to the former boundaries of Hiero's kingdom. The fleet was assigned to Titus Otacilius, Greece to Marcus Valerius, Sardinia to Quintus Mucius Scaevola, the Spanish provinces to Publius and Gnaeus Cornelius. In addition to the old armies two city legions were enrolled by the consuls, and the total that year amounted to twenty-three legions.

The consular levy was hampered by the conduct of Marcus Postumius of Pyrgi, which almost occasioned a serious insurrection. Postumius was a tax-farmer, who in many years had had no equal in dishonesty and avarice in the state, except Titus Pomponius Veientanus, whom the Carthaginians under Hanno's command had captured in the preceding year, while he was rashly ravaging the country in Lucania. These men, since the state assumed the risk from violent storms in the case of shipments to the armies, had falsely reported imaginary shipwrecks, and even those which they had correctly reported had been brought about by their own trickery, not by accident. They would put small cargoes of little value on old, battered vessels, sink them at sea, after taking off the crews in small boats that were in readiness, and then falsely declare that the shipments were far more valuable.  This dishonesty had been reported in the previous year to Marcus Aemilius, the praetor, and by him brought before the senate, but it was not branded by any decree of the senate, because the senators were unwilling to offend the tax-farmers as a class at such a crisis.

The people proved a more unsparing avenger of dishonesty; namely, two tribunes of the plebs, Spurius and Lucius Carvilius, were at length aroused, and seeing that the affair was unpopular and notorious, imposed a fine of two hundred thousand asses upon Marcus Postumius. When the day for his protest against this fine arrived, the assembly of the commons was so large that the open space on the Capitol could scarcely contain the crowd. After the arguments were concluded, there seemed to be but one hope, namely, if Gaius Servilius Casca, a tribune of the plebs who was a blood-relative of Postumius, should interpose his veto before the tribes should be called to vote. The tribunes provided witnesses,cleared the people away, and the urn was brought, that they might determine by lot in which tribe the Latins should vote. Meantime the tax-farmers pressed Casca to adjourn that day's hearing before the assembly. The people protested; and it so happened that the first seat at the end of the platform was occupied by Casca, whose mind was swayed at once by fear and shame. Finding in him no sufficient protection, the publicans, in order to prevent action, rushed in a wedge through the space cleared by removal of the crowd, while at the sametime they reviled the people and the tribunes. And it had almost come to a battle when Fulvius, the consul, said to the tribunes, “Do you not see that you are reduced to the ranks, and that this means an insurrection if you do not promptly dismiss the popular assembly?” it was said, a man whose exile would have been followed by the ruin of the city, had allowed himself to be condemned by the angry citizens;  that before his time the decemvirs, under whose laws they were then still living, and later many leading men in the state, had submitted to the judgment of the people in their cases; that Postumius of Pyrgi had wrested the vote from the Roman people, had brought to naught an assembly of the plebs, reduced the tribunes to the ranks, drawn up a battle-line against the Roman people, had taken his position, to separate the tribunes from the people and to prevent the tribes from being summoned to vote. Nothing had restrained men from slaughter and battle but the forbearance of the magistrates in yielding for the moment to the mad audacity of a few men, and in allowing themselves and the Roman people to be worsted, also in that, as regards the voting, which the defendant would have prevented by force of arms, they had of their own accord suspended it, to avoid giving excuse to those eager for the fray.  These words were interpreted by all the best citizens as deserved by an outrageous occurrence, and the senate declared that this violence had been employed against the state, setting a dangerous precedent. Thereupon the Carvilii, tribunes of the people, in place of the procedure to fix the amount of the fine, at once named a day for Postumius' appearance on a capital charge, and ordered that if he did not furnish sureties he should be seized by an attendant and taken to prison. Postumius furnished sureties, but did not appear. The tribunes put the question to the plebs and the plebs ordained that, if Marcus Postumius should not appear before the first of May, and on being summoned on that day should not reply nor be excused, it should be understood that he was in exile, and be decided that his property should be sold and himself refused water and fire. The tribunes then began to name a day for the appearance on a capital charge of each of those who had been instigators of riot and sedition, and to demand sureties from them.  At first they threw into prison those who did not give security, and then even those who were able to do so. Avoiding this danger many went into exile.   (Translation by Frank Gardener Moore. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1940.)

