Saturday, September 19, 2009


Version at BMCR home site
Leanne Bablitz, Actors and Audience in the Roman Courtroom. Routledge Monographs in Classical Studies. London/New York: Routledge, 2007. Pp. ix, 290. ISBN 9780415427609. $115.00.
Reviewed by Elaine Fantham, Princeton University

This lucid and mostly excellent book is disadvantaged by a poor choice of title. Disregarding the overlap with Shadi Bartsch's Actors in the Audience: Theatricality and doublespeak from Nero to Trajan (Harvard 1994) ,the title does not represent the contents, which would be better designated as "the courts ( or legal procedure?) of the early Principate." Actors suggests pretence or impersonation (better surely to group both categories as Participants), and Courtroom suggests four walls, not the open court space common to all procedures except the Centumviral court and the private sessions of the unus iudex.

As someone trained fifty years ago when Classicists read ancient texts but had no training in material culture, I feel respect and gratitude for a book like this one, strong in epigraphy, topography and a more general awareness of space as a factor (e.g., in the implications of the size of tribunals, or the author's ingenious working out of the distribution of the four centumviral divisions within the basilica Julia). So it seems churlish to complain at "the audience in their sordidos pullatos (p.133) and the threefold repetition of plaudire (sic) p.134-5. It would be futile snobbery to neglect an important and definitive book because the author comes from a generation not trained in Latin. My own knowledge of rhetorical theory and the Ciceronian texts and context left me very much in need of this systematic study of the imperial courts. Some of this material is accessible in handbooks, but the greater part is freshly set out for the first time. Even the Emperor's multiple and arbitrary functions as judge, presiding officer and organizer of cognitiones need teasing out for their implications. When he decided to work after dinner, his advisers all had to do so too. So while chapters 1-3 are essential to our understanding of the imperial courts, the second half of the book, focused on personnel (judges and advocates), is no less useful, if at times over-dependent on inference. I had not known about the corpus of vadimonia, records of appointments for litigants from the bay of Naples, or the making of appointments for the litigants in different locations (distributed like stations of the cross) in the huge Forum Augustum.

Bablitz shows an admirable command of Quintilian's intermittent evidence for procedure scattered across his instructions on content: I am more hesitant about the social aspects of relations between advocate and litigant suggested in her account, and her reliance on Martial, who seems too irresponsible and extravagant to guarantee the veracity of his satirical anecdotes. Another issue on which I suspect she is too trusting is the discussion of claques and their pay system. Pliny tells us (Ep. 2.14) about the claques recently organized by Larcius Licinus in the Centumviral court, but what other trials would have been sufficiently prominent and attractive to the general public to justify hiring a claqueor more casually paying clients in attendance to interject their applause? This practice turns the pleaders into performers, scoring points for wit instead of convincing the crowd of a client's innocence or honesty. As Bablitz notes, Seneca the elder denounces the trend of playing to the audience, commenting "I am accustomed to watch not the audience, but the judge, and to reply to the opponent, not to my own fancy." (Contr. 3., pr.12.12I; my translation)

Perhaps the biggest can of worms, however, is understanding how the jurors served; I call them jurors, not judges, inasmuch as they decided the verdict on a criminal charge, or the outcome of a substantial inheritance case. For Cicero's heyday from 70-43, three census classes, Senators, Knights and Tribuni aerarii (with an income below equestrian standing), provided a sufficient body for the annual panel from which jurors were chosen for each case. But as Bablitz shows, emperors might strive to adjust the decuries by adding iudices selecti (electi or even adlecti by the emperor himself), yet it was a struggle to raise a body of five thousand to supply regular juries of 45-75 men. And the evidence, mostly individual inscriptions recording service on panels, cannot be used to determine how much coercion there was on the jurors--some of whom had to come from the provinces-to endure the whole forensic year of trials. Bablitz suggests exemptions for Fathers of Three, magistrates in office and officers on campaign, Was there no other type of short term exemption?

