What rights did the Romans have?
In the Roman Republic, all citizens had two basic rights: The right to vote (suffragium) and the right to call on the Roman Assembly (provocatio). They were the basic rules of freedom for Roman citizens and both came from the early Republic. The right to appeal probably arose from the right of the citizens to appeal death sentences. A judge who sentenced someone to death without giving the citizen the right to an appeal was guilty of murder. The only exception was if the right to appeal had to be postponed due to a siege or if it were recalled by a dictator. During the imperial period, the Roman right to appeal was expanded to civil proceedings. A superior instance was also instituted as an appeals court.
Roman civil law
The first systematic collection of laws was made under Consul Q. Mucius Scaevola in 95 BC. However, Roman civil law has had recognizable influence on European jurisprudence up to the present. Written laws had not previously existed. Instead, common law was the practice. Legal texts arose from the sacred and were therefore rather cultic, ritualized, and based on sayings. Generally valid laws came into existence starting in 450 BC. They arose from the power struggles between patricians and plebiscites. The Twelve Tables protected only full Roman citizens.
Roman Citizen Rights
The Romans differentiated between public law (ius publicum) and private law (ius privatum). Private law gave citizens security in their legal activities. All citizens who had the right to appeal to the laws were equal before the law. Slaves, freed slaves, and residents without citizenship were excluded from the law. After the Second Punic War, the Roman Empire was expanded further. Civil law was separated into property law, law of obligations, family law, and inheritance law. For the first time, a difference was made in Roman law between possession (possessio) and property (dominium). The law of obligations regulated the relationship between debtors and creditors. Contracts (contractus) also played a role in Roman jurisprudence at this time. In family law, the relationships within the family were regulated, including guardianship and inheritance rights. Proceedings were public in the Roman Forum. In a tribune shaped in a semi-circle, the chairman and judges gathered. The praetor leading the proceedings sat on the sella curulis, the curule chair, and the judges sat on benches. At important trials, it was typical in Rome for an audience to gather around the court in order to influence the judges.
Roman Law - Prosecution
At the beginning of the Roman judicial system, the king was in charge of jurisprudence. As of 509 BC, this right was transferred to the consuls, and starting in 366 BC the right to Roman jurisprudence was in the hands of the praetors. The later right to amnesty, which was given to the Century Assembly, was originally the right of the king. From the ad hoc commissions, later the judges courts arose in which a praetor led.
Roman Criminal Proceedings
In a Roman criminal trial, the charge was brought by a Roman citizen. If the praetor believed the charge had merit, the accusation had to be made again in the presence of the accused. An interrogation was ordered by the praetor if the accused could not adequately defend himself in the questioning. In the trial, both sides had the opportunity to describe their view of the situation. For example, documents or sworn witness statements were offered as evidence. In criminal matters, witnesses could even be forced to testify. Slaves were generally tortured before testifying, as it was thought that this was the only way their statements could be believed.
In Doubt for the Accused
After hearing the evidence, the judges decided on the guilt or innocence of the accused by holding up the tablets upon which their judgment was written. If there was a tie, then “in dubio pro reo” – in doubt for the accused. The judgment was proclaimed and immediately carried out if this wasn’t prevented by an appeal. The sentences were set down by the state. There were fines, exiles and ostracism which often went together with expropriation and the withdrawal of citizenship and, finally, the death penalty. The Roman death penalty was beheading with a battle ax, but later it was also done with a sword. Older sentences were hanging or crucifixion, which was used for criminal slaves or freemen. Those guilty of treason or prisoners of war were strangled in prison (carcer tullianus). According to Roman law, people who committed patricide were to be sewn into a sack and thrown into the sea.
Inventor of International Law
The procedure for a Roman civil trial was roughly the same as a criminal trial. The praeter also had the task of unifying Roman law with other peoples. In this respect, the Romans were a kind of pioneer for regulated international law (ius gentium). Negotiations and contracts were concluded through the legates, who were viewed as sacred. Romans punished attacks on these diplomats very harshly – even with a declaration of war. The Romans also concluded international laws for war and peace treaties.