Pro Roscio Amerino

Cicero, from an ancient marble bust

The speech Pro Roscio Amerino was given by Marcus Tullius Cicero on behalf of Roscius of Ameria. Roscius was accused of murdering his father. The speech was given by Cicero in 80 BC.

The background of the case

The events that made possible the accusation of the younger Roscius of Ameria began long before the murder of the elder Sextus Roscius of Ameria.

Beginning in 97 BC, Rome began to see the rise of Lucius Cornelius Sulla. A man known for his brutality and cunning, Sulla was feared by many around him. In Sulla the author Plutarch helps to shed light on Sulla’s character by chronicling the most powerful parts of the dictator's life. According to Plutarch, Sulla, a general of Rome, was characterized by “…a vehement and an implacable desire to conquer…”[1] Following the Social War (91-88 BC) he ascended to the position of consul of Rome in 88 BC.

During this time, the consul Sulla managed to lose his authority and to be exiled, however this was merely a small interruption in his rise to power. Following the siege of Athens in 87 BC, he again prepared to take control of Rome and in 82 BC he successfully became dictator. He immediately set out to ensure that his power would not slip from his grasp again. Beginning with a large-scale execution of his enemies, Sulla soon adopted a more systematic approach with the adoption of the proscriptions, in which Sulla made those who had displeased him “enemies of the state.” The consequences of being proscribed were a death sentence and the seizure of all property that had belonged to those who had been proscribed. According to Plutarch, in order to expedite this process of asset liquidation, Sulla made it known that “…to him who should slay any one proscribed person, he ordained two talents reward, even were it slave who had killed his master, or a son his father.”[2] Furthermore, Sulla made it known that the penalty for aiding any person who had been proscribed, was proscription itself. In this way that Sulla dealt with all current and potential threats to his power and neither the nobility nor the commoners were immune.

Following his year as dictator, Sulla chose to step down and to “return” the power to the Senate. He was again elected to the consulship of Rome and served his post throughout 80 BC. As the consul, it can readily be deduced that most citizens of the Roman republic and its provinces still feared the power of Sulla, and his keen eye for what were ambiguously seen as “threats.” Sulla was at the height of his power in the late 80s BC, but did not enjoy this power for a lengthy period of time, fading into retirement in 79 BC, dying of natural causes in 78.

It was in this context that the Pro Roscio Amerino case began. In 81 BC, Sextus Roscius of Ameria, a wealthy landowner, was murdered while returning from a party in Rome. Immediately following, word of his death was sent by Roscius Magnus, who was in Rome, to Roscius Capito, who was in Ameria. Both men were relations of Sextus Roscius, and according to E.H. Donkin, were rumored to have been on bad terms with the late Sextus Roscius because of a dispute over land. The two men, Magnus and Capito, then sent word of the murder to Cornelius Chrysogonus. Chrysogonus, a favorite of the dictator Sulla, also a freedman—which Cicero mentions as well—then entered into a plot with Magnus and Capito to have the elder Sextus Roscius of Ameria proscribed, and all of his assets taken by the state.[3] Knowing full well that Sulla rewarded those who helped him to eliminate his enemies, the three conspirators expected to receive large amounts compensation in the form of the elder Sextus Roscius’ estate. As a result of their “loyalty” the men were able to purchase the estate for 2000 sesterces, which was well under the estimated value of the property.

However, the eldest (and only living, as is mentioned in the text) son of Sextus Roscius, Roscius of Ameria, still had a rightful claim to his late father's property if he and the people of Ameria could somehow have the elder Sextus Roscius’ name removed from the proscription list. Sensing this threat, the three conspirators accused Roscius of Ameria of parricide and the murder of his own father in order to gain more property for himself in 80 BC. A virtual unknown within the city of Rome, Roscius of Ameria had little clout. Furthermore, despite the noble contacts that his father had made, many feared to help him to clear his family’s name because their help may have been construed by Sulla (he was at this time consul of Rome and the court was under his jurisdiction) as a threat or insult. In short, most feared that by helping Roscius of Ameria, that they would themselves be proscribed, executed, and have their assets taken away from their families. This seems to be one of the reasons that his case was given over to the young Cicero.

