Of all the base creatures who found a profit in the massacres and plunderings which Sulla commanded or permitted, not one was baser than Caius Verres. The crimes that he committed would be beyond our belief if it were not for the fact that he never denied them. He betrayed his friends, he perverted justice, he plundered a temple with as little scruple as he plundered a private house, he murdered a citizen as boldly as he murdered a foreigner; in fact, he was the most audacious, the most cruel, the most shameless of men. And yet he rose to high office at home and abroad, and had it not been for the courage, sagacity, and eloquence of one man, he might have risen to the very highest. What Roman citizens had sometimes, and Roman subjects, it is to be feared, very often to endure may be seen from the picture which we are enabled to draw of a Roman magistrate.
Roman politicians began public life as quæstors. (A quæstor was an official who managed money matters for higher magistrates. Every governor of a province had one or more quæstors under him. They were elected at Rome, and their posts were assigned to them by lot.) Verres was quæstor in Gaul and embezzled the public money; he was quæstor in Cilicia with Dolabella, a like-minded governor, and diligently used his opportunity. This time it was not money only, but works of art, on which he laid his hands; and in these the great cities, whether in Asia or in Europe, were still rich. The most audacious, perhaps, of these robberies was perpetrated in the island of Delos. Delos was known all over the world as the island of Apollo. The legend was that it was the birthplace of the god. None of his shrines was more frequented or more famous. Verres was indifferent to such considerations. He stripped the temple of its finest statues, and loaded a merchant ship which he had hired with the booty. But this time he was not lucky enough to secure it. The islanders, though they had discovered the theft, did not, indeed, venture to complain. They thought it was the doing of the governor, and a governor, though his proceedings might be impeached after his, term of office, was not a person with whom it was safe to remonstrate. But a terrible storm suddenly burst upon the island. The governor's departure was delayed. To set sail in such weather was out of the question. The sea was indeed so high that the town became scarcely habitable. Then Verres' ship was wrecked, and the statues were found cast upon the shore. The governor ordered them to be replaced in the temple, and the storm subsided as suddenly as it had arisen.
On his return to Rome Dolabella was impeached for extortion. With characteristic baseness Verres gave evidence against him, evidence so convincing as to cause a verdict of guilty. But he thus secured his own gains, and these he used so profusely in the purchase of votes that two or three years afterwards he was elected prætor. The prætors performed various functions which were assigned to them by lot. Chance, or it may possibly have been contrivance, gave to Verres the most considerable of them all. He was made "Prætor of the City;" that is, a judge before whom a certain class of very important causes were tried. Of course he showed himself scandalously unjust. One instance of his proceedings may suffice.
A certain Junius had made a contract for keeping the temple of Castor in repair. When Verres came into office he had died, leaving a son under age. There had been some neglect, due probably to the troubles of the times, in seeing that the contracts had been duly executed, and the Senate passed a resolution that Verres and one of his fellow-prætors should see to the matter. The temple of Castor came under review like the others, and Verres, knowing that the original contractor was dead, inquired who was the responsible person. When he heard of the son under age he recognized at once a golden opportunity. It was one of the maxims which he had laid down for his own guidance, and which he had even been wont to give out for the benefit of his friends, that much profit might be made out of the property of wards. It had been arranged that the guardian of the young Junius should take the contract into his own hands, and, as the temple was in excellent repair, there was no difficulty in the way. Verres summoned the guardian to appear before him. "Is there anything," he asked, "that your ward has not made good, and which we ought to require of him?" "No," said he, "everything is quite right; all the statues and offerings are there, and the fabric is in excellent repair." From the prætor's point of view this was not satisfactory; and he determined on a personal visit. Accordingly he went to the temple, and inspected it. The ceiling was excellent; the whole building in the best repair. "What is to be done?" he asked of one of his satellites. "Well," said the man, "there is nothing for you to meddle with here, except possibly to require that the columns should be restored to the perpendicular." "Restored to the perpendicular? what do you mean?" said Verres, who knew nothing of architecture. It was explained to him that it very seldom happened that a column was absolutely true to the perpendicular. "Very good," said Verres; "we will have the columns made perpendicular." Notice accordingly was sent to the lad's guardians. Disturbed at the prospect of indefinite loss to their ward's property, they sought an interview with Verres. One of the noble family of Marcellus waited upon him, and remonstrated against the iniquity of the proceeding. The remonstrance was in vain. The prætor showed no signs of relenting. There yet remained one way, a way only too well known to all who had to deal with him, of obtaining their object. Application must be made to his mistress (a Greek freedwoman of the name of Chelidon or "The Swallow"). If she could be induced to take an interest in the case something might yet be done. Degrading as such a course must have been to men of rank and honour, they resolved, in the interest of their ward, to take it. They went to Chelidon's house. It was thronged with people who were seeking favours from the prætor. Some were begging for decisions in their favour; some for fresh trials of their cases. "I want possession," cried one. "He must not take the property from me," said another. "Don't let him pronounce judgment against me," cried a third. "The property must be assigned to me," was the demand of a fourth. Some were counting out money; others signing bonds. The deputation, after waiting awhile, were admitted to the presence. Their spokesman explained the case, begged for Chelidon's assistance, and promised a substantial consideration. The lady was very gracious. She would willingly do what she could, and would talk to the prætor about it. The deputation must come again the next day and hear how she had succeeded. They came again, but found that nothing could be done. Verres felt sure that a large sum of money was to be got out of the proceeding, and resolutely refused any compromise.
