The Peculiar Trial Of Norbanus Licinianus

In the ancient Roman Empire, an unscrupulous man named Norbanus Licinianus was a  representative of the province of Baetica (southern Spain) at the turn of the 1st and 2nd centuries. During that time, Norbanus clashed with an even worse figure—Caecilius Classicus, a corrupt governor in charge of the Baetica region. After Governor Classicus victimized his province through corruption and extortion, representatives of the province of Baetica decided to make moves to put Classicus on trial. Norbanus Licinianus, who reportedly had once been banished by Classicus, joined the effort to bring the governor to court, and he took a leading role in gathering evidence and running messages between the province of Baetica and the members of the prosecutorial team. Caecilius Classicus, unfortunately, died before the case was brought to court. Nevertheless, Norbanus and the province of Baetica ultimately succeeded in posthumously putting Classicus on trial by the year 100.

Norbanus Licinianus, as was already mentioned, happened to have been a shady character with a controversial past. Therefore, when he returned to Rome in order to ask that charges be lodged against Governor Classicus, Norbanus consequently began bumping into a lot of old enemies who wished him harm. By venturing to the court for the sake of the province of Baetica, Norbanus Licinianus also inadvertently brought himself into danger, for the court was where many of his foes held influence.

Norbanus Licinianus did not have to wait long before his enemies had their revenge. As told by the lawyer Pliny the Younger (c. 61/62-113), who was a prosecutor for the Classicus case, Norbanus was strangely accused by a witness of colluding with Governor Classicus’ wife, Casta. Although there was no evidence of this—in fact, Norbanus was an accuser and evidence provider in the case of Casta—the hostile members of the court jumped on the chance to make some legal trouble for their old enemy. After the opening charge of collusion was lodged, Norbanus’ foes took the opportunity to begin heaping on all of the other crimes and nefarious deeds that he was accused of doing during his unscrupulous life.  On this curious development, Pliny the Younger wrote:

“A witness who was either annoyed at being compelled to appear to give evidence, or had been suborned by one of the defendants to damage the case, charged Norbanus Licinianus (one of the representatives of Baetica who had been commissioned to collect evidence) with collusion in the case against Casta, the wife of Classicus…he was swept away by the general indignation against his other misdemeanors and the fact that like many others he had profited by the reign of Domitian…There were many other charges against him more damaging: indeed, two senators (the consular Pomponius Rufus and Libo Frugi) produced the damning evidence that he had appeared in court in Domitian’s time in support of the prosecution of Salvius Liberalis. He was found guilty and sentenced to banishment on an island” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 3.9).

Despite this odd distraction at the beginning of the trial, the court eventually shifted its focus back to the crimes of Caecilius Classicus. Pliny the Younger and his team managed to have Classicus posthumously convicted of his crimes in the year 101, resulting in a ruling that any wealth Classicus had gained from his time in Baetica needed to be forfeited by his family and sent back to the Baetici people. Other men, including figures named Baebius Probus, Fabius Hispanus and Stilonius Priscus, were also successfully convicted as accomplices of the corrupt governor. Classicus’ wife, Casta, however—despite Norbanus Licinianus being convicted of colluding with her—was not found guilty of anything during the trial. This curious result was commented on by Pliny, who quipped, “the result was quite without precedent—the defendant was acquitted although her accuser was convicted of collusion with her” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 3.9). Little else is known about what happened to Norbanus Licinianus, but it seems he never returned from exile.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Illustration labeled Roman Senators and Soldiers, attributed to Andrea Mantegna (c. 1431-1506), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Art Institute of Chicago)



  • The Letters of Pliny the Younger, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1963, 1969.

Leave a Reply