Thursday, February 19, 2009


J. R. W. Prag (ed.), Sicilia Nutrix Plebis Romanae: Rhetoric, Law, and Taxation in Cicero's Verrines. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. Supplement 97. London: Institute of Classical Studies, University of London, 2007. Pp. ix, 189. (pb). ISBN 9781905670116. £28.00.
Reviewed by Ayelet Haimson Lushkov, Yale University and Dartmouth College (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of this review.]

Cicero's Verrines generate some impressive statistics. At 400 pages of Oxford Classical Text, they constitute almost a quarter of surviving Ciceronian oratory. They are the only surviving example of a Republican prosecution speech, and, since only the first actio was ever delivered, have the distinction of being staggeringly successful even without full performance in court. They are besides, as Jonathan Prag, the editor of Sicilia Nutrix Plebis Romanae, points out, "remarkably understudied" (1). This volume, which collects the papers given at a colloquium held at the Institute of Classical Studies in London in February 2004, sets out to help correct this imbalance.1

The challenge the authors were set is explicitly stated on the first page: "how to read these speeches and to use them as evidence for matters of law, taxation, or provincial government" (1). This question already reveals the perspective which this volume takes on the Verrines, one which reads the speeches through a historical, not to say functionalist, lens. Happily, however, the scope of this volume, as intimated by its title, also leaves considerable room for matters of rhetoric, presentation, and the difficulties and obstacles these issues pose to the historian of Republican Sicily. This volume is thus not only of significant interest to students of Ciceronian rhetoric or the Roman provinces, but also a sound lesson in how the discipline of Classics can embody productive dialogues between scholars of text, culture and history.

Conference volumes are often taken to task for a certain scholarly diffusion; Sicilia Nutrix, however, passes this particular test with flying colors. Cross-references abound, and the papers are remarkably uniform in their message. The Verrines, they all agree, tell us more about Cicero and his practice, than they reliably do about the situation in Sicily.2 The problem is compounded by the fact that the Verrines are often the primary, fullest, or even solitary source for some issues regarding the Republican province: taxation, the governor's conduct and jurisdiction, the grain-tithe, the right of the provincials to a fair hearing, indeed any hearing at all. Nor does this volume have magic solutions for the scholar navigating these shoals: the rhetoric of the Verrines is always self-serving, obfuscating and shuffling facts for the professed purpose of the speech, the condemnation of Verres.

Following the editor's introductory comments, Andrew Lintott ('The Citadel of the Allies') considers the Verrines in their most immediate context, the prosecution itself. Lintott considers the complicated procedures and efforts undertaken by Cicero in order to facilitate his primary strategy: the amassing and skillful production of eye-witness testimonies. In so doing, Lintott also supplies a glimpse into the background of a Roman trial, the behind-the-scenes work which shores up Cicero's performance. The issue of evidence and its manipulation rears its head here for the first, but far from last, time in the volume, as does the equally important matter of the speeches' professed purpose. Most importantly, however, Lintott reminds us that the Verrines fall within a very particular type of prosecution, res repetundae, with their inherent contradiction between the welfare of the allies and the welfare of Rome.

Kathryn Tempest's offering ('Saints and Sinners: some thoughts on the presentation of character in Attic oratory and Cicero's Verrines') tackles the interesting question of the influence exerted by the Attic orators on Cicero's rhetorical practice through an examination of intertextual characterization. The continuity of a rhetorical tradition stretching from Athens to Rome is doubtlessly a worthwhile object of study, and Tempest succeeds at least partially in "alerting the reader of Cicero's Verrines as to how the character of Verres, as Cicero presents him, ultimately derives from a range of topoi that are originally Greek." (35) Unfortunately, her argument occludes the influence of earlier and contemporary Roman oratory, our lack of which should not prompt a wholesale recourse to Greek models.