They next made an offer of about two thousand pounds. This again was rejected. Verres resolved that he would put up the contract to auction, and did his best that the guardians should have no notice of it. Here, however, he failed. They attended the auction and made a bid. Of course the lowest bidder ought to have been accepted, so long as he gave security for doing the work well. But Verres refused to accept it. He knocked down the contract to himself at a price of more than five thousand pounds, and this though there were persons willing to do it for less than a sixth of that sum. As a matter of fact very little was done. Four of the columns were pulled down and built up again with the same stones. Others were whitewashed; some had the old cement taken out and fresh put in. The highest estimate for all that could possibly be wanted was less than eight hundred pounds.
His year of office ended, Verres was sent as governor to Sicily. By rights he should have remained there twelve months only, but his successor was detained by the Servile war in Italy, and his stay was thus extended to nearly three years, three years into which he crowded an incredible number of cruelties and robberies. Sicily was perhaps the wealthiest of all the provinces. Its fertile wheat-fields yielded harvests which, now that agriculture had begun to decay in Italy, provided no small part of the daily bread of Rome. In its cities, founded most of them several centuries before by colonists from Greece, were accumulated the riches of many generations. On the whole it had been lightly treated by its Roman conquerors. Some of its states had early discerned which would be the winning side, and by making their peace in time had secured their privileges and possessions. Others had been allowed to surrender themselves on favourable terms. This wealth had now been increasing without serious disturbance for more than a hundred years. The houses of the richer class were full of the rich tapestries of the East, of gold and silver plate cunningly chased or embossed, of statues and pictures wrought by the hands of the most famous artists of Greece. The temples were adorned with costly offerings and with images that were known all over the civilized world. The Sicilians were probably prepared to pay something for the privilege of being governed by Rome. And indeed the privilege was not without its value. The days of freedom indeed were over; but the turbulence, the incessant strife, the bitter struggles between neighbours and parties were also at an end. Men were left to accumulate wealth and to enjoy it without hindrance. Any moderate demands they were willing enough to meet. They did not complain, for instance, or at least did not complain aloud, that they were compelled to supply their rulers with a fixed quantity of corn at prices lower than could have been obtained in the open market. And they would probably have been ready to secure the good will of a governor who fancied himself a connoisseur in art with handsome presents from their museums and picture galleries. But the exactions of Verres exceeded all bounds both of custom and of endurance. The story of how he dealt with the wheat-growers of the province is too tedious and complicated to be told in this place. Let it suffice to say that he enriched himself and his greedy troop of followers at the cost of absolute ruin both to the cultivators of the soil and to the Roman capitalists who farmed this part of the public revenue. As to the way in which he laid his hands on the possessions of temples and of private citizens, his doings were emphatically summed up by his prosecutor when he came, as we shall afterwards see, to be put upon his trial. "I affirm that in the whole of Sicily, wealthy and old-established province as it is, in all those towns, in all those wealthy homes, there was not a single piece of silver plate, a single article of Corinthian or Delian ware, a single jewel or pearl, a single article of gold or ivory, a single picture, whether on panel or on canvas, which he did not hunt up and examine, and, if it pleased his fancy, abstract. This is a great thing to say, you think. Well, mark how I say it. It is not for the sake of rhetorical exaggeration that I make this sweeping assertion, that I declare that this fellow did not leave a single article of the kind in the whole province. I speak not in the language of the professional accuser but in plain Latin. Nay, I will put it more clearly still: in no single private house, in no town; in no place, profane or even sacred; in the hands of no Sicilian, of no citizen of Rome, did he leave a single article, public or private property, of things profane or things religious, which came under his eyes or touched his fancy."
