Not to be confused with prescription and other meanings of proscription.
The Proscribed Royalist, 1651, painted by John Everett Millais ca. 1853, in which a Puritan woman hides a fleeing Royalist proscript in the hollow of a tree.

Proscription (Latin: proscriptio) is, in current usage, a "decree of condemnation to death or banishment" (OED) and can be used in a political context to refer to state-approved murder or banishment. The term originated in Ancient Rome, where it included public identification and official condemnation of declared enemies of the state.[1] It has been used broadly since to describe similar governmental and political actions, with varying degrees of nuance, including the en masse suppression of ideologies and elimination of political rivals or personal enemies. In addition to its recurrences during the various phases of the Roman Republic, it has become a standard term to label:

Proscription of 82 BC

An early instance of mass proscription took place in 82 BC, when Lucius Cornelius Sulla was appointed dictator rei publicae constituendae ("Dictator for the Reconstitution of the Republic"). Sulla proceeded to have the Senate draw up a list of those he considered enemies of the state and published the list in the Roman Forum. Any man whose name appeared on the list was ipso facto stripped of his citizenship and excluded from all protection under law; reward money was given to any informer who gave information leading to the death of a proscribed man, and any person who killed a proscribed man was entitled to keep part of his estate (the remainder went to the state). No person could inherit money or property from proscribed men, nor could any woman married to a proscribed man remarry after his death. Many victims of proscription were decapitated and their heads were displayed on spears in the Forum.

Sulla used proscription to restore the depleted Roman Treasury (Aerarium), which had been drained by costly civil and foreign wars in the preceding decade, and to eliminate enemies (both real and potential) of his reformed state and constitutions; the plutocratic knights of the Ordo Equester were particularly hard-hit. Giving the procedure a particularly sinister character in the public eye was the fact that many of the proscribed men, escorted from their homes at night by groups of men all named "Lucius Cornelius," never appeared again. (These men were all Sulla's freedmen.) This gave rise to a general fear of being taken from one's home at night as a consequence of any outwardly seditious behaviour.

Sulla's proscription was bureaucratically overseen, and the names of informers and those who profited from killing proscribed men were entered into the public record. Because Roman law could criminalise acts ex post facto, many informers and profiteers were later prosecuted.

The proscription of 82 BC was overseen by Sulla's freedman steward Lucius Cornelius Chrysogonus, and was rife with corruption.

Proscription of 43 BC

Proscription was revived by the Second Triumvirate of Octavian (later known as Augustus), Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, and Mark Antony, in November 43 BC, again resorted to proscription to eliminate political enemies and replenish the Treasury. Some of the proscribed enemies of the state were stripped of their property but protected from death by their relatives in the Triumvirate (e.g., Lucius Julius Caesar and Lepidus' brother). Most were not so lucky; amongst the most prominent men to suffer death were the orator Cicero, his younger brother Quintus Tullius Cicero (one of Julius Caesar's legates) and Marcus Favonius.[7]

See also


  1. Frank N. Magill (15 April 2013). The Ancient World: Dictionary of World Biography. Routledge. pp. 1209–. ISBN 978-1-135-45740-2. Retrieved 9 July 2013.
  2. Thomas H. Reilly, 2004, The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: Rebellion and the Blasphemy of Empire"", Seattle, WA, University of Washington Press, p. 43ff, 14ff, 150ff, ISBN 0295984309, accessed 18 April 2015
  3. For example: Alison, Archibald (2011) [1833]. History of Europe During the French Revolution. History of Europe during the French Revolution 10 Volume Paperback Set. 2 (reprint ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 309. ISBN 9781108025386. Retrieved 2016-01-09. St Just [...] demanded the execution of victims in the same manner as the supply of armies. Proscription like victories were essential to the furtherance of his principles.
  4. Edward Henry Nolan, 1856, The history of the war against Russia, Vol. 5 (Illustr.), London: Virtue, p. 62, see, accessed 18 April 2015.
  5. Darren G. Lilleker, 2004, Against the Cold War: The History and Political Traditions of Pro-Sovietism in the British Labour Party, 1945-1989 (Vol. 1 of International Library of Political Studies), London, U.K.: I.B.Tauris, pp. 20f, 45f, 176f, and passim, ISBN 1850434719, accessed 18 April 2015.
  6. Yaacov Ro’i, 2010, "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics: Culture," in The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe (online), accessed 18 April 2015.
  7. Dio, Cassius (1917). "XLVII". Roman History, Books 46-50 (Loeb Classical Library, Vol. V). [Earnest Cary, Trans.] Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674990913. Retrieved 18 April 2015.
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