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Andrew M. Riggsby

“Crime” lacks a fully agreed definition across modern societies, but competing versions tend to stress notions like punishment, protection of public or collective interests, and a pervasive role for the state in proceedings. Over time the Romans used a series of different procedures (successively, trial before the assemblies, by specialized juries, or by imperial inquisitors) to try most of their offences that would be more or less recognizably criminal today. Substantively, the core of this group were offences against the state in an institutional sense (e.g., sedition, electoral malpractice, abuse of public office, forgery). Over time it also came to include an increasing number of (personal) crimes of violence. Some core modern criminal offences such as forms of theft and forgery of private documents came to be grouped in with these only at a very late date and incompletely. “Moral” offences that are treated as criminal more sporadically today (e.g., use of intoxicants, gambling, prostitution) were not criminalized. Penalties in earlier periods included fines, civic disgrace, and exile; later periods introduced finer differentiation of penalties, as well as execution. Imprisonment was not a formal penalty.



Thomas Rüfner

In Roman law, the word actio refers to a civil lawsuit. At first sight, it seems obvious that actio derives from the verb ago, which has the basic meaning “to drive,” “to urge,” or simply “to act.” The Roman jurists themselves clearly regarded ago as the verb corresponding to the noun actio and meaning “to conduct a lawsuit” (cf. Festus, Gloss. Lat. 21, l. 15, s.v. agere). Hence, actio may be explained as referring to the claimant urging the judge (and/or the adversary) to do something,1 or simply to the claimant’s actions in court.2 Some scholars have proposed different etymologies. It seems possible that actio is not a derivative of ago (“to drive, to urge”), but of a root agjō meaning “to speak” (cf. the verb aio), and that the word was only later associated with ago.3 Alternatively, it has been argued that ago and aio have a common root that, in the context of archaic law, refers to a performative utterance which affects the Roman citizens collectively.


Edward Harris

The Areopagus council was the most respected court in Classical Athens. It had jurisdiction in trials for intentional homicide, intentional wounding, poisoning, and arson. The Areopagus could launch investigations into crimes on its own initiative or at the command of the assembly and exercised surveillance over religious matters. The assembly might also delegate specific tasks to the Areopagus. There is no reason to think that the Areopagus acquired additional powers during the Persian Wars later removed by the reforms of Ephialtes. During the Roman period, the Areopagus was the leading political body alongside the council and assembly, and the herald of the Areopagus one of the most prestigious offices.The Areopagus was the most respected political institution in Classical Athens and retained its prestige down to the Roman Empire. Lycurgus(Leoc. 12) called it the finest example of justice in all of Greece. Demosthenes(23.65) claims that “in this tribunal alone no defendant who has been convicted or accuser who has lost has even proved that his case was wrongly decided.” .