Some of the more remarkable of these acts of spoliation it may be worth while to relate. A certain Heius, who was at once the wealthiest and most popular citizen of Messana, had a private chapel of great antiquity in his house, and in it four statues of the very greatest value. There was a Cupid by Praxiteles, a replica of a famous work which attracted visitors to the uninteresting little town of Thespiæ in Botia; a Hercules from the chisel of Myro; and two bronze figures, "Basket-bearers," as they were called, because represented as carrying sacred vessels in baskets on their heads. These were the work of Polyclitus. The Cupid had been brought to Rome to ornament the forum on some great occasion, and had been carefully restored to its place. The chapel and its contents was the great sight of the town. No one passed through without inspecting it. It was naturally, therefore, one of the first things that Verres saw, Messana being on his route to the capital of his province. He did not actually take the statues, he bought them; but the price that he paid was so ridiculously low that purchase was only another name for robbery. Something near sixty pounds was given for the four. If we recall the prices that would be paid now-a-days for a couple of statues by Michael Angelo and two of the masterpieces of Raphael and Correggio, we may imagine what a monstrous fiction this sale must have been, all the more monstrous because the owner was a wealthy man, who had no temptation to sell, and who was known to value his possessions not only as works of art but as adding dignity to his hereditary worship.
A wealthy inhabitant of Tyndaris invited the governor to dinner. He was a Roman citizen and imagined that he might venture on a display which a provincial might have considered to be dangerous. Among the plate on the table was a silver dish adorned with some very fine medallions. It struck the fancy of the guest, who promptly had it removed, and who considered himself to be a marvel of moderation when he sent it back with the medallions abstracted.
His secretary happened one day to receive a letter which bore a noteworthy impression on the composition of chalk which the Greeks used for sealing. It attracted the attention of Verres, who inquired from what place it had come. Hearing that it had been sent from Agrigentum, he communicated to his agents in that town his desire that the seal-ring should be at once secured for him. And this was done. The unlucky possessor, another Roman citizen, by the way, had his ring actually drawn from his finger.
A still more audacious proceeding was to rob, not this time a mere Sicilian provincial or a simple Roman citizen, but one of the tributary kings, the heir of the great house of Antiochus, which not many years before had matched itself with the power of Rome. Two of the young princes had visited Rome, intending to prosecute their claims to the throne of Egypt, which, they contended, had come to them through their mother. The times were not favourable to the suit, and they returned to their country, one of them, Antiochus, probably the elder, choosing to take Sicily on his way. He naturally visited Syracuse, where Verres was residing, and Verres at once recognized a golden opportunity. The first thing was to send the visitor a handsome supply of wine, olive-oil, and wheat. The next was to invite him to dinner. The dining-room and table were richly furnished, the silver plate being particularly splendid. Antiochus was highly delighted with the entertainment, and lost no time in returning the compliment. The dinner to which he invited the governor was set out with a splendour to which Verres had nothing to compare. There was silver plate in abundance, and there were also cups of gold, these last adorned with magnificent gems.
Conspicuous among the ornaments of the table was a drinking vessel, all in one piece, probably of amethyst, and with a handle of gold. Verres expressed himself delighted with what he saw. He handled every vessel and was loud in its praises. The simple-minded King, on the other hand, heard the compliment with pride. Next day came a message. Would the King lend some of the more beautiful cups to his excellency? He wished to show them to his own artists. A special request was made for the amethyst cup. All was sent without a suspicion of danger.
But the King had still in his possession something that especially excited the Roman's cupidity. This was a candelabrum of gold richly adorned with jewels. It had been intended for an offering to the tutelary deity of Rome, Jupiter of the Capitol. But the temple, which had been burnt to the ground in the civil wars, had not yet been rebuilt, and the princes, anxious that their gift should not be seen before it was publicly presented, resolved to carry it back with them to Syria. Verres, however, had got, no one knew how, some inkling of the matter, and he begged Antiochus to let him have a sight of it. The young prince, who, so far from being suspicious, was hardly sufficiently cautious, had it carefully wrapped up, and sent it to the governor's palace. When he had minutely inspected it, the messengers prepared to carry it back. Verres, however, had not seen enough of it. It clearly deserved more than one examination. Would they leave it with him for a time? They left it, suspecting nothing.