Catherine Steel ('The Rhetoric of the de Frumento') focuses on the third and longest speech of the Verrines, and specifically on Cicero's rhetorical strategies in creating a facade of lucidity. Steel begins by exploring how Cicero goes about making the corn supply an "appealing and persuasive" (37) instance of Verres' provincial abuses. The question is well worth answering, since the de Frumento, which is the focus not only of Steel's paper but of much of the volume as well, is a singularly complicated, and, on Cicero's own admission, tedious mass of data.3 Focusing on sections 67-117, Steel shows how Cicero carefully regulates his rhetorical structures to give the audience the impression of mastery over a complicated mass of data. Steel then goes on to expose the conflicting evidence that lies behind Cicero's smooth presentation, and which makes it nigh impossible to know what actually transpired in Sicily. This obfuscation of fact quickly emerges as one of the themes of the volume, as well as Steel's suggestion that Cicero's intent is the defamation of an act which would have appeared legitimate to most Romans--the safeguarding of Rome's food supply.

Sylvie Pittia ('Les Données Chiffrées dans le De Frumento de Cicéron') continues the exploration of the de Frumento's misleading data. She focuses on the abundant numerical figures in the speech, and offers a nuanced typology of numbers and their rhetorical deployment.4 The paper is methodically conceived and presented, and is one of the highlights of this volume. The stakes here are especially high, for Pittia's conclusions explicitly and consciously form a significant obstacle for the old tendency to use the Verrines as a source for reconstructing the economy of republican Sicily. The numbers, Pittia argues, are in effect an anthology--they do not come together to form an image of Roman Sicily or of the Roman fiscal system, at least not without significant problems. In order to evaluate their reliability and utility, Pittia cautions, one must establish their purpose in the economy of the speech itself (78-9).

The parsing of Cicero's exploitations of physical evidence continues with Jean Andreau ('Registers, Account-Books, and Written Documents in the De Frumento'). This time the emphasis is on documentary evidence, a subject which has enjoyed recent scholarly attention.5 The message continues that heralded by Steel and Pittia: "In the de frumento, and in the Verrines in general, the vocabulary of registers and documents is so fuzzy that, sometimes, it is not easy to understand which document is concerned, and whether it is public or private." (85) The paper itself sets out to, in Prag's phrase, "put flesh upon the bare bones of Cicero's allusions to the falsification of documents," (3) and demonstrates Cicero's disinterest in sorting out the appropriate technical vocabulary for each category of document.

Julien Dubouloz's contribution ('La juridiction du governeur provincial. Réflexions sur les Verrines comme sources pour l'histoire du droit') throws the spotlight onto Verres himself, in particular his behavior in the legal administration of Sicily, especially in assembling the judiciary personnel which decided court cases (iudices and recuperatores). After a careful analysis, he concludes that the legalistic material in the Verrines teaches us more about the importance of such material in a prosecutorial speech than it does about provincial government, much less Verres' own conduct. Instead of dispassionate legalistic detail, we instead find scenes heavily colored by moral judgment: violence, intimidation, and relentless corruption--all of which preclude and obfuscate the question of the legality of Verres' exercise of his imperium.

Malcolm Bell's piece ('Apronius in the Agora: Siclian Civil Architecture and the Lex Hieronica') contributes an archaeologist's perspective on life in Sicily under Verres. Bell looks for physical evidence for the procedures of the lex Hieronica, a law regulating the grain taxation in Sicily, issued first by King Hiero, and then adopted by the Romans in 240 B.C. The paper focuses on the public buildings of the agora in Morgantina, a town which offers a remarkable continuity of habitation across the transition from independence to Roman occupation. Bell admits that while Cicero "makes no reference to tax collection at Morgantina, he nonetheless provides useful information for interpreting buildings in and around the city's agora, which has been extensively excavated during the past half-century" (118). Combining what is available on the ground with what the text tells us, Bell analyses the surviving buildings in the agora to suggest how they may have been implicated in applying the lex Hieronica.

