Proscription

Proscription

[proh-skrip-shuhn]
Not to be confused with prescription and other meanings of proscription.

Proscription (proscriptio) is the public identification and official condemnation of enemies of the state. It is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a "decree of condemnation to death or banishment" and is a heavily politically-charged word frequently used to refer to state-approved murder or persecution. Proscription implies the elimination en masse of political rivals or personal enemies, and the term is frequently used in connection with violent revolutions, most especially with the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution. The term is also used to express the political violence in Argentina against Peronists after Peron fled into exile.

Proscription of 82 BC

The first 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 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 the 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 never appeared again after being quietly taken by a group of men all named "Lucius Cornelius" (these men, the Sullani, were all Sulla's freedmen), giving rise to a general fear of being taken from your 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 procedure was overseen by his freedman steward, Lucius Cornelius Chrysogonus, and was rife with corruption.

Proscription of 43 BC

Proscription was later revived by the Second Triumvirate in 43 BC, again to eliminate political enemies and to 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's brother). Most were not so lucky; the two most prominent men to suffer death were the orator Cicero and his younger brother Quintus Tullius Cicero, one of Julius Caesar's legates.

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