Antiochus, on his part, had no apprehensions. When some days had passed and the candelabrum was not returned, he sent to ask for it. The governor begged the messenger to come again the next day. It seemed a strange request; still the man came again and was again unsuccessful. The King himself then waited on the governor and begged him to return it. Verres hinted, or rather said plainly, that he should very much like it as a present. "This is impossible," replied the prince, "the honour due to Jupiter and public opinion forbid it. All the world knows that the offering is to be made, and I cannot go back from my word." Verres perceived that soft words would be useless, and took at once another line. The King, he said, must leave Sicily before nightfall. The public safety demanded it. He had heard of a piratical expedition which was on its way from Syria to the province, and that his departure was necessary. Antiochus had no choice but to obey; but before he went he publicly protested in the market-place of Syracuse against the wrong that had been done. His other valuables, the gold and the jewels, he did not so much regret; but it was monstrous that he should be robbed of the gift that he destined for the altar of the tutelary god of Rome.
The Sicilian cities were not better able to protect their possessions than were private individuals. Segesta was a town that had early ranged itself on the side of the Romans, with whom its people had a legendary relationship. (The story was that Æneas on his way to Italy had left there some of his followers, who were unwilling any longer to endure the hardships of the journey.) In earlier days it had been destroyed by the Carthaginians, who had carried off all its most valuable possessions, the most precious being a statue of Diana, a work of great beauty and invested with a peculiar sacredness. When Carthage fell, Scipio its conqueror restored the spoils which had been carried off from the cities of Sicily. Among other things Agrigentum had recovered its famous bull of brass, in which the tyrant Phalaris had burnt, it was said, his victims. Segesta was no less fortunate than its neighbours, and got back its Diana. It was set on a pedestal on which was inscribed the name of Scipio, and became one of the most notable sights of the island. It was of a colossal size, but the sculptor had contrived to preserve the semblance of maidenly grace and modesty. Verres saw and coveted it. He demanded it of the authorities of the town and was met with a refusal. It was easy for the governor to make them suffer for their obstinacy. All their imposts were doubled and more than doubled. Heavy requisitions for men and money and corn were made upon them. A still more hateful burden, that of attending the court and progresses of the governor was imposed on their principal citizens. This was a contest which they could not hope to wage with success. Segesta resolved that the statue should be given up. It was accordingly carried away from the town, all the women of the town, married and unmarried, following it on its journey, showering perfumes and flowers upon it, and burning incense before it, till it had passed beyond the borders of their territory.
If Segesta had its Diana, Tyndaris had its Mercury; and this also Verres was resolved to add to his collection. He issued his orders to Sopater, chief magistrate of the place, that the statue was to be taken to Messana. (Messana being conveniently near to Italy was the place in which he stored his plunder.) Sopater refusing was threatened with the heaviest penalties if it was not done without delay, and judged it best to bring the matter before the local senate. The proposition was received with shouts of disapproval. Verres paid a second visit to the town and at once inquired what had been done about the statue. He was told that it was impossible. The senate had decreed the penalty of death against any one that touched it. Apart from that, it would be an act of the grossest impiety. "Impiety!" he burst out upon the unlucky magistrates; "penalty of death! senate! what senate? As for you, Sopater, you shall not escape. Give me up the statue or you shall be flogged to death." Sopater again referred the matter to his townsmen and implored them with tears to give way. The meeting separated in great tumult without giving him any answer. Summoned again to the governor's presence, he repeated that nothing could be done. But Verres had still resources in store. He ordered the lictors to strip the man, the chief magistrate, be it remembered, of an important town, and to set him, naked as he was, astride on one of the equestrian statues that adorned the market-place. It was winter; the weather was bitterly cold, with heavy rain. The pain caused by the naked limbs being thus brought into close contact with the bronze of the statue was intense. So frightful was his suffering that his fellow-townsmen could not bear to see it. They turned with loud cries upon the senate and compelled them to vote that the coveted statue should be given up to the governor. So Verres got his Mercury.