Perhaps the most important topic is the transformation--professionalization-- of the advocate during the Augustan years. Bablitz rightly takes into account two aspects: the shrinkage of the elite (noblesse oblige) patrons in the generation after Messala Corvinus and the positive growth of skilled experts in law such as Labeo, distinguished for his command of grammatica and dialectica. There are strange contradictions between Augustus' recognition of this trend and the Lex Iulia Iudiciaria of 17 BCE known only from Dio's notice (54.18 1): "he ordered the orators to give their services as advocates without pay (tous rhetoras amisthi sunagoreuein), on pain of a fine of four times the amount they received; and he forbade those drawn as jurymen (tois de dikazein aiei lanchanousi) to enter any person's house during their year of service." It seems to have met the same success as the adultery laws, or modern US prohibition. Ovid reports himself as a conscientious iudex (Tristia 2,138) but the next generation saw his son-in-law Suillius first convicted of accepting bribes (24 CE) then hounding Asiaticus to his death in 48. "There was nothing in the public marketplace so saleable as the perfidy of advocates...thus the senators rose up together to demand the application of the Cincian law" (Tac. Ann.. 11.5 tr. Yardley). Under pressure, Claudius enacted a new and wiser law setting limits on the fee an advocate could receive, but it did not stop the vexatious prosecutors: ten years later we find Suillius slandering Seneca (Ann. 13.41-4) and earning condemnation for his abuse of the governorship of Asia; he was exiled to the Balearic islands.

Still, besides the delatores and the humble representatives of the unprivileged Bablitz can quote successful advocates in the continuing official posts of advocati fisci, and the respected role of advocati for provinces and communities in diplomacy and in the courts. She has made good use of John Crook's admirable Legal Advocacy in the Roman World (Ithaca 1995), but too few scholars seem to know this book.

What must have made the biggest difference to the imperial courts and cognitions would be men's fear of slanderers like Suillius and vulnerability to personal enemies bending the emperor's ear. To mention one more investigation, Bablitz explores for us how the advocate spent his time in preparation for and between sessions of the cases he took on, or listening to his fellow advocates (how patiently did Cicero listen to Hortensius, let alone Crassus?). These aspects of the advocate's task did not change; the vivid picture given in Cicero's Brutus of Ser. Sulpicius Galba beating up his secretaries as he sweated blood over a case, or (my favourite) of the audience growing restless and displaying boredom with a dull speaker, would clearly be as true of Aper's finicky and impatient audience in the Dialogus de oratoribus.


List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
Courts of the Praetors
--Praetor urbanus in the Forum Romanum
--Praetor peregrinus in the Forum Romanum and the Forum of Augustus
--Quaestiones perpetuae: the courts of the other praetors
--A Praetor's tribunal
--The impact of procedure on a court's location
Court of the emperor
Courts of the other magistrates
--Praefectus urbi
--Praefectus praetorio
--Praefectus urbi, praefectus praetorio, and consul in the Forum of Trajan
--The location of other courts
Overview of locations
Types of people present
Physical arrangement of the participants
Physical arrangement of the audience
The distinction between the types of courts
The centumviral court
Identity of litigant
Choosing an advocate
The litigant in the courtroom
--Participation of the litigant
An overview of judges at Rome
--Judges as members of panels
--Individual judges
Album iudicum
Unus iudex
The stress of judging
Favouritism in the rulings of the judge
Judicial service: honour or duty?
The judge in the courtrooom
The identity of the audience
--Paid audience members
Audience participation
Clientelae and the claque
Status, pay, the decline of oratory and terminology
The cases of advocates
--C. Asinius Pollio
--Cn. Domitius Afer
--M. Cornelius Fronto
The cases of advocates not of the upper classes
Factors in the selection of cases
Factors in the refusal of cases
Provincial and out-of-town advocates
Time investment and workload
--The workday
--Total workload
The advocate in the courtroom
--The advocate's weapons
--The impact of the court on an advocate's speech
--Aids for the advocate
--The impact of the case on the advocate
Index of Sources
General Index

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