A man named Caecilius Classicus held a chaotic term as Rome’s governor of Baetica (southern Spain) in the late 1st century. His governorship was characterized by corruption and exploitation, causing Classicus to eventually be put on trial by representatives of his angry province. Unfortunately, Caecilius Classicus died before the trial was begun. The prominent government official and lawyer, Pliny the Younger (c. 61/62-113)—who became a prosecutor in the case against Classicus—wrote of the disgraced governor’s odd death, stating, “He forestalled the trial by his death, which might have been accidental or self-inflicted (there was much general suspicion but no definite proof) for, though it seemed likely that he intended to die since he could not defend himself, it is surprising that he should have died to escape the shame of condemnation for deeds which he was not ashamed to do” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 3.9). Whatever the case, by the time a trial was formally convened against Caecilius Classicus around the year 100, the ex-governor was already dead. This did not put an end to the matter, however, for Classicus could be tried posthumously in the ancient Roman court, and his living accomplices could also still be brought before the court.
As told by Pliny the Younger, proving that Caecilius Classicus was guilty turned out to be an extraordinarily easy task. Classicus, as it happened, had been a prolific notetaker and an indiscrete letter-writer. During their investigation, Pliny and his colleagues discovered a treasure trove of ledgers about criminal deals, as well as messages to friends and family in which Classicus gloated about his ill-gotten proceeds. On the ex-governor’s self-incriminating lifestyle, Pliny wrote, “It was easy to make short work of Classicus. He had left accounts in his own hand of his receipts for every business deal and court case, and he had even sent a bragging letter to his mistress in Rome (these are his actual words): ‘Hurrah, hurrah, I’m coming to you a free man—I’ve sold up half of the Baetici and raised four million!’” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 3.9). Due to such evidence being found, Classicus was posthumously convicted for his crimes in the year 101, and any wealth that he had gained from his time in Baetica had to be forfeited by his family and sent back to the Baetici people. In connection to the trial, Pliny the Younger and his team also successfully argued charges against several of Classicus’ henchmen, including Baebius Probus, Fabius Hispanus and Stilonius Priscus.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustration labeled Saalburg: Ernste Nachricht [Serious news], dated to 1907, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the NYPL Collection).
- The Letters of Pliny the Younger, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1963, 1969.