We have a curious picture of the man as he made his progresses from town to town in his search for treasures of art. "As soon as it was spring—and he knew that it was spring not from the rising of any constellation or the blowing of any wind, but simply because he saw the roses—then indeed he bestirred himself. So enduring, so untiring was he that no one ever saw him upon horseback. No—he was carried in a litter with eight bearers. His cushion was of the finest linen of Malta, and it was stuffed with roses. There was one wreath of roses upon his head, and another round his neck, made of the finest thread, of the smallest mesh, and this, too, was full of roses. He was carried in this litter straight to his chamber; and there he gave his audiences."
When spring had passed into summer even such exertions were too much for him. He could not even endure to remain in his official residence, the old palace of the kings of Syracuse. A number of tents were pitched for him at the entrance of the harbour to catch the cool breezes from the sea. There he spent his days and nights, surrounded by troops of the vilest companions, and let the province take care of itself.
Such a governor was not likely to keep his province free from the pirates who, issuing from their fastnesses on the Cilician coast and elsewhere, kept the seaboard cities of the Mediterranean in constant terror. One success, and one only, he seems to have gained over them. His fleet was lucky enough to come upon a pirate ship, which was so over-laden with spoil that it could neither escape nor defend itself. News was at once carried to Verres, who roused himself from his feasting to issue strict orders that no one was to meddle with the prize. It was towed into Syracuse, and he hastened to examine his booty. The general feeling was one of delight that a crew of merciless villains had been captured and were about to pay the penalty of their crimes. Verres had far more practical views. Justice might deal as she pleased with the old and useless; the young and able-bodied, and all who happened to be handicraftsmen, were too valuable to be given up. His secretaries, his retinue, his son had their share of the prize; six, who happened to be singers, were sent as a present to a friend at Rome. As to the pirate captain himself, no one knew what had become of him. It was a favourite amusement in Sicily to watch the sufferings of a pirate, if the government had had the luck but to catch one, while he was being slowly tortured to death. The people of Syracuse, to whom the pirate captain was only too well known, watched eagerly for the day when he was to be brought out to suffer. They kept an account of those who were brought out to execution, and reckoned them against the number of the crew, which it had been easy to conjecture from the size of the ship. Verres had to correct the deficiency as best he could. He had the audacity to fill the places of the prisoners whom he had sold or given away with Roman citizens, whom on various false pretences he had thrown into prison. The pirate captain himself was suffered to escape on the payment, it was believed, of a very large sum of money.
But Verres had not yet done with the pirates. It was necessary that some show, at least, of coping with them should be made. There was a fleet, and the fleet must put to sea. A citizen of Syracuse, who had no sort of qualification for the task, but whom Verres was anxious to get out of the way, was appointed to the command. The governor paid it the unwonted attention of coming out of his tent to see it pass. His very dress, as he stood upon the shore, was a scandal to all beholders. His sandals, his purple cloak, his tunic, or undergarment, reaching to his ankles, were thought wholly unsuitable to the dignity of a Roman magistrate. The fleet, as might be expected, was scandalously ill equipped. Its men for the most part existed, as the phrase is, only "on paper." There was the proper complement of names, but of names only. The prætor drew from the treasury the pay for these imaginary soldiers and marines, and diverted it into his own pocket. And the ships were as ill provisioned as they were ill manned. After they had been something less than five days at sea they put into the harbour of Pachynus. The crews were driven to satisfy their hunger on the roots of the dwarf palm, which grew, and indeed still grows, in abundance on that spot. Cleomenes meanwhile was following the example of his patron. He had his tent pitched on the shore, and sat in it drinking from morning to night. While he was thus employed tidings were brought that the pirate fleet was approaching. He was ill prepared for an engagement. His hope had been to complete the manning of his ships from the garrison of the fort. But Verres had dealt with the fort as he had dealt with the fleet. The soldiers were as imaginary as the sailors. Still a man of courage would have fought. His own ship was fairly well manned, and was of a commanding size, quite able to overpower the light vessels of the pirates; and such a crew as there was was eager to fight. But Cleomenes was as cowardly as he was incompetent. He ordered the mast of his ship to be hoisted, the sails to be set, and the cable cut, and made off with all speed. The rest of his fleet could do nothing but follow his example. The pirates gave chase, and captured two of the ships as they fled. Cleomenes reached the port of Helorus, stranded his ship, and left it to its fate. His colleagues did the same. The pirate chief found them thus deserted and burnt them. He had then the audacity to sail into the inner harbour of Syracuse, a place into which, we are told, only one hostile fleet, the ill-fated Athenian expedition, three centuries and a half before, had ever penetrated. The rage of the inhabitants at this spectacle exceeded all bounds, and Verres felt that a victim must be sacrificed. He was, of course, himself the chief culprit. Next in guilt to him was Cleomenes. But Cleomenes was spared for the same scandalous reason which had caused his appointment to the command. The other captains, who might indeed have shown more courage, but who were comparatively blameless, were ordered to execution. It seemed all the more necessary to remove them because they could have given inconvenient testimony as to the inefficient condition of the ships.