Jerôme France concludes the volume with some reflections on the history of classical scholarship. His paper ('La loi de Hiéron et les Romains de Jérôme Carcopino: Altertumswissenschaft et histoire économique en France au début du 20e siècle') explores the scholarly and national circumstances which led Carcopino to write his 1919 La Loi de Hiéron et Les Romains, the first systematic study of the Verrines, Sicily, and the Sicilian grain supply. Carcopino's work is touted in the volume's introduction as one which "has so dominated study of Republican Sicily and in particular the de Frumento in the last century" (4). Though this is doubtlessly true, the authors in this collection generally do not engage with the founding father of their topic; La Loi de Hiéron is mentioned in the index only in reference to the introduction and France's own piece. The paper stands as a fascinating homage to a great scholar; as a micro-history of the development of economic history and the study of ancient economy in France vis-à-vis the rest of Europe; and as a peculiarly academic view on Europe before the wars.

On the whole, the volume is ably edited, for which Prag is to be commended. The index is useful, and typographical errors are few and far between. The bibliography is thorough, and will likely serve as a useful starting-point for students looking for purchase on the Verrines or on republican Sicily. The volume also includes a clear (if schematic) map of Sicily (ix), and a note by the editor on the possible connection to the Verrines of the cover image, a denarius (RRC 401/1, probably of 71 B.C.) with a reverse showing a Roman soldier lifting Sicilia from the ground. One quibble remains: the volume vacillates between naming the Verrines and numbering them. Thus the de Frumento is mentioned both by name and by number, but the de Praetura Siciliensi is mentioned only by name. One wonders if the references could have been standardized.

Sicilia Nutrix Plebis Romanae is a welcome addition to Ciceronian studies, refining and qualifying the use of the Verrines as a source for rhetoric and history so that they may be better used by students and scholars. As such, the volume will be of value to students of Cicero himself and his rhetorical practice, and also to those interested in the management of empire and the Romans' perception of their own role in it. Finally, Sicilia Nutrix offers an exemplum to those who wonder at the viability of interdisciplinarity in Classics.

Table of Contents:

Introduction / J.R.W. Prag

The Citadel of the Allies / A. Lintott

Saints and Sinners: some thoughts on the presentation of character in Attic oratory and Cicero's Verrines / K. Tempest

The Rhetoric of the De Frumento / C. Steel

Les données chiffrées dans le De frumento de Cicéron / S. Pittia

Registers, Account-books, and Written Documents in the De Frumento / J. Andreau

La jurisdiction du gouverneur provincial: réflexions sur les Verrines comme sources pour l'histoire du droit / J. Dubouloz

Apronius in the Agora: Sicilian Civil Architecture and the Lex Hieronica / M. Bell III

La loi de Hiéron et les Romains de Jérôme Carcopino: Altertumswissenschaft et histoire économique en France au début du 20e siècle / J. France.


1. The London colloquium was an off-shoot of a CNRS project to produce a new edition and historical commentary of Cicero's Verrines. Another volume has now been produced, which is a "larger companion piece" (4) to the work under review: Pittia, S. and J. Dubouloz (edd.), 2006. La Sicilie de Cicéron. Lectures de Verrines. Presses Universitaires de Franche-Comté. This second colloquium was held in Paris, May 19-20 2006. Although later in date, the proceedings were actually published before Sicilia Nutrix.

2. Against this conclusion one might reasonably wonder why the companion volume (see n.1) seems to use the speeches as a jumping block for an investigation of Sicily under Verres, and further of Verres himself. Methodologically, then, the two volumes together generate a productive tension in our reading of the Verrines.

3. Quae magnitudine, inuiriae et re criminibus ceteris antecellet, iuncunditatis in agendo et varietatis minus habebit, Ver. 3.10.

4. I have summarized it as follows: 1) conversions, where the second figure is necessarily dependant on the first (e.g., medimnus to modius); 2) hypothetical numbers (if I were to show that you took as much for yourself as gave to the state); 3) figures within arithmetical calculations (liable to harmonization by the copyist or editor); 4) completely isolated figures.

5. S. Butler, 2002, The Hand of Cicero, London; Prag highlights the connection on p.3.

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