Outcome and aftermath of the case

Sextus Roscius of Ameria was acquitted. As his first major case, it was of great benefit to Cicero's reputation, especially given that he was opposing powerful political interests. Indeed, his success may well have incurred the wrath of Sulla, and perhaps influenced Cicero's decision to travel to Athens the following year. Cicero's oration in this case is notable for its intense and exhaustive style; something that he would learn to improve on as he matured and learnt new styles of oratory.

Content of the speech

In the twenty-sixth year of his life, Cicero chose to defend Sextus Roscius of Ameria. Sextus Roscius the Elder was a prosperous citizen of Ameria. When the elder Roscius was killed by “unknown men,” his son of the same name was charged. The case came before the court established by Sulla for poisoning and murder. In the two primary sections of his speech he attempts to dissuade the jury from the traditionally harsh Roman punishments for patricide.[4]

Cicero’s first section appeals that the charge is baseless and points out the lack of corroborated evidence. He argues that his client lacked the motive to kill his father. The argument over motive seems to be the primary deciding factor in this portion of the case. Cicero quickly shifts to the offensive in section two. Here he places the blame for the murder of the elder Roscius squarely on two other present individuals: Magnus and Capito. Cicero suggests that Magnus, having been home on the night of the murder, ordered the killing. He also implies that Capito, first to report the murder, had done the deed himself and then came to tell Magnus of his success.[5]

Cicero then goes off on a melodramatic tale of corruption and intrigue that claims both Magnus and Capito stood to gain property from the murder. He asserts that Magnus and Capito were using the trial to remove the possible succession of property from father to son, allowing them to take the property of elder Roscius for themselves. Possibly for the benefit of a mastermind figure: Chrysogonus; who had a somewhat obvious connection to the dictator Sulla.[6]

Scholarly observations of the speech

The dilemma

“The Dilemma” of the speech as seen by W. B. Sedgwick is as follows: “If Roscius I (the father) was proscribed, Roscius II (the son) could not be prosecuted for his murder; if he was not proscribed, the property was illegally sold.” Sedgwick claimed in his 1934 article in The Classical Review that Cicero avoided addressing this dilemma because Chrysogonus had already removed Roscius I’s (the father’s) name from the proscription list. Sedgwick claims that when the delegation of men from Ameria came to Sulla’s camp, Chrysogonus had persuaded them to leave without seeing Sulla by promising to set everything right himself and by taking Roscius I’s name off the proscription lists as an act of good faith towards the delegation. This act on Chrysogonus’ part necessitated the charge brought against Roscius II in order to clear the former as well as the Roscii of all wrongdoing. Also, Sedgwick claims that with Roscius II removed, “no questions would be asked.”

In an article written by T. E. Kinsey for Mnemosyne some thirty years later Sedgwick’s hypothesis is called into question. Kinsey distinguishes two different meanings for the word proscriptus, termed by Kinsey the “strict sense” and the “narrow sense.” The “strict sense” referred to those whose names had actually been written on the Lex de Proscriptione at the time of its original publication and proclamation. Regarding the “narrow sense” Kinsey proposes that after the publication of the original law of proscriptions, Sulla and his close supporters kept a running list of enemies both alive and dead who were not included in the original law. Kinsey believes that the delegation of men from Ameria that went to Sulla’s camp had no direct knowledge as to why Roscius I had been murdered and why his property had been seized. Kinsey states that the members of the delegation (except Capito) assumed that Roscius I had been proscriptus in the strict sense. When the delegation pressed Chrysogonus on this, the latter asserted that Roscius I had mistakenly been proscriptus in the “narrow sense.” Chrysogonus, having appeased the delegation for the meantime, then went after Roscius II in an effort to end all speculation in the matter. Kinsey then goes on to address why Cicero did not employee the second part of the dilemma in his defense. Throughout his speech, Cicero consistently states that Roscius II only wished to be acquitted and that he will not seek to recover his inheritance. Kinsey proposes that many people had profited from the proscriptions (perhaps even members of the jury) and that Roscius II was less likely to be “acquitted if it meant the beginning of a long period of reprisal and restitution.” Therefore, Chrysogonus along with anyone else who might have been nervous about Roscius II’s acquittal would be reassured.[8]