The cruelty of Verres was indeed as conspicuous as his avarice. Of this, as of his other vices, it would not suit the purpose of this book to speak in detail. One conspicuous example will suffice. A certain Gavius had given offence, how we know not, and had been confined in the disused stone quarries which served for the public prison of Syracuse. From these he contrived to escape, and made his way to Messana. Unluckily for himself, he did not know that Messana was the one place in Sicily where it would not be safe to speak against the governor. Just as he was about to embark for Italy he was heard to complain of the treatment which he had received, and was arrested and brought before the chief magistrate of the town. Verres happened to come to the town the same day, and heard what had happened. He ordered the man to be stripped and flogged in the market-place. Gavius pleaded that he was a Roman citizen and offered proof of his claim. Verres refused to listen, and enraged by the repetition of the plea, actually ordered the man to be crucified. "And set up," he said to his lictors, "set up the cross by the straits. He is a Roman citizen, he says, and he will at least be able to have a view of his native country." We know from the history of St. Paul what a genuine privilege and protection this citizenship was. And Cicero exactly expresses the feeling on the subject in his famous words. "It is a crime to put a Roman citizen in irons; it is positive wickedness to inflict stripes upon him; it is close upon parricide to put him to death; as to crucifying him there is no word for it." And on this crowning act of audacity Verres had the recklessness to venture.
After holding office for three years Verres came back to Rome. The people of Messana, his only friends in the islands, had built a merchantman for him, and he loaded it with his spoils. He came back with a light heart. He knew indeed that the Sicilians would impeach him. His wrong-doings had been too gross, too insolent, for him to escape altogether. But he was confident that he had the means in his hands for securing an acquittal. The men that were to judge him were men of his own order. The senators still retained the privilege which Sulla had given them. They, and they alone, furnished the juries before whom such causes were tried. Of these senators not a few had a fellow-feeling for a provincial governor accused of extortion and wrong. Some had plundered provinces in the past; others hoped to do so in the future. Many insignificant men who could not hope to obtain such promotion were notoriously open to bribes. And some who would have scorned to receive money, or were too wealthy to be influenced by it, were not insensible to the charms of other gifts—to a fine statue or a splendid picture judiciously bestowed. A few even more scrupulous, who would not accept such presents for their own halls or gardens, were glad to have such splendid ornaments for the games which they exhibited to the people. Verres came back amply provided with these means of securing his safety. He openly avowed—for indeed he was as frank as he was unscrupulous—that he had trebled his extortions in order that, after leaving a sufficiency for himself, he might have wherewith to win the favour of his judges. It soon became evident to him that he would need these and all other help, if he was to escape. The Sicilians engaged Cicero to plead their cause. He had been quæstor in a division of the province for a year six years before, and had won golden opinions by his moderation and integrity. And Cicero was a power in the courts of the law, all the greater because he had never yet prosecuted, but had kept himself to what was held the more honourable task of defending persons accused. Verres secured Hortensius. He too was a great orator; Cicero had chosen him as the model which he would imitate, and speaks of him as having been a splendid and energetic speaker, full of life both in diction and action. At that time, perhaps, his reputation stood higher than that of Cicero himself. It was something to have retained so powerful an advocate; it would be still more if it could be contrived that the prosecutor should be a less formidable person. And there was a chance of contriving this. A certain Cæcilius was induced to come forward, and claim for himself, against Cicero, the duty of prosecuting the late governor of Sicily. He too had been a quæstor in the province, and he had quarrelled, or he pretended that he had quarrelled, with Verres. The first thing there had to be argued before the court, which, like our own, consisted of a presiding judge and a jury, was the question, who was to prosecute, Cicero or Cæcilius, or the two together. Cicero made a great speech, in which he established his own claim. He was the choice of the provincials; the honesty of his rival was doubtful, while it was quite certain that he was incompetent. The court decided in his favour, and he was allowed one hundred and ten days to collect evidence. Verres had another device in store. This time a member of the Senate came