While Emperor Trajan (r. 98-117) was wrapping up his military campaign in Dacia around the year 106, he received a petition requesting him to weigh in on court cases at the Etrurian city of Centum Cellae (approximately modern Civita Vecchia). After returning from the Dacian campaign, Trajan personally traveled to Centum Cellae and summoned a host of relevant officials that would help him oversee the cases he would be hearing in that region. One of the Romans called to attend the emperor’s court was Pliny the Younger, an accomplished lawyer who was employed as an assessor during the trials. Besides being a statesman, lawyer and assessor, Pliny the Younger was also a prolific writer of letters (many of which were preserved and published by himself and his friends). As joining the emperor’s entourage and attending court was exciting, Pliny made sure to jot down his experiences while witnessing the cases at Centum Cellae. Of the several criminal allegations and legal disputes brought to the emperor while he was in the region, one of the cases that most stood out to Pliny the Younger was a dramatic courtroom drama involving a woman named Gallita.
Gallita, according to Pliny the Younger’s letters, was the wife of a Roman military tribune (left unnamed by Pliny). The marriage between Gallita and her husband, unfortunately, was complicated. As the title of the article gives away, Gallita reportedly was caught having an affair. Her clandestine partner, so the story goes, was a centurion (also left unnamed) from the Roman military. After obtaining evidence of some kind, Gallita’s tribune husband turned the accused centurion over to the authorities. Whatever evidence had been acquired was likely compelling, for the centurion seemed to have been found guilty with relative ease. On this, Pliny the Younger wrote, “The case heard on the following day was that of Gallita, charged with adultery. She was the wife of a military tribune who was just about to stand for civil office, and had brought disgrace on her own and her husband’s position by an affair with a centurion. Her husband had reported it to the governor, and he had informed the Emperor. After sifting the evidence the Emperor cashiered the centurion and banished him” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 6.31). At this point, the triumphant military tribune reportedly wanted to bring the trial to an end. The tribune was content with his rival’s banishment, and he evidently wanted to spare his wife from further punishment at the hands of the court. Nevertheless, with the emperor being in town to oversee the trial, Gallita’s fate was out of the military tribune’s hands.
In a curious second half of the trial, the court proceeded with charges against Gallita, doing so against the military tribune’s wishes. In fact, the husband evidently began trying to undermine and thwart the court through a show of uncooperativeness. This annoyed Emperor Trajan to the extent that the emperor had the tribune censured or fined for his actions. On this, Pliny the Younger wrote, “There still remained the second half of the sentence, for the charge could only have been made against two persons; but here the husband held back out of affection for his wife and was censured for condoning her conduct. Even after he had reported his wife’s adultery he had kept her in his house, apparently satisfied once he had got rid of his rival” (Pliny the Younger, Letters, 6.31). Unfortunately for the married couple, the emperor’s fines and pressuring eventually compelled the husband to resume cooperation with the trial and testify to some extent against his wife. In the end, Gallita was found guilty of adultery and faced the punishment of having half of her dowry seized before she was ultimately sentenced to banishment on an island.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Brutus Listening to the Ambassadors from the Tarquins (?), by Louis Lafitte (c. 1770-1828), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the LACMA).
- The Letters of Pliny the Younger, translated by Betty Radice. New York: Penguin Classics, 1963, 1969.