There is some debate about whether the speech that is extant is the original speech. There are two main schools of thought regarding this issue. The first believes that the extant speech varies considerably from the one given. This is due to the theory that the political climate at the time the speech was given, regarding Sulla and his regime, would not allow such criticism of Sulla as is seen in the extant speech. Therefore, these criticisms must have been added by Cicero at a later date, perhaps 77, after Sulla's death. This belief is countered by those who believe that the identified criticisms of Sulla "are, on the surface at least, complimentary"[9] This theory posits that the extant speech was written immediately after Cicero gave the speech, exactly as given to allow for some instances of improvisation. This theory is further countered by debate over the supposed "complimentary" passages as being actually ironically critical. The first theory gains further weight from the fact that Cicero later references his defense of Roscius as evidence of resisting dictators. This would indicate that some revisions may have been made to improve his image.[10]

Urban vs. rural stereotypes

The allusion to the grace and virtue of a country life vs. the vice and corruption of an urban one are very common motifs in Cicero’s defense of Roscius. He begins by parading the virtues of the hard-working farmer who was the very foundation of the glorious city of Rome. Here he is appealing to the traditional historical account of the foundation of Rome. By tying his client in with the rural and his enemies with the urban he conveys to his audience a stereotype that leaves his enemies suspect for their greedy amoral city ways. The idea of the virtuous farmer and vice-ridden city dweller serves as a whole-sale substitute for fact in his case against Magnus, Capito and by extension Chrysogonus."[11]
Where most of the Roman audience would have assumed that a father who did not like his son would give him over to a farm, which was viewed as slave work, as punishment, Cicero paints the virtues of the farm in such a light as to assume that the elder Roscius liked his son and thus endowed him with the wonderful responsibility that the farm represents: productive and self-sustaining. Cicero fails to produce much evidence, but denies the assumption that the father relegated his son to the farm because the younger Roscius had incurred too much debt.[12]

Use of comic motifs in the speech

At one point during the speech, Cicero turns Erucius’ argument for prosecution against him by utilizing a metaphor derived from the popular stage. Cicero refers to the comedic play “Hypobolimaeus” rewritten by the Roman playwright Caecilius Statius from the original written by Menander, both now lost. The play’s plot centers on a father with two sons, one of which remains of the farms in the countryside and the other stays with the father in the city. This situation matched Sextus Roscius’ family situation, before his father’s murder. The great advantage of using this play as a metaphor in Cicero’s speech is explained by Byron Harries in Acting the Part: techniques of the comedic stage in Cicero’s early speeches. In his paper, Harries goes into great detail on the implications of the metaphor and its intended reaction among the jury. Harries also focuses on the relationship between comedic motifs in Roman plays and the Roman family.[13]

Gladiatorial metaphors in the speech

August M. Imholtz, Jr. in his paper Gladiatorial Metaphors in Cicero’s Pro Sex. Roscio Amerino describes Cicero’s use of certain terms such as gladiator and gladiator instructor as metaphors for assassin, executor and butcher. Many of the Latin word’s etymologies came directly from Etruscan which Imholtz claims Cicero intentionally employed to heighten the dramatic effect of his speech. The intensity of Latin oration coupled with Cicero’s intensely illustrative language regarding his characterization of Magnus and Capito both greatly benefited Cicero’s defense.[14]


This trial was the subject of an episode of Timewatch entitled "Murder In Rome" (2005) starring Paul Rhys as Cicero.[15]


  1. Plutarch, Sulla
  2. Plutarch, Sulla
  3. Donkin, Cicero Pro Roscio Amerino, edited, after Karl Halm
  4. Sedgwick, Cicero’s Conduct of the Case Pro Roscio
  5. Sedgwick, Cicero’s Conduct of the Case Pro Roscio
  6. Kinsey, Cicero's Speech for Roscius of Ameria
  7. Sedgwick Cicero’s Conduct of the Case Pro Roscio
  8. Kinsey A Dilemma in Pro Roscio Ameria
  9. Kinsey, Cicero's Speech for Roscius of Ameria
  10. Berry, "The Publication of Cicero's 'Pro Roscio Amerino'"
  11. Kinsey, Cicero's Speech for Roscius of Ameria
  12. Sedgwick, Cicero’s Conduct of the Case Pro Roscio
  13. Harries Acting the part: techniques of the comedic stage in Cicero’s early speeches
  14. Imholtz Gladiatorial Metaphors in Cicero's Pro Sex. Roscio Ameria


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