forward and claimed to prosecute Verres for misdoings in the province of Achaia in Greece. He wanted one hundred and eight days only for collecting evidence. If this claim should be allowed, the second prosecution would be taken first; of course it was not intended to be serious, and would end in an acquittal. Meanwhile all the available time would have been spent, and the Sicilian affair would have to be postponed till the next year. It was on postponement indeed that Verres rested his hopes. In July Hortensius was elected consul for the following year, and if the trial could only be put of till he had entered upon office, nothing was to be feared. Verres was openly congratulated in the streets of Rome on his good fortune. "I have good news for you," cried a friend; "the election has taken place and you are acquitted." Another friend had been chosen prætor, and would be the new presiding judge. Consul and prætor between them would have the appointment of the new jurors, and would take care that they should be such as the accused desired. At the same time the new governor of Sicily would be also a friend, and he would throw judicious obstacles in the way of the attendance of witnesses. The sham prosecution came to nothing. The prosecutor never left Italy. Cicero, on the other hand, employed the greatest diligence. Accompanied by his cousin Lucius he visited all the chief cities of Sicily, and collected from them an enormous mass of evidence. In this work he only spent fifty out of the hundred and ten days allotted to him, and was ready to begin long before he was expected.
Verres had still one hope left; and this, strangely enough, sprang out of the very number and enormity of his crimes. The mass of evidence was so great that the trial might be expected to last for a long time. If it could only be protracted into the next year, when his friends would be in office, he might still hope to escape. And indeed there was but little time left. The trial began on the fifth of August. In the middle of the month Pompey was to exhibit some games. Then would come the games called "The Games of Rome," and after this others again, filling up much of the three months of September, October, and November. Cicero anticipated this difficulty. He made a short speech (it could not have lasted more than two hours in delivering), in which he stated the case in outline. He made a strong appeal to the jury. They were themselves on their trial. The eyes of all the world were on them. If they did not do justice on so notorious a criminal they would never be trusted any more. It would be seen that the senators were not fit to administer the law. The law itself was on its trial. The provincials openly declared that if Verres was acquitted, the law under which their governors were liable to be accused had better be repealed. If no fear of a prosecution were hanging over them, they would be content with as much plunder as would satisfy their own wants. They would not need to extort as much more wherewith to bribe their judges. Then he called his witnesses. A marvellous array they were. "From the foot of Mount Taurus, from the shores of the Black Sea, from many cities of the Grecian mainland, from many islands of the Ægean, from every city and market-town of Sicily, deputations thronged to Rome. In the porticoes, and on the steps of the temples, in the area of the Forum, in the colonnade that surrounded it, on the housetops and on the overlooking declivities, were stationed dense and eager crowds of impoverished heirs and their guardians, bankrupt tax-farmers and corn-merchants, fathers bewailing their children carried off to the prætor's harem, children mourning for their parents dead in the prætor's dungeons, Greek nobles whose descent was traced to Cecrops or Eurysthenes, or to the great Ionian and Minyan houses, and Phnicians, whose ancestors had been priests of the Tyrian Melcarth, or claimed kindred with the Zidonian Jah." Nine days were spent in hearing this mass of evidence. Hortensius was utterly overpowered by it. He had no opportunity for displaying his eloquence, or making a pathetic appeal for a noble oppressed by the hatred of the democracy. After a few feeble attempts at cross-examination, he practically abandoned the case. The defendant himself perceived that his position was hopeless. Before the nine days, with their terrible impeachment, had come to an end he fled from Rome.
The jury returned an unanimous verdict of guilty, and the prisoner was condemned to banishment and to pay a fine. The place of banishment (which he was apparently allowed to select outside certain limits) was Marseilles. The amount of the fine we do not know. It certainly was not enough to impoverish him.
Much of the money, and many of the works of art which he had stolen were left to him. These latter, by a singularly just retribution, proved his ruin in the end. After the death of Cicero, Antony permitted the exiles to return. Verres came with them, bringing back his treasures of art, and was put to death because they excited the cupidity of the masters of Rome.