Q. Fulvius Flaccus tertium Appius Claudius consulatum ineunt.  et praetores provincias sortiti sunt, P. Cornelius Sulla urbanam et peregrinam, quae duorum ante sors fuerat, Cn. Fulvius Flaccus Apuliam, C. Claudius Nero Suessulam, M. Iunius Silanus Tuscos. consulibus bellum cum Hannibale et binae legiones decretae; alter a Q. Fabio superioris anni consule, alter a Fulvio Centumalo acciperet;  praetorum Fulvi Flacci quae Luceriae sub Aemilio praetore, Neronis Claudi quae in Piceno sub C. Terentio fuissent legiones essent; supplementum in eas ipsi scriberent sibi. M. Iunio in Tuscos legiones urbanae prioris anni datae. Ti. Sempronio Graccho et P. Sempronio Tuditano imperium provinciaeque Lucani et Gallia cum suis exercitibus prorogatae;  item P. Lentulo qua vetus provincia in Sicilia esset, M. Marcello Syracusae et qua Hieronis regnum fuisset; T. Otacilio classis, Graecia M. Valerio, Sardinia Q. Mucio Scaevolae, Hispaniae. et Cn. Corneliis. ad veteres exercitus duae urbanae legiones a consulibus scriptae, summaque trium et viginti legionum eo anno effecta est. dilectum consulum M. Postumii Pyrgensis cum magno prope motu rerum factum impediit. publicanus erat Postumius, qui multis annis parem fraude avaritiaque neminem in civitate habuerat praeter T. Pomponium Veientanum, quem populantem temere agros in Lucanis ductu Hannonis priore anno ceperant Carthaginienses. hi, quia publicum periculum erat a vi tempestatis in iis quae portarentur ad exercitus et ementiti erant falsa naufragia et ea ipsa quae vera renuntiaverant fraude ipsorum facta erant, non casu. in veteres quassasque naves paucis et parvi pretii rebus impositis, cum mersissent eas in alto exceptis in praeparatas scaphas nautis, multiplices fuisse merces ementiebantur. ea fraus indicata M. Aemilio praetori priore anno fuerat ac per eum ad senatum delata nec tamen ullo senatus  consulto notata, quia patres ordinem publicanorum in tali tempore offensum nolebant. populus severior vindex fraudis erat, excitatique tandem duo tribuni plebis, Spurius et L. Carvilii, cum rem invisam infamemque cernerent, ducentum milium aeris multam M. Postumio dixerunt. cui certandae cum dies advenisset, conciliumque tam frequens plebis adesset ut multitudinem area Capitolii vix caperet, perorata causa una spes videbatur esse si C. Servilius Casca tribunus plebis, qui propinquus cognatusque Postumio erat, priusquam ad suffragium tribus vocarentur, intercessisset.  testibus datis tribuni populum summoverunt, sitellaque lata est, ut sortirentur ubi Latini suffragium ferrent.  interim publicani Cascae instare ut concilio diem eximeret; populus reclamare; et forte in cornu primus sedebat Casca, cui simul metus pudorque animum versabat. cum in eo parum praesidii esset, turbandae rei causa publicani per vacuum summoto locum cuneo inruperunt iurgantes simul cum populo tribunisque.,  nec procul dimicatione res erat cum Fulvius consul tribunis “nonne videtis” inquit “vos in ordinem coactos esse et rem ad seditionem spectare, ni propere dimittitis plebis concilium?”. plebe dimissa senatus vocatur et consules referunt de concilio plebis turbato vi atque audacia publicanorum:  M. Furium Camillum, cuius exilium ruina urbis secutura fuerit, damnari se ab iratis civibus passum esse;  decemviros ante eum, quorum legibus ad eam diem viverent, multos postea principes civitatis iudicium de se populi passos:  Postumium Pyrgensem suffragium populo Romano extorsisse, concilium plebis sustulisse, tribunos in ordinem coegisse, contra populum Romanum aciem instruxisse, locum occupasse, ut tribunos a plebe intercluderet, tribus in suffragium vocari prohiberet. nihil aliud a caede ac dimicatione continuisse homines nisi patientiam magistratuum, quod cesserint inpraesentia furori atque audaciae paucorum vincique se ac populum Romanum passi sint et comitia,  quae reus vi atque armis prohibiturus erat, ne causa quaerentibus dimicationem daretur, voluntate ipsi sua sustulerint. haec cum ab optimo quoque pro atrocitate rei accepta essent, vimque eam contra rem publicam et pernicioso exemplo factam senatus decresset,  confestim Carvilii tribuni plebis omissa multae certatione rei capitalis diem Postumio dixerunt ac, ni vades daret, prendi a viatore atque in carcerem duci iusserunt.  Postumius vadibus datis non adfuit.  tribuni plebem rogaverunt plebesque ita scivit, si M. Postumius ante kal. maias non prodisset citatusque eo die non respondisset neque excusatus esset, videri eum in exilio esse bonaque eius venire, ipsi aqua et igni placere interdici.  singulis deinde eorum qui turbae ac tumultus concitatores fuerant, rei capitalis diem dicere ac vades poscere coeperunt.  primo non dantis, deinde etiam eos qui dare possent in—carcerem coiciebant; cuius rei periculum vitantes plerique in exilium abierunt.  hunc fraus publicanorum, deinde fraudem audacia protegens exitum habuit.  comitia inde pontifici maximo creando sunt habita; ea comitia novus pontifex M. Cornelius Cethegus habuit.

   
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